Have You Finished Your Novel Yet?

Keep Your Mouth Shut

From the second that you tell people that you’re working on a novel you will regret it. You have set yourself up for the repetition of, ‘Have you finished your novel yet?’

Being a writer means that you’re a wordy little blighter but maybe, just for once, shut your cake-hole and don’t tell the world that you’re working on a novel.

This could be awkward when those closest to you ask what you’re writing but there is a solution. Tell them it’s your journal. No-one is going to venture into the dangerous territory of asking a person what they’re writing in their diary.

If they question why a day’s entry is taking six hours, look at them in a pained manner and explain that you’ve got some serious issues that need covering. Add some snot and tears and you should be sorted.

If they are relentless in their pursuit of when your book will be completed, here’s some advice for dealing with the standard phrases and questions we may endure along the way.

‘I’m only interested’

Well-meaning people are lovely in theory. We like the idea of having supporters. However, this does not always work in practice. When you feel like culling real people as well as your characters, the last thing you want to deal with is a friend phoning you in mid-metaphorical-murder to see how your book is coming along.

They may be offended when expletives leave your potty mouth rather than a, ‘Why, thank you for asking’, but being reminded that you have a book going on isn’t helpful.

Friends have a bad habit of being interested in our lives. Give them a shit-ton of gossip and confessions about your personal life. This should keep their interest quota full for a while. The novel is forgotten but you will never be able to look your best mate in the face again after confessing your penchant for bearded women with hairy toes. It’s a risk you’ll have to take, you perverted freak.

‘What’s your novel about?’

Nope. I can’t remember what your novel is about either, let alone mine. Nothing strikes fear more into the heart of the writer than this question.

What is your novel about?We spend hours working on the novel, but can we tell you what it’s about? Can we f**k. We will either tell you it’s a, ‘romancey sort of crime thingy where someone dies’, or we will take up the next three days of your life repeating the novel verbatim.

Writers, nothing kills creativity more than being asked this question. Do what I do. Call it a secret. I often tell my friends that it’s going to be revealed in due course. I’m probably doing myself no favours as people then get unduly excited about it. No pressure then.

‘I never knew a novel took so long to write’

Me neither love, me neither, and yet here we are twenty years later…

I am gobsmacked by how many people think that a novel is written within weeks. I’ve had people say to me, ‘I expect that book to be written next time I see you’, which wouldn’t be so bad if we hadn’t made plans to meet up in a week.

A novel takes a lot longer to write than you could ever contemplate. Well it does if you want to do a decent job of it.

Sure, I could fire off a first draft in a few weeks, check a few typos, upload it to Amazon, and add a book cover mocked up by my five year old God daughter on her computer. That could be done so quickly. It would also be career suicide.

If I’m going to treat my writing with so little respect, diligence, and care, then I may as well ditch it and dedicate my life to Netflix instead. Some days that seems like a tempting prospect. However, I am into doing this writing gig the best that I can.

I will re-draft until the words become a blur. I will edit, get someone else to edit, have it beta-read, revise it, bloody re-draft some more, swear, curse the day I started writing, beta-reading again, write a flaming synopsis, get a cover done by an expert, check it all over again, inevitably re-draft because it’s so ‘fun’, have a mini-breakdown, swear more, have a larger breakdown, and then get it out there to the world. That takes quite some time; swearing and breakdowns probably being the longest stages of the whole process.

‘How is your little book coming along?’

How is your little book coming along?Oh, how we wish we had voodoo skills for those patronising people who think that writing is folly.

Oh, how we wish that a vengeful God dealt in thunder bolts to the arse upon those who sneer at those who write novels.

I’ve seen the faces of those who think this is just a little hobby. Here goes Lisa, working on her little project of her little book.

There is nothing ‘little’ in writing a novel. The only thing that is ‘little’ is the closed and tiny minds of those who belittle it.

