Monday, June 07, 2010

"How's our novel coming?"

By Pat Remick

There are times when I wish I’d never told anyone that I’m working on a novel. Those days inevitably come when someone says “How’s the writing coming?” or “Oh, I thought you’d already finished that book.”

Then there's the woman who pays a weekly visit to my office and asks "How's our novel coming?" On the few occasions when I've explained where I am in the process, her eyes glazed over. So now I just say, "fine" and once again kick myself for revealing a Work in Progress exists -- then kick myself harder for not finishing it yet.

I realize people are just being nice, showing an interest. But I also wonder if they think writing fiction is easy. Sometimes they say things like “I’m going to write a book someday” or “I thought I'd write a novel this summer.” Well, good for them. And good luck.

They'll soon learn what we know: writing is really, really hard. There's a saying on my desk that begins with “Writing is easy...” but the next part is: “All you do is stare at a blank piece of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” Some days that’s pretty close to the truth.
Sure, there are times when the words flow onto the paper like melted chocolate. And yes, there are instances when the characters and plots reveal themselves on the page as if they have come from somewhere outside our imaginations Those are the magical days, to be sure.
To have more of those magical days, we need to be available, butt in chair (BIC) in front of the computer. I don't mean to whine but, as you know, real life can interfere with writing. Do I need to explain to people asking about my book that obligations like showing up at my job or sweeping the floor more than once a month reduces the amount of time available to work on a novel? 

I believe the ability to write is a gift. However, having so many stories and characters inside my head -- all begging to get out--can feel like a curse. It's the same affliction that prompted me to start writing a novel and pushes me to wake up early to write before work every day. I never mention this sickness to the people who ask about my book.

But when I DO finally finish my novel, will I be cured?


Gina said...


When you finally finish the novel, you will have to keep revising it until you get it published. Finishing the novel is just the first step.

You seem to be lucky so far in the comments. Hasn't anyone told you they have an idea for a good story that they will let you write? This is the Hollywood version of "writing is hard" -- it all comes down to needing an idea. [The same people probably think movie scenes require so many takes because the actors can't remember their lines.]

And face it. Writing is hard, but writing is also fun, not only for those chocolate on the page (great image!) moments, but for the times you pick up your manuscript and read it months later and think, "Did I really write this? This is really good!" Of course, there are also those moments when you pick up your manuscript and read it and think, "This is total crap!" Sometimes, these moments involve the same paragraphs. It's hard, too, because your deepest secret emotions, things you haven't even shared with your best friend, come spilling out onto the page, and then you face the prospect of sharing this with strangers, who will not understand at all and who will probably think you are a seriously deranged nincompoop.

The writing life.

Karen in Ohio said...

Pat, I don't think that's what your friends and family mean when they ask how the book is coming, or at least not all of them. They know you're writing, they can't wait to read it, and they want to know when they can. They will be your first fans, you know.

Don't take it personally, and don't let their concerns for your progress pressure you. If it makes you nervous, ask your immediate family and closest friends not to say anything.

Annette said...

Sorry to say, there is no cure.

I do like the "How's OUR novel coming?" line. I think this screams for a smart aleckly reply like "MY part of it is great. How's yours?"

PatRemick said...

Annette -- You made me laugh out loud. A perfect response. Much better than glaring at her and saying "don't ask."

And Gina and Karen, thanks for the words of encouragement...This week I'm just mad at myself for talking about it... instead of FINISHING it. :)

Joyce said...

I feel your pain, Pat. Only other writers understand exactly what it takes to write a book.

And there is no cure. You start all over with the next book.

For anyone who doesn't know, Pat won the first five lines contest over on Sophie Littlefield's blog last week. She gets to send pages and a synopsis to Sophie's agent, Barbara Poelle!

Karen in Ohio said...

That's fantastic news, Pat! Best of luck.

Clarissa Draper said...

You will never be cured. Once you finish one story, somehow all the characters from other ideas (that you didn't know you had) pop in and say hello. Then, they start talking. Just try telling them to shut up and she where that gets you.

MaryQ said...

I haven't told too many people that I'm writing a book, but I did have a good experience when I did. They got all excited & asked all kinds of questions & got me all excited about writing again. So, that was helpful.
I can understand where the same question repeated can be annoying. It's like when you've been ill or had surgery & they ask how you are. Most of them don't really want all the gory details, so you just say I'm fine or I'm getting there.
Your comment was great, Annette. I got a chuckle out of it, too.

Carol Kilgore said...

I totally relate to this post. I don't think anyone except another writer gets what it's like. Not even the ones who live with us.

Anonymous said...

I think it is good people are showing interest.
I don't think you want to be cured of having ideas and characters in your mind. Sometimes it might feel a bit too much but most days it feels wonderful to have an interesting and creative outlet.
Best of luck with your writing.

PatRemick said...

Thanks everyone for your comments!
I wish Joyce's report were true -- I haven't won, but I am one of the six semifinalists Sophie is selecting over three weeks(and there's still another week to enter if you want to play... go to The winner gets to send the first chapter to Barbara Poelle -- but I think the other semifinalists get a copy of Sophie's newest book "A Bad Day for Pretty" or maybe some of the nail polish her kick-ass character uses!