The following quote appears on author Tom Vowler’s blog, How to Write a Novel, as something to ponder:
“Write a bad short story and you’ve wasted two weeks; write a bad novel, you’ve wasted two years.”
Tom’s a published novelist, and I’m trying to learn, so I pondered. After I’d pondered a while, I decided that, while this blog is full of useful insights, pithily posed, I disagreed with this particular tidbit.
Specifically, I don’t believe any time spent writing is a waste, if you’re writing for the right reasons, which I am, of course, perfectly qualified to define (pause for snickers from the readership).
If you’re writing primarily to please anyone else, then time spent on unsuccessful–that is, unread–pieces will indeed be wasted. Write for money, write for fame, write so your mom will be proud, write to see your name someplace besides on your checks and you’re dependent on the approval of others to get pleasure out of your writing.
Because you can’t get the approval of others until your writing’s done, all the research, planning and wordsmithing are not done for their own sake, they’re done with the hope of a reward later on. And if you’re chasing a reward from other people, you’re in grave danger of trying to conform to their preferences instead of to your own artistic vision.
If you’re writing for yourself, enjoying the process for its own sake, you’ll never waste your time. I’m working on my first novel and here’s what I’ve found so far:
> Research is fun if you stay open and curious. I read come of the Aeneid, which I’d never bothered with before, as part of my prep for this project and it was great stuff. I renewed my acquaintance with Dante’s Inferno.
> Plotting is just a big game where you take pieces and try to fit them together. It’s also full of surprises as the story takes shape and you figure out that B has to happen for A, which you thought of before, to make sense.
> Writing is the process of telling yourself a story for your own amusement and personal growth. In Stephen King’s novel, Misery, the hero, who’s a writer, gets through the ordeal by writing his novel to see what happens next. Even if you’ve outlined your novel from stem to stern, it’s going to develop organically and take unexpected twists, and it’s great fun figuring out the adjustments you have to make.
Am I a twisted masochist? Maybe so, but this is my story and I’m sticking to it. Sure, I want my novel to be clever and beautiful, and sure I want it to bring pleasure to untold thousands of readers, but if I focus on those things I’ll squash the pleasure of what I am doing right now.
What I am doing now is crafting the first draft of a novel called Thin Spots (for now), about a guy whose soul ends up in Hell by mistake while he’s in a coma. The whole process, even when it’s hard, is a joy; not a moment have I wasted.
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