I get to express imagined worlds, ideas, emotions, feelings, experiences, thoughts, psychologies, sociologies, relationships, life issues, and so much more. I do this from the connection between my mind and my fingers. What’s so ‘little’ about that?

There may be some that sit back and sneer in the interim whilst I am hoping that one day I will prove them wrong. I hope they will be astounded when I muster the courage to show them how ‘little’ beginnings became my big book of everything that I have, and then some.

‘You should be a pantser’

I don’t understand this rivalry between some plotters and pantsers.

Non-writers, a plotter is what it sounds like; we plot our novels out in varying degrees of detail regarding its plot, structure, characters etc.

Pantsers are those who fly by the seat of their pants. They tend to dive in with either none or little forward planning.

Neither is better than the other. The only right one is the one that works for you. Therefore, some pantsers need to stop telling me to just get on with it and write.

I am a woman who buys birthday presents months in advance. I’d schedule the cat’s nap times if I could. I am a plotter-extraordinaire. I’m try not to spend the rest of my life plotting novels and never getting round to actually writing them though.

I cannot be a pantser. I admire your spirit in diving in head first. You’re off your flaming rockers but I respect your decision, fools (oops, did I write that out loud?)

Let’s make a pact. Stop asking me when I’m going to start writing this novel and I will refrain from laughing when you get halfway through your novel and you’ve accidentally killed off all your characters.

‘Are you too delicate for all this?’

Delicate feminine flowerI get depression. It does not mean that my arms have fallen off or my brain has shut down. My mind may occasionally be dicky, but I can actually write, sometimes.

When the brain is being a chatty negative bitch, I think about my novel instead. You’d be surprised how much work can be done on a book when you’re not writing.

My current novel was in my mind, forming legs, hands, and other appendages, throughout a severe bout of depression. I couldn’t write but when I was ready to start planning, I had so many ideas. I was ready to go.

I may occasionally be a fragile flower but I’ve got one hell of a stem that keeps me in the game. I may not always be able to write, I will have to work on toughening up my hide for the beta-reading and the editing stages, but I will persevere.

‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’

Please spare us the pat phrases. When I am ready to throw my laptop out the window, knowing that Rome took quite a while to cobble together, it doesn’t help.

I’ve been to Rome. It’s a pretty cool place with a lot of beautiful things in it. I’d love to produce a novel that gives everyone all the ‘feels’ that Rome evokes but I’m not foolish. Nothing is as good as gelato and pasta. Fact.

‘But if you self-publish, surely it’s quicker and easier?’

Ha ha ha ha ha ha *breathes* ha ha ha ha… and repeat.

See ‘I never knew a novel took so long to write’ and then learn from your stupid ways if you’ve ever thought or said this.

‘J.K. Rowling brings out books quickly’

JK Rowling bank noteLucky her. She is also a squillions-selling author with a huge publishing house machine behind her. I strongly expect she never has to clean out the cat’s litter tray, make dinner, do the housework, iron, herd children, and work to pay the bills like most of us do.

I don’t begrudge J.K .Rowling anything. She worked hard to get where she is and it wasn’t easy. We all know the now legendary back story of her being a single, depressed mum, whose book was rejected numerous times.

She cracked it, but it took time.

Nowadays she can write when she wants, if she wants. She can be a creative power house with many people working behind the scenes to facilitate that.

The rest of us have our families, friends and pets to tend to off our own backs. Lovely as they all are, unless they’re in the writing business, or the cat sprouts opposable thumbs to pitch in with the housework, we will have to plump for a somewhat slower approach than Joanne.

‘Shouldn’t you be writing?’

This question is a bitch to hear when you’ve spent all day yesterday writing and are treating yourself to a day off.

Regular readers of this blog will know by now how annoyed I get with this stupid ‘You must write every day’ mantra. A day off won’t kill your novel.

