The Romance of Writing a Novel

I subscribe to the daily emails from Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac (which I highly recommend) and today’s email included a lovely quote from the award-winning author, Khaled Hosseini (here I have to admit that I couldn’t finish The Kite Runner–there’s this violent street-fight scene I just couldn’t deal with–but I love this quote just the same).

Apparently, he once said, “There is a romantic notion to writing a novel, especially when you are starting it. You are embarking on this incredibly exciting journey, and you’re going to write your first novel, you’re going to write a book. Until you’re about 50 pages into it, and that romance wears off, and then you’re left with a very stark reality of having to write the rest of this thing. […] A lot of 50-page unfinished novels are sitting in a lot of drawers across this country. Well, what it takes at that point is discipline … You have to be more stubborn than the manuscript, and you have to punch in and punch out every day, regardless of whether it’s going well, regardless of whether it’s going badly. […] It’s largely an act of perseverance […] The story really wants to defeat you, and you just have to be more mulish than the story.”

Having just submitted my own first novel (please keep praying a publisher buys it!), and having discussed writing novels with a lot of people, I have to agree with the first half of Dr. Hosseini’s statement here. A lot of people dream of writing a novel. Many people actually start writing novels, but most of those peter out right around the point Dr. Hosseini describes.

But here’s where Dr. Hosseini and I are going to disagree: while I think that discipline and perseverance are the keys to finishing a novel, I think that many people who begin to write books just don’t know how to! While there are people who like to “write by the seat of their pants” or “wing it,” completing a novel in a timely fashion without outlining or diagramming or writing notes or some sort of prewriting exercise, and without studying how to write a novel in advance (even just reading a single how-to book from the library can help) is a much more daunting exercise than doing it without putting in those steps up front. Many of these abandoned books could be finished if their authors took these steps. For more on this subject, check out this recent post by Susanne Larkin here.

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