Saturday, 3 December 2011

Unique difficulties of writing a novel

Coat of arms modelled in wax
Comments on last week's post got me thinking about what writing a novel is like
. I said it was similar to my own area of expertise, wax modelling, where I rough out the shape by joining strips of wax, add and subtract until it looks right, then texture.

But on reflection writing is more difficult than that. If you are modelling a coat of arms, like the one on the left, you can tell at a glance when you have got there, because it looks as it is supposed to, and anyone can see that. You know when you are on track, as the piece begins to resemble the working drawing. 

With a book, when you are finished all you have is a lot of words. You've been toiling on it sentence by sentence, chapter by chapter, while the first reader experiences it whole. Send it out on submission to agents, and the odds are none of them will think you've got it right. To be an author, not only do you need superb judgment of what to put in and what to leave out, but at some level you have to have a crazy amount of faith in yourself.


  1. For me, I never really know when I am 'done'. I finish writing edit it once. Give to betas. Edit again and say I am 'done'. But I could continue to edit until it's a completely different story all together.

    It's my faith that refuses to let me do that.

  2. I like the idea of sculpting out your story from the pile of words you've put on the page. I like to get it all down and hone, just like your wax carving (which is gorgeous.)

    I love your snakes and ladders analogy from last week. Going for trad. publishing is even more so--when you finally get that request for a full--then get shot down to the bottom again with a rejection and have to start all over again researching agents. Or when you get an agent, who can't sell your work and drops you. Or worse: you get published and your publisher drops you for low sales, and you have to start a new career with a new name.

    I have to add I think it's silly to say writers shouldn't check their Amazon sales. That's like saying workers shouldn't check their paychecks. Publishing is a business, and writers have bills just like everybody else. (Funny what a shock that is to some people.)

    Thanks for visiting Ruth and me this week!

  3. T, I find that a book gradually 'sets' in the final stages; I get to a point where I am removing or adding commas, then I stop wanting to change it and it's done. At that point I can't imagine it being any different, though while I was writing it there were any number of ways it could have gone.

    Anne, I think trad publishing is much scarier than indie publishing, since you have less control. Though I know writers going the trad route who find self-publishing frightening, so maybe it's what you are used to.

  4. It helps too if you have a super duper editor and/or critique partner or other very objective talented people involved! I'm amazed at the amount of people needed before a book is published as professionally as possible!

    Oh wow - did you really do that coat of arms thing!?! It's lovely!!

    Take care

  5. True - I do most things myself, but wouldn't be without the offspring's comments or my lovely beta readers. And on Kindleboards you can get perceptive crits of covers from other writers.

    I like doing coats of arms. That one was for a brooch, a bit smaller than the photo.

  6. Stephen King's metaphor for novel writing is archaeology: You find a broken piece of pottery and say to yourself "This looks like an interesting place to dig" and then you gradually unearth something.

    One of these days I hope to stumble upon Pompeii. :)

  7. A good metaphor - and one is digging in years of personal experience and reflection on life. It occasionally strikes me as incredible that people should want to spend hours of their time reading stories I've made up...

  8. I think that writers are often perfectionists and a perfectionist needs much self-discipline, as writing or creating anything can easily turn into an infinite series of corrections and improvements.

    Its similar to writing a thesis for a higher degree. It can become an all consuming never ending task if you let it, as new results lead to new problems and so on.

    As with a thesis, there needs to be a time limit after which you publish warts and all. Only the writer can set the time limit of course.

    Anyway, sometimes the warts can be part of a writers charm! *smile*

    I love the wax model!

  9. Hi Q!

    I'll settle for getting something as non-warty as I can; though in my heart I prefer perfect, we live in an imperfect world.

  10. The amount of detailing on that model is amazing. I only wish it were possible for me to hold all the detail of my plots in my mind's eye at once. Am far too prone to forgetting what I've already put in...

  11. That's about as much detail as you can get without the wax becoming disobliging. The actual piece is smaller than the photo.

    I think we all forget when writing - even Homer slept. In Trav Zander, I had Carl decide not to tell Northwood about Corfe's existence, when it was Northwood who'd recommended Corfe a few scenes back... Luckily we don't have to get it right first time.

  12. I am absolutely with you there. I can paint a bit and when I do, compared to writing, it's like ringing a bell. AND I can listen to the radio while I do it.

    I've just 'finished' a book although it's not actually 'complete'. I've got to the stage where I know things are wrong but I'm not 100% sure why or whether it's just that I haven't had the prequisite 'holiday' between completion and a re-read.

    So this post and the comment you made about putting in and taking out commas rings absolutely true to me right now!



  13. Yes! I listen to the radio while modelling, but can't even have music on while writing.

    Do you send it out to beta readers? I find them really helpful at the finished but not finished stage.