Writers, ease up on your fellow writers. If you want to write 24/7, knock yourself out. I’ll be on the sofa, stuffing my face with sugary goodness, and conserving energy for tomorrow’s writing session.

To non-writers, please don’t ask if we should be writing. I don’t ask you, plumber bloke, if you should be fixing leaky bogs at 10pm do I? I don’t get on your case, bus driver person, when I ask where your bus is on your day off.

If it makes you happier, I’ll superglue a pen to my hands. Then we can all live in an ignorant, ‘she’s such a dedicated writer’ bubble. I may never be able to go to the loo again without doing myself an injury, but if it keeps you quiet it might be worth it.

‘Writers are only those that get published’

Unpublished writer quoteGroan. I am writing to get published. I have to do the act of writing to produce something that will be published.

I’m not pretending at writing. I am doing the actual, proper writing. That makes me a writer. There is no room for the title ‘aspiring writer’. You either do it or you don’t.

Writing makes me the writer of a novel. It will get published one day. I will then be a published writer. There you go.

‘You’re doing a great job’

More of this: often and with love please. Writers are an incredibly needy bunch. You may have noticed. Now peel me some grapes whilst I work out why my protagonist is being such a numpty.

About Lisa Sell

Lisa Sell is a fiction writer and blogger. When not wrestling with words she can be found showing the love for chocolate, cheese, coffee, the cat, and the Husband. Not particularly in that order.

17 comments on “Have You Finished Your Novel Yet?

  1. I always find ‘how’s the book coming along’ a difficult question.

    The actual answer is ‘well I’ve done the fourth draft and I’m getting critique and I’m making notes and planning the next draft and it might be the last and it might not and I’ve got this problem and that problem and….’

    Yeah, I normally say ‘oh I’m working it’ 🙂

    1. I have tried giving those lengthy explanations but after seeing people’s eyes glass over I decided that ‘I’m working on it’ is the easiest response! It’s a complicated life we lead.

  2. All are horrible questions. Even worse is when after asking why it’s taking so long, they attach it with how they can probably write a story faster. Or some other nonsense.

    1. I don’t think I’d be responsible for my actions if someone told me they could write my novel faster than me! Glad you enjoyed the post Lidy.

  3. Really good post Lisa. ‘What’s your novel about?’ gets me every time. My mind goes blank and I’m, em well….. then I say something that I think might impress them, and kick myself later for being so false!
    At the moment it is what it is and that’s fine by me.

    1. It’s so weird that we came up with the idea and are writing it but still can’t properly explain what our novel is about! Thanks for commenting Debbie.

  4. My biggest bugbear is when you meet someone for the first time and someone in your little crowd lets slip that you’re a writer. The newbie then proceeds to tell you at length about the fantastic book they are going to write (its always SciFi) and you have to listen knowing full well that this person will never ever put pen to paper or bash away at a keyboard. Some even have the nerve to suggest that you could collaborate with them (this means will you write it for me when I tell you the basic gist of my crappy idea) to which the only polite answer is ‘Sod Off Bollock Brain’ which comes out as ‘is that the time, I really must be going’. The writer’s life eh?

  5. Hahaha – um, yeah. I vacillated on this, but decided to tell people in the hopes it would keep me on track. But alas, that has backfired completely! I’m now in shut my piehole mode on the whole topic…

  6. “What’s it about?”
    I found that sort of shuts everyone up. Although I do hate the “are you published yet?” question. “Cats” doesn’t seem to answer that, although I guess I could try…

  7. Great post!! I made the decision to tell people that I’m working on a novel. I thought it would help with accountability and motivation, but mostly I’m feeling anxiety over what will happen if I never get this thing written. People have been really good not to ask too many questions about it… yet. Maybe that will come later, we’ll see. I’ve told a few people the very basic premise of the story, but I’m going to save the details for critique partners/writing group friends.

    1. Same here. I’ve been sharing the bare minimum. It seems to have worked as no one asks me much about the novel now!

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

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