Don’t (Ever) Write a Novel


Attending two writing conferences in one summer has convinced me of one true thing – no one should ever even consider writing a novel. Simply put, it’s too much work.

The questions overwhelm: Present tense or past? How much physical description? – one class participant says it’s too much and one says too little. And while we are at it, what is 3rd person limited point of view anyway? My all-knowing omniscient voice splashes wisdom on every page with not only glee but apt and smart allusions – to kill such darlings would make even Faulkner weep.

And by no means should one try to write a novel when she is an essayist, or a poet. On my desk at school I’ve taped an index card on which I’ve written, If Marilynne and Flannery can do it, so can I, in that cute, colorful calligraphy all my students practice during class. On good writing days, I kiss the index card and hold it to my chest, pick up the phone, and pay my hard-earned money to come to the Mecca of American writing – Iowa City, Iowa.

But I’ve come to the conclusion that it may be time to rip up the index card and binge-watch Netflix. Seems like that’s what all the cool kids are doing these days. Just sayin’.

Never try to write a novel.

And while I have your ear, I’d like to advise you against having children too. And exercising. And eating well. And good personal grooming. And definitely gardening. Again, too much work. The day-to-dayness of such processes confounds the mind and wounds the spirit – things that must be tended to every day are simply not worth the effort. The payoff comes too late, if it comes at all.

Children are sticky. Exercise hurts. Plants wither. And Margaret Atwood tells us to “keep our eyes upon the doughnut,” so take that NutriSystem. I’ll just shop for bigger clothes.

So please. Don’t ever try to write a novel – at the end of your day. At the end of the day, go to bed. Embrace the darkness – invest in blackout curtains if you must. But rest. Let the children and the novel sleep.

Sisyphus’ stone has rolled to the bottom of the hill every day for millennia, and I think I’m unique?

We should write our novels in the morning. Kiss the children. Eat a banana. Go to yoga. Water the plants. Brush your teeth. Work on your novel. Push the stone up the hill again, today and then again tomorrow.

One must imagine Sisyphus happy.