The Emotional Cost of Writing a Novel (OR, why we don’t always follow our dream)

Image by © Royalty-Free/CorbisEveryone’s got a novel in them (so they say).

Some people even start to write it. Maybe that’s you.

But so many writers never finish, go on to the end. What makes you stop?

There are any number of excellent reasons.

    • You ran out of words
    • Your wife/husband has broken a leg, so you’ve got to get a job
    • You’ve already got a full-time job and it takes up your life
    • The kids are playing up
    • You have kids
    • Somebody said your novel was rubbish
    • etc, etc

Just a few dozen reasons why you’ve stopped, and each one of that list could be true. Some probably are. So that’s why you’ve halted in the middle of the thing. Right?

Wrong.

The real reason you’ve stopped is FEAR.

Somebody didn’t like your work – or maybe you thought they didn’t like it. Maybe they won’t like you, either, maybe their view of you will have changed. It could be true.

But the worst critic isn’t out there – s/he’s in your head, and will always be. Writing a novel fills you with doubt: your book’s no good, maybe you’re no good, maybe you weren’t meant to be a writer, not like all those ‘proper’ writers.

Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

But notice, I said, writing a novel, not writing a book.

Writing any sort of book, or an article even, can cause the sorts of doubts I’ve mentioned. Doubting your ability to do the job, to put words on paper, to undertake research and to get the job done. But a novel brings an extra challenge.

It’s about your writing, and about how you’re seen, but it’s also about how you think and feel. When you write, especially fiction, long fiction, which gives your subconscious time to work, your inner critic and all sorts of demons show up to play. Showing you who you really are.

All sorts of things rise to the surface, to be dealt with, transformed, things you never knew you felt. Which can be a very uncomfortable process. No wonder we never finish that novel. Do we want to face who we are? Of course we don’t. But it’s not all bad.

Some writers, the ones who make it, revel in the process: might try their shadows out on the page, take those voices and channel that fear, all the apprehension, into their work. The subconscious mind is a vast resource of rich material waiting to be used. It can make you feel a little unsteady, but used properly, you never need fear writer’s block, and your true voice will emerge from the darkness, leaner and honed. And as for the demons, the chances are they’ll fade with time, as they rise to the surface, are changed on the page.

Transforming you, and creating a marvellous work of fiction. It’s not easy.

But then, remember, if you wanted easy, you shouldn’t be trying to write a novel.