6 Lies I Tell Myself About Why I Haven't Written a Novel ...Yet

Posted
2 years ago
Bookshelf and Unicorn

When I was ten years old I decided I was going to be a writer.

I know it was age ten, because I was chosen from among my fifth grade elementary school classmates to participate in a so-called advanced learning group (read: a class for kids who work too fast on their normal work and would be a distraction to the other students if not given something extra to do every day.) This turned out to be a creative writing class.  

Inspiring teacher meet receptive kid in his formative years.

We self-published single editions of little "novels" that we wrote that year, and they were placed as borrowable items in the school library. And kids actually checked them out! I was hooked.

That was the last time anything I ever wrote was in a library collection, but the notion -- the need, the obsession -- of penning a great novel someday has clung to my heart like a benign tumour ready to emotionally destroy me should it ever break loose from the realm of possibility and tear a piece from my chest as it careens through my blood stream. 

Terrible metaphor, but in my mid-forties I'm still sitting here writing the first chapters to dozens of stories that never go anywhere, and there are a lot of much more terrible reasons why.

I first need to focus on my career, family, life, and everything else. 

Many people quote the now famous ten-thousand hour rule as the key to achieving greatness in anything. Learn an instrument. Master a sport. Write amazing literature. But as the originator of the idea, Malcolm Gladwell himself says it, that rule is often misinterpreted. It's not putting in ten thousand hours. It's the ability to put in ten thousand hours. It's the support systems, free time, lack of concern over paying a mortgage or cleaning a house or raising a well-adjusted daughter that allow for ten thousand hours to be invested. People who have no "everything else" to worry about, can log ten thousand hours and get it done.

I have a job. I have a family (including a teenage daughter, hashtag girldad!) I have friends and hobbies and obligations. All this also makes for a fine excuse not to spend an entire weekend behind a keyboard.

It's also a bit of a lie, because I also spend a lot of time watching mediocre television, playing video games, and wandering the park listening to podcasts. It's how you invest the time you have, and while I may not have ten thousand hours, I've got at least ten per week I could use a lot better than I do.

I haven't found my great idea yet.

Moby Dick is an epic tale of obsession, of a man consumed by revenge, and the fruitless result of clinging to the idea that life can have a single, all-dominating purpose. Moby Dick is also a work of art, a great novel the likes of which would be rare and difficult to replicate.

Chasing my great idea reminds me of Moby Dick. The notion of finding the perfect story, the bestselling idea, the novel that would become my magnum opus is in itself a tale of self-destructive obsession. In my lucid moments I can write articles like this and remind myself that the great idea may not even exist, and even if I was to stick it with my pen it would likely destroy me in the end -- as like as I could capture and contain it.

The lie I tell myself is that I actually want to find my great idea. 

In fact, I'd be better to squander some looser writing and hone my craft on some lesser idea and then save the great one for the day I'm ready to face it down -- or just keep dreaming and aspiring to find it.

I need to focus on quality before I spend a lot of time writing quantity.

Getting hung up on perfection is a brutal excuse for anything. I often tell the people I work for and with to strive for something called MVP or "minimum viable product." It's the notion that (a) nothing we do can endanger life, liberty or happiness if it isn't perfect and (b) it's better to get something simple that works shipped now and make it available to our users than spend months polishing and refining and miss out on that time when someone could have enjoyed or benefited from the product.

I've been writing a bit of fiction in parallel to the timeline in which I wrote this article, and it's been published under the same idea of MVP and to fight against the lie of "focusing on quality" first.  I have an idea that's pretty good, and I'm just going to put what I write out there, lightly edited, because if I keep going back to polish it I never will. It will collect digital dust, never to be read again.

It's kinda my own sort of MVS ... minimum viable story.   

I want to have a distinctive style, and I haven't pinned that down yet.

I find as I gain experience that I'm slightly obsessed certain authors as much because I like their styles as that I like their stories.

My go to example of this is Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut has this distinctive, off-the-cuff, casual style that is so grounded in clear, precise, simplicity of voice that it comes across as if it was blurted out by an amature -- which is exactly the opposite of the truth. It's said that it takes a genius to play an idiot character, and in the same way it takes careful style and practice to write as perfectly imperfect as Vonnegut.

I envy that. And I spend way too much time thinking about my own style and trying to find my voice... which makes me more reluctant to write anything that doesn't fit with that voice... y'know... the one I haven't found yet. 

It's hiding just around the corner, I'm sure of it.

A dumb lie and a dumber reason not to just write and let it happen.

No one wants yet another novel from yet another middle age white dude. 

As I write this there are protests around the world online in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. I support the Black Lives Matter movement. We all should. Black Lives Matter. 

I also support the idea that we build a better world by elevating each other in all things that we do, no matter our heritage, gender, colour, creed, or any other defining characteristic.

I struggle as I write anything these days with the paradox of wanting my own voice out there -- because it's my voice, the only one I have -- but not wanting to have it replace another under-represented voice that equally deserves to be heard, read, enjoyed, understood.

Yet, implying that there is limited room for voices is likely an easy lie that I tell myself to shift the responsibility to just write more, even just for myself.

True, there are only so many hours in the day that any person can spend reading a book and it would be great if everyone had equal access to every audience — but the answer is more lifting each other up and over the bar... not just lowering that bar.

In other words, just write what's right.. and not use societal equity as an excuse to try less hard individually. 

When I'm older and wiser I'll have smarter things to say. 

When I was ten years old I decided I was going to be a writer.

Wait, did I tell that story already?

I too often forget that when I was ten, other ten-year-olds wanted to read the stories I wrote.

I assume someone may have wanted to read what I had to say when I was twenty ... thirty ... and in my forties, even. Hey, I'm in my forties now. Wait a minute!

It's easy to lie to oneself and make the assumption that someday the smarts will roll in fully and completely and then -- and only then -- make all those words worth reading.

But tell that to my ten-year-old self -- even I might like to read his stuff again.