Of all the writing classes I’ve taught, my favorite has been Writing the Novel, because--as I always tell my students--writing a novel is one of the most rewarding things a person can do in life.
I know from my own experience and what my novel-writing students have told me that the most rewarding part of writing a novel is not the finished product, but the process of writing it. So without further ado, here are five reasons to write a novel*:
*whether it gets published or not
1. It’s a chance to play god. Do your family, friends and colleagues sometimes disappoint you? Do you become hoarse trying to explain to friends what you REALLY mean? Well, writing a novel offers a chance to create other human beings from scratch. You can give them any character traits you wish (though many characters will disconcertingly take on a life of their own).
Many fictional characters are based on people the writer knows. You need to disguise them, of course, but within the constraints of libel this is a chance to improve your brother-in-law’s character or get even with him. As a teen, I wrote stories about my ex-boyfriends. My mother once said about a fellow I dated but broke up with after two years: “You’re not over him, you know. You haven’t written a story about him yet.”
2. Writing a novel will Improve your writing skills. Whether you write nonfiction, term papers, or emails, writing a novel is an excellent way to improve your writing skills. A novel is long. It’s offers lots of practice. For your novel to work, you must learn to handle point of view, write good descriptions, and master dialogue. It’s a great chance to learn by doing. I will discuss each of these writing skills in future posts.
3. Novel-writing forces you to get organized. Remember how hard it was to write your first term paper? You had all this research and no clear way to put it together. The same thing happens when you are writing a novel. You may start out with a strong story that grabs you (as the white-hot draft of the first part of Pandora’s Genes did me). But after the first 100 or so pages are down on paper, what then? Do you keep ideas on note cards? Write a formal outline?
A novel forces you to be organized in your daily life too. Writing a novel is a real commitment, of time and psychic resources. You will never be able to do it if you don’t schedule regular time to work on it.
4. Novel writing is a chance to learn more about yourself, both as a writer and as a human being. You will quickly learn which writing situations are easiest for you--and which most difficult. For me, writing Pandora’s Genes taught me that I’m good at depicting thoughts and dialogue, and that the hardest thing for me to write is description, especially of people. Knowing this, I always pay extra close attention to anything I read to see how other writers handle this technique.
5. Writing a novel is fun! When I’m writing a novel, I find myself thinking about it in odd moments, scribbling notes on napkins, having imaginary dialogues with myself. Writing a novel is the surest way I know to wake up my brain and make me feel alive. This is beginning to happen with the new Pandora’s novel I am currently working on.
Looking back to writing the rough draft of Pandora’s Genes over twenty years ago, I remember thinking, “This is what life is about. This is what I am meant to do.”
Tomorrow: WHERE in the world are we?