Three reasons you should probably quit writing your novel now (and one reason you should keep going)
It’s hard. You probably won’t make any money. Your heart will be stabbed with a thousand tiny rejections. Give up writing now.
Read on for more reasons to throw your manuscript out the window – but just before you do… make sure you read to the end.
If I had a penny for each time I told someone I write novels, and they replied with ‘Oh yes, I’ve always wanted to write a novel’, then I still wouldn’t have enough to build that writing turret, but it would at least keep me in moleskin notebooks for the rest of my life. Anyway, my point is that a lot of people think it’s a nice idea to write a novel. People who haven’t actually tried.
After them come the people that have the wherewithal to actually sit down and start writing. The vast majority of those people will never finish the first draft.
And those that do?
Most people’s first novels are terrible. Sure, I’m sure there are some virtuoso exceptions who can touch the human soul with a glance, win an Olympic medal before breakfast and still have time to do the ironing (how does anyone have time to do the ironing?). But for the rest of us humans, a first novel is best considered an excellent training experience. Completing your first novel will teach you more about novel writing than almost anything else, and the sense of accomplishment when you do finish it is akin to rapture. However, Waterstones-worthy, it ain’t.
The painful truth is that most people will need to write several novels before their writing gets to a reasonably high standard. And this is alongside reading and analysing other novels, people watching, working out what makes people tick and what makes then break, reading books on the craft, reading articles about structure, publishing, etc etc.
Does this all sound hard? Like I said.
It is hard.
You probably won’t make any money
It’s all very well looking at JK Rowling or Stephen King and thinking about all the millions of books you’re going to sell. But writers that hit it big are a miniscule proportion of the writers out there. And I’m not talking about the aspiring writers. I’m talking about the successful ones.
Recent research* suggests that even if you are fortunate enough to get published traditionally, and your book on the shelf in Barnes and Noble, there’s still a very high chance you won’t be making enough money to make ends meet. A lot of traditionally published authors supplement their incomes with other work.
The picture is no better for self-published authors as most self-published books on Amazon sell less than ten copies.
Your heart will be stabbed with a thousand tiny rejections
The world of writing is filled with rejection.
If you want to be traditionally published, then you’d better be prepared for what I’m going to call ‘the ladder of lament’ – as each time you complete a step, you realise there’s a whole nother stage of rejection waiting.
First you start by trying to get an agent, and receive multiple single liner dismissals that you have privilege of waiting months for.
Then, if you’re lucky enough to get an agent, they will hand over your beloved creation to an editor, who will point out all the things that are wrong with it, tear it apart and order you to stitch it back together.
Next it’s the publishers’ turn to tell you you’re ‘too quirky’ or ‘too mainstream’.
Then, once you actually see your book on the shelf, it’s time for the critics to weigh in – both in eloquent wounding words in journals, and illiterate aggression on Amazon reviews. Or perhaps they’ll crush you with the worst weapon of all – complete indifference.
Again, if you go for self-publishing you might skip the first few stages, but you’ll just go headfirst into the world of mean reviews – and you won’t have an establishment and team of people to remind you there are people that think your work is worthy.
So what’s the one reason you should keep going?
Because you don’t care about any of the above. Because you feel empty on days you don’t write. Because the ideas and characters in your head demand to be let out.
Because you can’t not write.
Writing is hard, it’s monetarily nonsensical and it hurts.
So if you think there’s something else you might enjoy just as much, like paddle boarding, photography or drinking Prosecco, then you could save yourself a lot of trouble by just doing that.
Writing is also incredibly rewarding.
The feeling when the words are flowing and the plot is falling into place is like grace, and the joy of the weight of a printed out manuscript in your hands is hard to equal.
And of course learning that other people enjoyed, and were touched and moved by your work is unbeatable.
Everybody struggles, everybody finds it hard sometimes. Everybody has moments when they doubt themselves and when they just want to quit.
But sometimes the need to write is like a hunger, and it doesn’t matter how hard or painful it is – you have to do it anyway.
If you are one of those people, then good luck! I look forward to reading your work one day.
Have you ever wanted to quit? Have you expressed yourself in dramatic ways, such as a ritual book burning?
Or have you never had any doubts? Are you one of those people who wrote a breathtaking masterpiece at a stroke?
Tell us in the comments!
*Unscientifically done by me, asking published authors and literary agents in the UK whenever the opportunity arises