Writing a Novel

When I first began writing fiction, I wrote short stories. I never considered the possibility of a novel. I reasoned if I could learn to write a decent short story I would at least have the technical writing skills for a novel. While that reasoning was valid, it was a little naïve.

Writing a short story is like building a bookcase or a simple piece of furniture. You can build the basic framework in a weekend’s worth of work. Subsequently, what you do to finish the work can be as simple as sanding and finishing or as intricate as carving inlays, adding handmade knobs, making drawers with handcut dovetails, or applying multiple layers of color and finish.

To stay with the building analogy, writing a novel is more like building a house. Not only does it require multiple kinds of skill: masonry, framing, roofing, finish carpentry. It also requires perseverance: day after day, week after week of unending work. Years ago, I built a house and when the foundation and framing were complete, the shingles and siding were on, the doors and windows in, my wife said to me, “Oh good. It’s almost done. In reality, it was only half finished even though it looked complete from the outside. A novel can be like that. You get the basic framework in place, you know your characters. If you have single or multiple plot lines, you know how they fit together. Yet, there are scenes upon scenes of detail to be fleshed out with detail. It is, like the house, a project which can have no end.

With a house, once you start it, you know it has to be finished. Unless you have unlimited funds, there are simply too many financial considerations and consequences to leaving it unfinished. The completion of the novel for a beginning writer with no contract or deadline has no similar consequences. You can put it away for long stretches of time; move on to other projects.

I’m not quite there yet. Not quite willing to make the time commitment it takes. But I’m working on it. Somehow, I know that discipline of writing every day, of getting to the end of something big will be a stepping stone.

Copyright 2009 by Toby Heaton

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