“Why write novels?” For me, it’s a question with three answers: the practical, the intellectual, and the personal.
Novels are the backbone of making a reasonable income as a fiction writer right now. As someone who hopes to do this at least semi-professionally, that means they have to enter the mix. Much as I look forward to the day when electronic publishing and flexible pricing make a much wider range of publishing feasible and familiar (especially in the “awkward” novella and novelette forms, which currently have precious few professional markets), right now, novel’s are where the money’s at. That’s to the extent there’s money in any of this, of course, which seems like a separate conversation for a later post.
So: I would like to make some reasonable money at this, and novels are the best option on the table for that right now.
I’m not strictly mercenary about this, though. I’m also in it because I like learning and improving in new areas. While reading novels is obviously no new thing for me, writing them has been a pretty rare occurrence. Basically, there was the end-of-undergrad NaNoWriMo product, which will likely never see the light of day again, and this year’s NaNoWriMo product, which hopefully will. In other words, while I’ve completed shorts of various length and quality, my novel experience is quite thin.
Also, as I discussed in my thoughts on short stories, novels call for a greater degree of precision on the part of the author’s imagination. That’s a tougher skill for me right now, which means it’s something I need to be working on. The discomfort with that level of investment and precision is both a reason why I haven’t done much novel-writing and a reason why I should do more.
Novels can be fun, and that matters to me, too. The difference between grinding out a particular product over and over and spending time on something that’s fun makes a big difference to motivation and satisfaction. I’m drawing a distinction here between having a couple of days of novel writing that are tough and having the whole process feel terrible. I had many more good days than bad working on last month’s NaNoWriMo, and I’ve been getting excited about future novel ideas. I take both of these as good signs, along with the fact that I was having enough fun to finish my NaNoWriMo novel even as other ideas started to percolate. That suggests I find novel writing itself – not just coming up with novel ideas – to be fun, which is important.
I now feel kind of like I did at the end of dissections: I’ve taken the dead, chemical-filled body of what was a beautiful, living thing (in this case, fun) and pulled all its organs out. Intellectual understanding may be advanced, but at the expense of the joy and beauty. Ah, well. Such is the risk of introspecting out loud on the Internet with my leftover words for the day.