4 Misconceptions About Writing a Novel

 

by Michael Cristiano

 

When it comes to writing, there is nothing more daunting than writing a novel. Okay, maybe attempting to write a saga of twelve novels is a little bit more daunting, but let’s stick to just one for now. In my opinion, writing a novel is a little more difficult than say a short story or a poem. That’s not to say it’s more difficult than writing a good short story or poem, that’s just to point out that short stories and poems don’t generally run 60,000+ words — unless you’re Homer and write two epic poems that come in at over 200,000.

In any case, the enormity of a novel is disillusioning enough on its own, so while we’re at it, let’s disillusion some more.

 

Everyone Has a Novel in Them

To me, this misconception is the equivalent of saying that everyone has a music album in them. Sure, everyone has the capacity to make music, but does everyone have the capacity to make good music? Anyone who answers yes to that question has obviously never heard Friday by Rebecca Black.

The same is true for writing a novel. Sure, everyone has the capacity to physically sit down and hammer out enough words to write a novel, but does everyone have the capacity to write a good one? Even still, is novel writing something that someone can just wake up and do, or it is a learning curve of trail and error, observation and failure?

By saying that everyone has a novel in them, we trivialize the skill of people who write for a living and chalk down writing a novel to simply reaching a word count. But for anyone who has written a novel, you know it’s more than that: it’s plotting and characterization and tone and theme development and atmosphere and so much more.

 

One Draft and You’re Done

This misconception is particularly cringe-worthy. I really feel for writers who think that they can get away with writing a first draft and then doing zero revisions or editing. Not only it is extremely advisable to read over your work at least once to catch any spelling, grammar or continuity errors, but first drafts (in my opinion) are meant to be the bare bones of a piece.

Think you have an amazing first draft? Think of how amazing the second draft will be! Still not convinced to write a second? Well, give it to a beta-reader and come back in two weeks or so. Perhaps your judgement will be a little less clouded when the first-draft-finished high wears off.

 

You’re Getting Published so It’s Time to Quit Your Job!

Haha, if only that were true. I hate to break it to the hopeful, but a publishing contract does not equate to financial security — with or without an agent who’s got your back. That’s just simply not how it works. There are hundreds of thousands of novels published every year. You better believe that not every one of them is making $100,000 a pop.

That’s not to discourage anyone from trying — write if that’s what you were meant to do. But don’t think that you’ll complete and publish one novel and you’ll never have to work another day in your life. In fact, a UK study found that British writers made an average of £4,000 ($6252 American Dollars or $7140 Canadian Dollars) and only 1 in 10 professional authors were able to support themselves solely off of their writing.

Kinda depressing, right? Yeah, but by now, I hope you’re not writing for the money. There are easier ways to make money that don’t involve perfecting tens of thousands of words, becoming an anti-social hermit, and potentially getting rejected hundreds of times.

But wouldn’t it be nice to be the exception?

 

Novel Writing is Not Work at All

I once wrote an entire blog post about this, so I won’t rant and ramble again here. To those who think that novel writing doesn’t qualify as work, I have one word: No. Actually, make that two: f*ck no. Yes, don’t get me wrong, I have fun writing novels, but I wouldn’t say that it’s something I breeze through. It’s blood, sweat, and tears.

Okay, maybe a little less blood, but there are sweat and tears. And yes, I write because I want to, but that doesn’t mean I’m not warranted in calling a spade a spade. There’s no reward without work, right? Well, think of writing as no different. 85,000 words don’t just arrive with a big gust of wind.

 

 

 

Guest post contributed by Michael Cristiano. He works in editing and acquisitions for Curiosity Quills Press, and his freelance work has appeared on websites such as Nexopia, FluentU, and BlushPost. Check out his blog for more of his work.

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32 thoughts on “4 Misconceptions About Writing a Novel”

  1. So, I had a novel in me. Perhaps. Maybe it is just a collection of ideas I submitted for my Master of Creative Writing. Now I’m in limbo. I’ve been told I need to ‘redraft’, or ‘do a structural rewrite’. Sometimes, in moments of coffee-induced enthusiasm, I grab my paper copy and a pen. And then have no idea where to start. Writing a novel really is difficult!

