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Anne R. Allen's Blog

...WITH RUTH HARRIS

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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."


Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, June 21, 2015

6 Bad Reasons to Write a Novel…and 6 Good Ones

by Anne R. Allen


So you think you want to write a novel?

You're not alone.

According to a New York Times study done a decade ago, 81% of Americans "think they have a book in them". With the indie ebook revolution, I'm sure the percentage has grown.

Of course, most of that 81% won't ever write a word. There's an old, unkind joke that says, "Most people think they have a book in them. And that's where it should stay." It's true we aren't suffering a dearth of books. Just look at your Twitter feed.

I honestly believe not everybody is cut out to write book-length narrative.

And that's not a bad thing.

The problem lies in the fact that lots of people think learning to write a novel or memoir is somehow easier than learning to paint, play an instrument, compose music, or design clothing. For some reason, many people think all you need is a keyboard and a block of time and….voila! novels happen.

But those of us who do it professionally know that learning to write novels is a long, tough slog. It's also hard on our friends and loved ones. It always takes longer than we expect.

Nobody's born with the knowledge of how to craft a novel any more than anybody is born with a perfect golf swing or a great operatic voice. No matter how much native talent you have, you need to study and practice a long time before you're going to be able to create something that will appeal to readers.

So people need to make sure they really want to embark on the journey before they start down the book-writing road.

There are lots of fantastic ways to be creative. Don't get locked into the idea that writing books is the only path to creative expression. Book length-narrative may be on the way out. Short stories, personal essays, novellas, and blogposts are increasingly popular—and can be lucrative as well.

And not everybody has the talent or inclination to create with words. There are many, many ways to be creative.

Years ago I was in a writing group with a man who struggled with every sentence of his WIP. The group tended to be hard on him because he didn't seem to grasp the concept of conflict in a scene, and his characters were stereotypical lumps who mostly sat around musing.

He dropped out of the group and I ran into him two years later. At an art show. His. His paintings were fantastic: vibrant and creative and alive. He'd found his medium.

But he said he still felt guilty about this abandoned novel. I asked him why.

He said he felt that writing was "serious", while painting was "play."

He basically thought he should write because he didn't enjoy it.

I say that's exactly why NOT to write. If writing novels doesn't feel like playing, try another medium.

There's an odd prejudice in the writing world in favor of novels.

People who write and publish great short fiction or poetry are often pressured to write a "real book". And even television and screenwriters are sometimes disrespected by by people stuck in a 19th century mindset who believe "real writing" is reserved for novels.

That kind of thinking is simply out of date. The short story is undergoing a renaissance, and television is where the most creative, innovative writing is happening today. Television writers like Matthew Weiner, Vince Gilligan, Jenji Kohan, and Shonda Rhimes have become superstars in their own right.

There's nothing intrinsically "better" about writing books than any other form of creative expression. I firmly believe that everybody has a creative self that needs to be nurtured, but that creativity may express itself in hundreds of different ways—all of which enrich our culture.

Why be a mediocre novelist when you might be a great painter, poet, stand-up comic, potter, gardener, designer, or chef?

Please note I do not want to step on the dream of anybody who REALLY longs to write a book. Below are 6 excellent reasons to write one, even if nobody is ever going to read it but you.

We need to hang onto our dreams. As Damon Lindelof said in the Daily Beast last month, "media-induced cynicism is humanity’s real enemy."

We are inundated by dream-smashers and cynics who love to squash any sincere efforts at creating art.

Cynicism is easy; art is hard.

Lindelof also said, "It’s so easy to be infected by cynicism. It’s so easy to be mean. It’s so easy to tell somebody who is a dreamer, 'Come on, really?' And when you see their face when you do that to them, there’s no worse feeling in the world than understanding that you’ve just unintentionally crushed someone’s dream."

Jane Friedman echoed his sentiments in a post on her own blog titled The Age-Old Cynicism Surrounding the Dream of Book Writing. She thinks we're entering an era of "universal authorship" where everybody will be a creative writer, so the act of creating fiction won't be seen as anything special and literally everybody will be an author of some sort.

That may be—although I'm not completely convinced—but novels still exist as an art form and I don't think everybody on the planet is able to craft a good one. Or is emotionally equipped to enjoy the process.

