WIP Wednesday #4: Am I a Novelist?

Work in Progress

When I began writing Descriptions of Heaven, though I did intend to one day become a novelist, I never intended this narrative to be of book-length. The thing grew from a single scene into a story composed of chapters. It, in fact, unintentionally took the place of a book I was writing about a son dealing with the decline of his mother’s health due to Alzheimer’s disease.

Descriptions of Heaven 3D image black background.

Even with this book published, I had never been quite certain that I legitimately was a novelist, since my first book is what many call a novella. However, I have come across writing just as short as my novella where the publisher calls it a novel in the blurb and foreword. So I was either a novelist who wrote a little novel (novella) or a short story author who wrote a long short story.  Either way, my book was published as a standalone piece, just like any novel—big or small. Yet, I still kept asking myself, Am I a novelist?

Novelist contemplating©2004-2019 wredwrat

When asked what I do all day, my default answer is no longer “I’m a writer” or the only sightly less vague “I write books.”  Instead, I’m more apt so say “I’m a novelist” (though saying I’m a short story author is equally true, short fiction work isn’t a part of my quotidian practices).

There are two primary reason I’ve embraced the term novelist:
1) Recently, a friend on my Literary Fiction Writers Facebook group, during a discussion about the demarcations between a short story and a novel, pointed out that the real difference isn’t word count, but structure and flow. Novels and short stories are extremely different in that respect. While I’m not willing to discount word count as playing a central role in their difference, I’m apt to agree that rather small word counts can still be structured as novels. Descriptions of Heaven has under 35 thousand words, but it is structured as a novel and does not flow like a short story.
2) I have to admit that in this past six months I’ve become much more focused on my novel-in-progress, spending less time on my short fiction, which I often used to write, edit, and submit in lieu of working on my novel. Not only did my computer go kaput, as I explained in a previous WIP Wednesday post, making this kind of productive “distraction” less available, but I’ve also been spending every free day I have novel-writing for as long as I feasibly can. While it’s often not as much as I want, I can honestly say I am spending large chunks of my weekdays writing a novel.

©2016-2019 TheGraphicNovelist
©2016-2019 TheGraphicNovelist

So, there you have it. I have already written one little novel, and most Tuesdays through Fridays I spend my hours after breakfast until lunch writing my next novel. I am a novelist, both a published and actively working novelist.

Real talk time: I think a lot of novelists suffering from impostor syndrome or whatever, suffer a lot not because their book is too small, but because they don’t write as much as they can. No one should spend all their time writing, and in your life there are likely other things that take precedence over creative work. But a lot of us have the time—have in fact painfully carved out some small hours to focus on creativity—and yet we feel like impostors because we haven’t developed a good writing habit, thus we don’t use the time as we should. Consequently, we don’t feel like writers, let alone novelists.

The truth is, I haven’t developed a consistent habit of getting back to the desk after lunch. I can’t even blame it on a honey-do list, since I don’t let chores distract me anymore. My problem is that writing’s been going so well that I often finish my intended writing goal for the day or complete a long scene before the hours I’ve carved out for myself are used up. So I often stop writing because my brain feels like it needs a reset or some time to think about what’s next (yeah, I’m not a huge plotter).

On the one hand, I don’t mind these breaks because I’ve felt productive and hit my goals. On the other hand, I want to make a living as a writer—as a novelist—and in order to do that, I’ll probably want to be putting out a book every other year. Stopping for scene changes isn’t going to cut it.

Maori Sakai writer's life

© Maori Sakai

Here’s four things I’m doing to try and keep it going:
1) During lunch, I don’t turn on the radio or watch any TV. This lets my mind linger on my work, keeping me in my novelist zone or at least letting me transition back there faster.
2) I just get right back to the desk after my break and write. It’s been years since I’ve had to be in a mood or needed the Muse to write. So why I think I need to be calibrate my brain for the next section of my novel, I don’t know.
3) If I don’t have so much as a bullet point on a sticky note or general idea of what comes next, I’ll let myself go on a walk and think about it. I write when I get back. This isn’t something I want to become a habit since I won’t be going on walks come our long Midwestern winters, so I’ll only go out for a walk after serious creative thought. If nothing comes, I’ll let myself head out into the neighborhood for an hour or so.
4) I’m building a habit by writing every day I can, starting as early as I can and staying at it until 3:00pm if possible. Yet there’s this thing called real life that gets in the way sometimes of that good habit, so I’ve been trying to write daily regardless of the time. If needed, I’ve started at 11:00am, which is really late for me. I’ve even resorted to writing in the evening if I didn’t get a chance to during the day. While it cuts into family and reading time writing so late, it also shows my commitment to making a living from my books, continues to build my writing habit, and literally gets me a few pages closer to my goal.