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  2. Have to agree with you, I have just finished ‘the novel’ Now I have to write it, I expect that it will take at least three rewrites but this is the part I have been looking forward to. I didn’t plan it out (yes I know 😀) But I wanted it to lead me, of course now I have the ending I have to rewrite the whole story, but as you say it is hard going and heartbreaking to realise you have to scrap a whole chapter, maybe I am a masochist 😜 Great post 😀

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  3. Yup. These are all things writers may think when they start out (or people who don’t write at all). However, as they grow and learn by adapting their writing skills, these harsh truths quickly come to realization. I once remember thinking that making a living this way would be a piece of cake! It’s so much more work than people realize, thank you for bringing this to light for others.

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  4. The “everyone has a novel” in them has always bothered me and you articulated why very well. Everyone has a history and important stories, but saying anyone can write a novel definitely trivializes the skill and art form of writing.

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  5. This is so refreshing to read. I love writing but it’s not always easy. Sometimes I want to quit but I can’t give up. I dream that one day I’ll get to live off my writing but so far I’ve not made a penny from it. Quitting would be easy but my imagination won’t let me.

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  6. The only people who think writing a book is easy are the people who can’t write. And yet, they’re often the first to admit they can’t write a proper paragraph on their own. (smh)

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  7. Reblogged on Twitter. I am not a fiction writer except perhaps for children’s stories, and I think I would not be strong in that as my style is not the current day style of writing. It would be like reading Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, etc. – not that they are bad and I would love reading them again. What I can write is nonfiction, and perhaps a lot of people who think they want to write are barking up the wrong tree. Perhaps writing nonfiction, or poetry, or something other than fiction would be something they are suited for. But I think in the long run, a lot of the people who want to write really don’t have the patience to sit there and write day after day. To write really good nonfiction or poetry well is just as creative in the long run and just as challenging and satisfying once you get it right as it is to write a good novel.

    I was a newspaper editor for a small town newspaper and also for a healthcare newsletter (yes, believe it or not). One of the most frustrating things about that kind of nonfiction writing was to write a good article, an interview, etc., only to have the owner of the paper come in and arbitrarily pull part of it out because there was an ad to fit in. So the point is that not ALL nonfiction writing is fun. But to write, say a cookbook, as I have done with pumpkins, and to include folklore, history, and lots of other things that are fun for most of us pumpkin lovers can be a whole lot of fun.

    So if you are not cut out to be a good writer of fiction, it doesn’t mean you cannot write. Look into some other arenas, even things like technical writing, or perhaps writing textbooks in your subject of choice. You may not have the same kind of name and fame, but then perhaps you are not meant to have that. Whatever the situation, don’t let it get you down. Don’t give up until you have tried all the avenues, and there are so many of them. Thank you kindly for the good article.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Yes, very valid points. Also, let’s remember all the self-published dreck – I mean novels – out there. It’s getting more and more difficult to find the good stuff.

    BTW – typo alert – “trail and error”

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Very good points, one thing that I forgot before diving into writing my first fictional writing was the level of world building needed aswell as some form of planning so things make sence, but at the same time I enjoy it and find it useful in improving my current not very good writing skills.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Yes, yes, yes. Everyone always thinks it’s easy writing a novel when it’s really not. When I tell people I’m writing a book they say “Oh, cool, I bet that’s fun.” No-one really understands how difficult it is until they sit down and really try.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I am glad I found this post, I am defintly guilty of typo error, although I am trying to improve on that. I also hope to publish my life-story someday but have put it off until I improve on my writing skils,​ thanks to God I did!. Thank you for sharing, it is indeed very helpful.

    XX

    Liked by 1 person

  12. “To those who think that novel writing doesn’t qualify as work, I have one word: No. Actually, make that two: f*ck no.”

    This made me laugh out loud. It’s so incredibly true! I’ve written and published 3 novels over the last 5 years and none of them were easy.

    One of my favorite authors once said, “If you can quit, quit. If you can’t, you’re a writer.” (RA Salvatore) I came to realize how true his words were when I tried several times to put down the pen—and failed.

    Writing is a labor of love and agony. There is nothing romantic about being in the literary trenches. Yet there is magic in bringing words together in a way that breathes life into a story.

    It’s the magic that makes it worthwhile.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. My favourite thing is when friends and family tell me “hey, I have this great idea for a novel, how about you write it and we’ll split the money 50/50”? As if novels just fall out of my butt, and coming up with a vague idea is just as much work as the actual writing.

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  14. Definitely true. When I wrote my first novel (which I’m glad never got published), I specifically thought that the first draft is enough and now I can send it out to publishers and they’ll work on it.
    But the reality is that for a story to be good enough for a publisher, it needs to reach the third draft mark before it becomes a writing of quality.

    Like

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