Tuesday, January 7, 2014

On Being a Novelist

Pat, my decades-long friend and writing partner from my previous professional life, is a natural storyteller. She tells of happenings in the lives of family and friends. While doing so, she embellishes with rich details, she paces the information flow, and she reveals the climax at just the right time.

Pat says she can't write fiction, but she is the most vivid dreamer I know, and retells her dreams fluently. For whatever reason, she doesn't see the connect to writing fiction. Of course she could write fiction. Why do some of us think we can and others do not? And what does she really mean by her staunch belief she cannot write fiction?

By nature, we are a story-telling creature. However, Pat doesn’t see that the stories she tells me are ones that others would want to read. Or she doesn’t think there’s enough detail to sustain a novel. And maybe there isn’t. Because she doesn’t like reading short stories, she would never write short stories. I, myself, write both full-length and short.

Maybe that is the disconnect. She doesn’t see how to stretch the dream into a feature-length film. Is that a difference between those who claim “fiction author” as an identity? Do we see all stories as potential novels? I know I do. Ah, but the execution!

I believe Pat could indeed write a novel. She is an avid reader who knows what makes a good story. But she has to believe she could do it, and more importantly, she would need to want to be a novelist. It’s a hard enough job when you want to and think you can.

Has it happened to you? You have a great premise. Novel, even (Ha!). Unique. Unknown to the known world.

Yeah, right.

How quickly the idea can devolve into the mundane. Been done? Ordinary? Prosaic?

There’s something about sustaining that great idea across 60,000-90,000 words that make 90% of us who start writing a book, quit. 90%. Don’t you think that’s high? Someone in some writing workshop tossed out that number. I have no idea how one could come to that estimate. Still, it doesn’t ring untrue. How many people have told you they have a book idea. And you should write it!

Let’s say the number is less. I know that I have started writing about three dozen books. I have completed seven; two others are about a third done. Oh, and I wrote several short plays and one full-length play. With another full-length play about a third done. (Seeing a pattern?)

How many novels have I started in my computer files only to abandon them because, as Gertrude Stein wrote of Oakland, California, “There’s no there there.”? Great premise, but thin on the development. Maybe a short story, but not enough engaging stuff to sustain a novel.

So that makes my personal percentage for completing what I start way below 50%. That doesn’t mean that 50% are history. Au contraire. Many stories are just delayed. I’ll get back to them. Later. After I finish the new one I just jotted down an idea for!


  1. I think the 90% figure is low. Most people have a story (or think they do.) Fewer than 90% ever START to write them. Of those, 90% never finish. And only a very small percentage of those who finish ever make the effort to publish. And it is an effort! Not only that, it takes being willing to subject your 'baby' to public criticism. Not for the faint of heart! I have published nine books, five of which are anthologies written with others, and three were written with my husband. The next one is just waiting for a cover. but there are partially begun manuscripts waiting to be finished, and they will be--someday.

    1. Thanks for popping by to comment, Lorna. I wonder how anyone would ever do such a calculation anyway! Still, I wish I had a nickel for every time someone said, "Hey. I've got an idea for a book YOU can write." There is so much more to it than the "good idea", and you're absolutely right that we have more manuscripts waiting in the wings than we can live long enough to finish!