Why I Write Novels
Even Though I Can’t Get One Published
Some years ago, I spent a decade writing a novel — as it happens, I have ten versions on a hard drive, one for every year I worked on what turned out to be not quite a masterpiece. In fact, it turned out to be not quite a novel, too. My first long work of fiction was firmly a novella and it refused to grow long enough to be reclassified.
Book count: Novellas, 1.
When I couldn’t interest agents or editors in it—mainly due to its undesirable size—I published it myself, in part to achieve some sort of closure, in part to give it to the world (indeed, I gave it away as often as Amazon would allow), and in part to clear the way for me to write a second long work of fiction. For I hadn’t liked the idea of writing a novel when I already had a novella to sell.
So then I wrote a novel. A whole novel, of actual novel length. And that novel, despite being represented for a year, did not sell. So I put it aside, so to speak, and did not write anything new and large for a while. Because I did not like the idea of writing a novel when I already had a novel to sell.
Book count: Novellas, 1; Novels, 1.
It was probably around this time that a wise friend told me that I absolutely should not wait to write something new and large, if I otherwise wanted to write something new and large, simply because I’d written something large still unsold, because… well, because my reason was dumb. And I suppose that it was dumb. After all, maybe the new thing would be the thing to sell, and then I could sell the earlier thing second. So I wrote a second novel.
Book count: Novellas, 1; Novels, 2.
This same friend read the second novel and told me that it should be published. Whether it would be, he couldn’t say, but to his mind it very much deserved to be published. And then it promptly wasn’t. My friend, unfortunately, is not a publisher. So I swore that I would not write another novel unless and until I could get this second novel published, as it deserved to be, in the opinion of one friend who is not a publisher of novels.
Then something unfortunate happened: I had an idea for a third novel. A really good idea, I thought, for a more complicated, more ambitious novel. I tried to talk myself out of writing it, but because I’m not very persuasive, I failed, so I wrote it.
Book count: Novellas, 1; Novels, 3.
And then I had another great novel idea, so I wrote another novel, and also another great novella idea, so I wrote another novella. I was doing other things as well, like helping to make or raise at least one child.
Book count: Novellas, 2; Novels, 4.
I tried, as I always do, to interest agents in my work, and although I got nibbles, as I always do, I got no bites. So I put everything creative aside at the start of this year and made a lowercase-r-resolution not to write any new — oh, damn it!
Yup. I had a new novel idea. I mean, come on. A fifth novel? Would I really have five unpublished novels?
No, I would not. Before writing the last, I decided that I would self-publish it. I wrote it knowing that I would not even try to sell it — other than directly to the people, that is. To you. And you. And that was a liberating decision, as it turned out, if not an remunerative one.
Book count: Novellas, 2; Novels, 5.
But the idea of an ever-growing backlog of unpublished novels still bothers me enormously, as you might imagine. The frustration increases exponentially. The disappointment, too. And the unwillingness to perpetuate the cycle.
So I’ve spent a good deal of time — often while driving, alone, when I’m not singing, aloud — wondering why I keep putting myself through the difficult process of writing a novel. And, wouldn’t you know it, I recently finally came up with an answer. And, wouldn’t you know it, the answer has three parts:
In the end, I write for myself.
My mother once — more than once, in fact — remarked that my fiction probably wasn’t more popular because I didn’t write “for the masses.” Who did I write for? she asked. I write for people who enjoy reading the kinds of things that I write, I answered. And who is that, exactly? It’s… me. And I am not the masses. I can not even say for certain that I contain multitudes. I am one man who doesn’t enjoy reading nearly as much as you’d think he does. But I really like my own writing. Maybe too much. Probably too much.
I enjoy spending time with my characters.
I really do. If you’ve read anything long of mine, you know that there’s one character (often the protagonist, but not always) based on myself. Even if you haven’t read anything of mine, you probably still know that I have a pretty high opinion of myself. In real life, I enjoy my own company much of the time (like when I’m driving and singing). So it only makes sense that I would enjoy reading things that I’ve put into the mouth of a character based on myself. Also, there’s usually a character based on my wife, whose company I also very much enjoy.
I love solving problems.
This part took me longer to realize, even though I’ve long been aware of how much I enjoy solving problems. Crossword puzzles are one of my favorite diversions, but I’m a fan of word puzzles of almost all kinds. And writing a novel is certainly a word puzzle. I mean, you have to put all the words in just the right order, or it won’t make any sense! But in a larger, less flippant sense, successfully plotting a novel is truly a puzzle, and solving it can be an extraordinarily trying, but ultimately exceptionally rewarding, experience.
I can not say for certain that I contain multitudes.
Now, if you’ve gotten the uncomfortable suspicion that I’m about to announce something, big or otherwise, relax, because I’m not. I just wanted to get these particular thoughts out of my head — to make room for some new thoughts I might have in the near future. Because I enjoy having thoughts sometimes, even if they don’t lead to anything.