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.
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?
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.
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.
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).
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.