Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Writing a novel: Month 8

This month was a relatively successful one, for my novel.  I doubled my word count, and sent it out to some (not all) of my test readers.  Feedback was negative, which is a good thing because I can improve!

Today, I'd like to talk about the mixed messages I get as a writer.

At Thanksgiving, one of the questions my mother asks me is "Are you going to continue with your PhD?"

I can't believe I'm hearing this!  I try writing a novel, and suddenly people ask if I'm continuing with my PhD program?  Nobody ever asked that in relation to any of the other hobbies I pick up.  When I started blogging, no one ever asked if I would continue with university.  When I picked up guitar, no one ever asked me if I was planning to switch to being a rock star.  When I picked up origami (and even made a small profit from it), no one ever asked if this meant I was giving up physics.

Let's put this in perspective.  I wrote about 7k words of my novel, and there were about 10k words in the novel I scrapped.  This is less than 20k words over the course of 8 months.  How many words did I write for my blog in the same amount of time?  I estimate 50k words.  But somehow, writing a book signals a greater time commitment.

Another thing that happened this month was National Novel Writing Month.  Every November, hundreds of thousands of people attempt to write a complete novel with at least 50k words.  This is quite an undertaking, and most people don't succeed.  I've heard that the resulting novels are usually terrible and require a lot of editing.

But still, this isn't something people quit their jobs for, not for just one month.  Writing fiction can be a career for some people, but for most people it isn't.  More often, it's just a weighty hobby.  For me, it's not even that, it's a light hobby.  There was no way I'd write 50k words in a month.  I wrote about ten times less than that, mostly while riding the bus to and from work.

Here's another kind of writing that people do: fanfiction.  Personally, I can't stand fanfiction.  The quality is just too low.  The only fanfic I ever really read was HPMOR, and even there I feel like I'm struggling with Yudkowski's awful prose and peculiar plot obsessions.

But I don't begrudge people writing for the pure love of writing and stories.  On the contrary, I admire it.  And who is to say my writing is any better?  Test reader feedback isn't positive enough to justify such a view.

And that's fine with me.  I would love to be a great author and get published, but that's not the real goal here.  If the small amount of time I commit isn't enough to get to the finish line, it's not a big loss.  The goal is to enjoy myself, and I am already accomplishing that.