It’s not an exaggeration to say almost everyone believes they could one day write a book.
It’s not my job to crush your dreams. If you want to write a novel, I truly believe you can do it.
But the truth is, many who dream of becoming novelists will never make it past the first drafts of their first manuscripts.
Why? Because writing is … complicated.
Writing a novel is a very big project. And most who make a vow to complete it don’t quite realize just how big “big” actually means in this context.
Let’s say your novel ends up being 100,000 words. Just the first draft alone, writing 1,000 words a day, is going to take you probably a lot longer than you’ve ever worked consistently on any one project in your life (there are plenty of exceptions, I’m sure). And that’s just the first draft.
Add to that the fact that some days writing 1,000 words, for example, could take you multiple hours depending on what’s going on in your life that day. And in case you don’t know it yet … writing is exhausting. Mentally and physically draining far beyond what you’d expect. Even the writing you enjoy takes a lot out of you.
This is a lot to handle. Many writers are not prepared.
And I can’t go on without bringing instant gratification into the discussion (it always finds its way here, doesn’t it?). Writing a book is NOT going to happen in a day, a week, a month, or even a year (I didn’t intend to make a Friends reference when I started this sentence but just go with it). You’re not going to get the feelings of satisfaction you want, maybe not even in the beginning.
Part of handling a long-term project is learning how to identify tiny milestones and celebrate them. Waiting for the finish line to congratulate yourself is going to make it a lot harder to push yourself toward getting there.
Writing a book can’t consume your entire life. I love the jokes about writing drowning out everything else that typically makes up our existence. Ideas consume us. They take over our minds. When we’re working on a story we love, we want that to be the only thing we look at.
But this desire just isn’t realistic. The problem is that many approach novel-writing believing it is. And when they find themselves struggling to write more than a few hundred words a day because there are just too many other things happening, they get discouraged. They start to believe they’re doing something wrong or that they’re not “good enough.” And unfortunately, this leads to many of them giving up too soon.
As a writer, if you want to succeed writing long-form content, you have to accept very early on that as much as you want writing to be your whole life, it probably never will be. You’ll always have other commitments and projects. You’ll always have family obligations and friends who deserve your attention. You will always have other things to focus on in addition to writing, because writing is only a part of what makes you who you are.
Once you accept that, you can start to figure out how much time and energy you have to dedicate to writing. For many, writing a novel takes years — not because the writing itself is impossible, but because they only have a limited amount of time to do it on the days they commit to it.
Not every writer is ‘novel’ material. I’m not saying anyone who wants to write a novel can’t do it. Anyone who wants to write anything and is willing to put in the many hours of time and effort it takes to “get good” can do it. Anyone who is willing to try can succeed.
But the reality is, some writers just aren’t novel writers. They’re really good at poetry or short stories. They lean more toward nonfiction writing like essays and articles. Every writer has a specific medium that suits their interest, skills, and discipline — and novels just don’t fit into every category.
And do you know what? That is OKAY.
You don’t have to be a novelist to be a successful writer. It took me a long time to come to terms with that idea, so if you’re not a fan — I get it. I had it in my head for YEARS that until I published a novel, I couldn’t consider myself successful. I put so much unnecessary pressure on myself to stick with a project long enough to eventually have something to submit, even when I was already busy working on other writing projects.
You can pursue writing in whatever medium you want — and you can get really, really good at writing more than one kind of thing. If that ends up being a novel, that’s amazing. If it doesn’t — there’s nothing wrong with that.
Not everyone who thinks they can take on this feat can succeed. That doesn’t make them some kind of failure and it doesn’t mean they aren’t trying hard enough.
Maybe it just means they have a different calling as a writer.
That’s MORE than okay. That’s magical.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.