The Intimate Novel

At the end of Dave King and Renni Browne’s novel, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, the authors mention the importance of discovering your story’s voice. This process takes reflection and willingness to invest the time necessary to become familiar with your novel. In fact, familiarity is not good enough. If you want your novel to levitate from the pile of thousands of its brethren, you must write an intimate novel.

But there’s a fine line between writing an intimate novel and being a perfectionist. So many writers are out there spinning their wheels, busy on one novel with which they’re determined to make their debut. Other writers are doing the opposite: with the advent of Amazon’s KDP it’s easy to get your novel out there and move on to others; after all, being noticed requires you to build an audience.

It’s been hard for me to figure out where I belong in these shifting currents. On one hand, I have a novel that still needs lots of work and others that call for me to write them. On the other, I know this novel I’m working on now will never be “perfect”, and there are many other story ideas waiting for me (like the one for #4, which is all plotted out and ready to be written). But, to abandon this story (#3) now means I am neglecting a large pile of revisions that are necessary for me to see it through to completion.

That’s the keyword here: completion. My present novel is my third attempt. The other two were abandoned in haste. I will one day come back to them. Meanwhile, I’m here with a novel and a large bag of tools I haven’t put to use yet. It’s going to take time, but it will get there. I feel that by staying disciplined I have an opportunity to use what I’ve learned, to learn how to complete a novel.

I am reminded of what it’s like to do Bikram yoga (which I have done more than 100 classes of). My mind is always slipping to other things, rather than the one thing I’m actually doing which matters. The best classes for me are the ones where I am focused on the mirror, concentrating on breathing and the orientation of a given posture, on the feeling of the unique set of muscles contracting. And, with each class I do the same thing and gain a better understanding of what I’m actually doing.

That’s intimacy with a process. As much as I want to jump out of the room, or move on to other kinds of yoga, I only get the benefit by coming back again and again until I’ve reached a certain edge with this set. Then and only then is it time to move on.

Writing a novel is no different. Writing a draft is 5-10% of the work (possibly less). Revision is the rest, and it is seldom a simple act of perfecting sentences. A novel that will gather an audience is one that you have revisited with willingness to push it deeper toward its true form. Not a formula, not a mechanical step-by-step process, merely a commitment to come back and connect to each unique arc that makes up its many curves. It’s chaotic and often requires faith, even during the darkest of times where you forget to connect to your basic creative breath, but each time you go back you gain memory and knowledge. Soon you know each page, each aspect, and that is when it’s ready.

Like Bikram yoga you can always push more, but any yogi will tell you if you stick to one set of postures you are missing out. So a writer must move on, but before doing so, a writer must learn what there is to be learned from the challenges a new novel offers so that these things can be used for all future projects.

What about you? Have you been working on your novel for a long time? What do you do to keep things in perspective and make the most of this exciting opportunity to discover the depth of your craft?

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About John Robin

John Robin is an epic fantasy writer, professional editor, and lover of imaginary worlds. He write stories about magic and myth, human suffering and the power to rise above it. He loves world building, coffee shops, mathematics, chess, and is an avid author community builder.
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2 Responses to The Intimate Novel

  1. cskinnaird says:

    Wow, thanks for the great post! Very thought-provoking. I like how you compare the work of revising a novel to stretching the body’s limits and flexibility in yoga. Right now I am revising an epic fantasy novel – I’m on the second draft – and I am keen to read the book that you mentioned. Revising is certainly difficult, and sometimes I wonder how many more drafts it will take – and I feel it will be many, in order to feel complete, to feel like I know it’s curves, like you said. But I’d rather have a complete novel that took a long time to write than a published novel that felt incomplete – even though it means I am delaying work on other novels.

    I also love fantasy maps and fantasy fiction in general. 🙂

    Please check out my blog on writing, too! It’s new and I’m trying to share openly and start interesting conversations, as you have done.

    • John Robin says:

      Very glad for your visit and comment, c.s. (Chaitanya – love that name!), and I’ve checked out your blog and it looks like a great resource. You’ve gained a follower.

      Self-editing for Fiction Writers is great, highly recommended. In fact, combing your way down the books on the Writer Unboxed site is a great idea in general. Right now I am immersed in the wonderful wisdom of Lisa Cron in Wired for Story.

      You’ve got the right attitude (or at least, shared by me as being the right one) that it is better to labor long on a book than to rush to completion. Sometimes, as I’ve just learned, spending time includes taking time to put a book aside and move on to something else, trusting that the right perspective to complete that book will become apparent. Well, guess what? I moved on to a story set in an earlier time and this last week discovered exactly how to move from what I’m writing now to the story I just set aside (either as a second separate novel, or as book 2 in a series). To a creative mind, abandoned never means lost.

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