I’ve certainly said a lot over the last many moons about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and I’m not really sure I have a whole lot to add, but I do want to remind:
Writing a novel is hard, because it’s supposed to be hard.
And writing a novel is hard, because it has to be done your way.
And your way only.
Let’s unpack that a little bit.
If writing a novel were easy, everyone would do it. Everyone says they’re gonna do it, after all — you tell someone you write books and they tell you they have a book in them (presumably nestled somewhere near the pancreas, or tucked up in an orifice as part of an embarrassing sex maneuver), or they say they have an idea and they’ll give it to you and all you have to do is write it because ha ha that’s obviously the easy part, you shitty ink-fingered monkey. But it’s not the easy part. It’s the hard part. The writing of the thing is the hard part. Ideas are easy-fucking-breezy. Maybe they don’t always arrive so easy, but an idea is a seed, a capsule, a stray thought. An idea is a dog you don’t own — you walk up to the pupper, give it some ear-scritches and some butt-scratches, and then that dog is on its way and you owe it no responsibility. But a novel is a dog you own. Sure, that means getting all the joy of the snoogles and snuggles and the playtime, but it also means getting up at 3AM because the dog needs to go out, and it means cleaning up after the dog yaks up a dubious slurry on the kitchen floor, and it means walking the dog even when it’s raining. Sometimes, you get dog cuddles. Sometimes, you get dog farts. Because it’s your dog. It’s a commitment.
A novel is hard because it needs to be hard, and the novel is hard because it’s yours.
It needs to be hard because it’s not just an idea. It’s the execution of an idea. It’s not just imagining a house — it’s building it. Foundation to roof, basement to attic, brick by bloody brick. It’s you mentally orchestrating entire worlds, people, concepts, conversations, and then doing it all in a way where it clicks together and makes sense and forms not just a hot Ambrosia Salad mess of goop and fuckshittery, but rather: structure and form, story and plot, thought and feeling and meaning. It’s not a grade-school crush. It’s marriage. You gotta put a ring on it.
It’s yours because there’s no other reason to write a book if it isn’t going to be yours. It’s not the money, because the money is… well, it’s often moist, open ass. (I recognize that I do pretty well at it, and the money for me is pretty good, but let’s be clear, I’m a privileged outlier who has also been working as a novelist for a number of years now and who had a long, long freelance career before that.) It’s not the fame, because ha ha ha what. It’s not the immediate gratification, because writing a novel and editing it and shopping it around to agent and editor and editing it again and copy-editing it takes approximately *checks notes* 47 years, and of course the first novel you write probably isn’t even The Novel anyway, you’re gonna write two, or maybe five, or fifty, before you actually figure out what you’re doing. And, by “figure out what you’re doing,” I mean, “figure out you don’t know what you’re doing but realize that this is a feature and not a bug.”
If you’re gonna write a book it’s because you love books and because you want to put some part of yourself out there. An idea, an argument, a fear, a dream, a parade of anxieties. If you’re gonna take the time and the intellectual-slash-emotional effort to carve that narrative bedrock, you do it because it’s who you are, and it’s what you want to do. The novel is yours because if it’s not yours, what’s the point? If it’s someone else’s, who cares? Let them write it. It’s yours. It’s yours, and beyond that, it’s also you. The novel is you. A part of who you are, anyway. A slice of it, like a bisected chunk of heart — a Heart Piece from Legend of Zelda. What the book is — and furthermore, how you get there, in the process, is yours and yours alone and nobody else can tell you precisely how to get there. They can give you advice. They can offer notions. But that map is theirs. The design is for them. You have to do your own thing. You can’t raise their kids, can’t have their dog, can’t build their house. You gotta do your own thing. And maybe that means writing X number of words per day, or per week, maybe it means writing relentlessly for one day, or a little bit every day, or morning, or night, or a long book, or a short book, or an outline, or just a wild feral dash through Word Country. Who the fuck knows? Nobody the fuck knows. You. Just you. That’s it.
The book is the book.
It takes the time that it takes.
Every writer of every book is different.
Every book is different.
Even you, the author of the last book, will be a different author when you write the next book.
So, whether you’re doing NaNoWriMo or you’re just thinking about writing a book, remember these things. It’s going to be hard because it needs to be hard. And it needs to be hard because it’s yours.
Happy writing. Good luck with the book, whoever you may be.
Oh and remember:
* * *
WANDERERS: A Novel, out now.
A decadent rock star. A deeply religious radio host. A disgraced scientist. And a teenage girl who may be the world’s last hope. An astonishing tapestry of humanity that Harlan Coben calls “a suspenseful, twisty, satisfying, surprising, thought-provoking epic.”
A sleepwalking phenomenon awakens terror and violence in America. The real danger may not be the epidemic, but the fear of it. With society collapsing—and an ultraviolent militia threatening to exterminate them—the fate of the sleepwalkers and the shepherds who guide them depends on unraveling the mystery behind the epidemic. The terrifying secret will either tear the nation apart—or bring the survivors together to remake a shattered world.