This book is getting done. And, while I am a novelist, it’s forming the habit of novel-writing that’s going to let me someday be a career novelist (and occasional author of short story collections).

author novelist short story writer

© Elias Stein

 

Do you consider yourself a novelist whether you’ve written a novel or not? Or a poet, even if you haven’t made a collection of poetry? What are your writing habits like? Are your habits working or can you improve upon them? Let me know in the comments below.

Personal Update

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When I accepted the opportunity to have Descriptions of Heaven published by Harvard Square Editions (rejecting two other small press publishers who wanted the rights to print the manuscript) I set aside a new novel I was working on at the time. I set it aside so I could devote my full attention to, at first, editing my debut and, later, marketing my book.

After Descriptions of Heaven came out, I wrote the first drafts to half a dozen short stories or so. As I like to say, all these story ideas were backed up, blocking the creative pipeline. That pipeline is a little clearer now, and I’ve begun work on my novel-in-progress again.

I’ve been working on the novel in the new library. The old library was one of the small bedrooms and did have the advantage of a small balcony where one could enjoy a book and a view. However, long-term plans finally reached fruition when my best friend, Mike Convery, moved in. I believe he owns more books than I do. So, Libby and I moved out of our large bedroom and into a smaller room, which had until then functioned as an office. I rather like our new space. It’s cozy and, for some reason, I sleep much better there (my love of tight spaces perhaps?). There’s an entrance to an attic bedroom too from the new library. Since Libs and I gave the room over to a communal space, it opened that bedroom up for her sister to move into last month, just in time for Abby to begin her first year of college classes here in Sioux City.

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My writing desk is now located in the library since there’s now no dedicated office space. I must say I don’t mind writing while surrounded by all our books (sans those piled in our respective bedrooms, plus a sole bookcase—built by my great grandfather—that sits in the living room, filled with matching hardcover classics).

As some of you know, I spent most of my summer writing at the Blue Cafe. I will admit, between sorting and shelving books, vacationing with an artist friend in Virginia, and a belated honeymoon with my wife, I did not make it much to the cafe during the months of July and August.
Sept7writingdeskAnd, as you can see, my desk is lined with post-it notes. They’re organized and essential to have for reference while writing my novel. I simply cannot take all the notes with me to the cafe. If I wrote my first draft on a computer rather than by hand (the pile of paper on the left is the hand-written manuscript) I could use the sticky notes function. However, there’s another reason that I must write here at the desk: the cafe is open only three hours during the day. Yes, I spent most of my summer writing short stories during a measly three hours. With so little time actually writing, I found myself editing at home, reading on the porch, and going on frequent walks and picnics with my new wife—all time spent well in my opinion.

But now it’s crunch time. I’m back to writing from morning until early afternoon, usually six hours (including a short lunch). The first thing I am doing is reading through what I’ve written. I have about seven chapters typed up. I’m now reading through those chapters, doing light editing as I go. At the time of composing this blog, I’m in the middle of chapter 4.

Ah, but what about those short stories? Will they be seeing themselves in print soon?
To answer that question, I’ll say that I still plan to go to the Blue Cafe once a week. You’ll find me there on Thursdays (the only weekday Mike works, which leaves me a little too lonely—I work best in a “studio setting” with the presence of others nearby). At the cafe I intend to work on my short fiction and other non-novel writing, submitting it and editing it, maybe even writing new stories should the impulse to compose be strong enough.

Some days I will also spend time on other writing-related work. But not every day. As much as I like the fantasy of a hermetic life of writing, my reality is that I have a lot more in my life to fill up my time. I write, yes, but I also do most of the household cooking, take on the major cleaning projects, keep the houseplants alive, and am essential to shopping excursions. I am a bit of a den mother—even the new members of the household have that figured out already.

I’d rather my plate be emptied of some of these duties (essentially the cleaning, as I do love cooking), that way I’d have more time for reading and studying. But, really, I don’t have any concrete complaints. My new roommates have picked up some of the chores. My cooking is now appreciated by more than just Libby and myself. I’ve found I have plenty of time for great conversations with Mike that only supplement my enjoyment of art and books. Somewhere along the line about an hour a day has opened up for me to begin studying Latin again—which is a joy for me because I’m not a natural when it comes to languages, and I love the mental challenge.

So things are going well. They’re going great. I have more time than ever to work, learn, and play. My house is full of people I love. My blind dog has more sets of hands to pet her than ever before. And my next novel is well under way.
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Kindle Giveaway DEC 24 – DEC 28

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Harvard Square Editions will be doing a Kindle giveaway of Descriptions of Heaven from December 24 through December 28th. Kindle users, please download, read, and review your copy. If you really dig it, buy a paperback for someone you love.

Click here to download your free Kindle copy of Descriptions of Heaven now.

 

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