I think a lot of that 81% who think they have books in them are motivated by the wrong reasons.

The people who are actually squashing dreams may be the people telling you that writing a novel is somehow superior to composing a song or throwing a pot or nurturing a rose.

Any writer who has been in a critique group or done much beta-reading has probably run into some wannabe writers who are obviously not going to make it, often because they're writing for the wrong reasons.

Here are six of them:


6 Bad Reasons to Write a Novel


1) To Make Money


Sigh. Anybody who's been in this business for any length of time will tell you why this is a bad idea. Bob Mayer put it very well in his March 15th blogpost:

"If you desire to write a novel because you want to have a bestseller and make a bundle of money, my advice is to play the lottery; it will take much less time and your odds will be about the same, if not better, and I can guarantee that the work involved will be much less. The publishing business makes little sense and it’s changing faster than ever before; the 'gold rush' of the self-published eBook is long past."

2) Revenge


When I was working as a freelance editor, the majority of manuscripts brought to me were revenge memoirs (or thinly-disguised memoirs) designed to hurt someone who had "done wrong" to the writer.

These things were usually hot messes. Some were pages of nonsensical late-night ranting. Others were attempts at satire so one-sided they fell flat, and others were victim sagas.

No editor can make something like that readable.

Besides you can get yourself sued.

3) To Show Off How Smart You Are


Some of us get labeled "nerds" early in life, and our defense is often to talk in long sentences using big words in order to look down our noses at the dummies who don't understand us.

I have to admit to using the word "exceedingly" in many conversations at the age of seven. I could also trot out several quotations in Latin and Greek (my father was a Classics professor at Yale, so I had a good source of ammunition).

I was so sure I was impressing people.

But the truth is that stuff doesn't make you popular in 2nd grade and it sure doesn't get you readers when you're an adult.

Unless you're writing for an esoteric academic journal that's seen by ten people including the editor and his long-suffering student assistant, you're not going to succeed by showing off your knowledge of little-used Latinate words and obscure historical factoids.

Readers don't care how smart you are. They care about compelling characters and a good story.

4) To "set the record straight" about something that happened in your past


A lot of unpublished and self-published memoirs are written by people who want to tell "what really happened" in a rotten situation like family abuse, workplace bullying, or military SNAFUs.

Writing this stuff down is fantastic therapy. But it doesn't usually translate into anything another human being will want to read. There's a reason shrinks get paid the big bucks. It's exhausting to listen to people's tales of woe.

Exploring these issues with writing can spark a creative idea that might blossom into a piece of fiction or poetry or a painting or other work of art, but don't expect a lot of people to want to experience the raw material of your pain.

You have to be an accomplished writer to turn that kind of pain into art.

5) Your third grade teacher said you have "talent."


This may have been what happened to the painter I mentioned in the introduction. I see it all the time.

In fact, this post was sparked by a question I saw recently on Quora. Somebody had decided to write a novel, but he said he didn't know anything about storytelling and he didn't much like being alone and he didn't like to read or write very much and didn't want to be bothered to learn about craft or stuff like that.

Why did he want to write a novel?

Because somebody told him he had writing "talent."

It probably happened in his formative years, poor guy, and he's been trying to live up to it ever since.

I know that telling kids they have talent seems like a great idea. It builds their self-esteem and makes them more confident and happy.

And I'm not saying we should stop being encouraging to our kids, but make sure you praise ALL their talents. But when somebody gets the idea they have a "special gift" in only one area, it can backfire.

For some people, it can paralyze them with fear about living up to their potential.

For others, it can instill a sense of entitlement that can make for really bad art. And keep them from doing stuff they really might actually enjoy.

For more on this, see my post on "Is Talent Overrated?"

6) You Like Telling People You're a Writer


Saying you're a writer gives you a certain cachet at parties. Or some people think it does. It's certainly easier to explain why you've been in that minimum wage job for five years if you add that you're supporting yourself while working on a novel.

And that's fine…if you're actually working on a novel.

But if you haven't actually written more than a grocery list in the last three years, and you never got past that "It was a dark and stormy night" opener, you may not be cut out for this profession. And that's okay.

A writer writes. If you don't write, you're probably not a writer. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Instead of getting defensive and angry every time somebody asks how that book is going, find something you actually want to do.

And if you're one of the people who would simply rather read a book than write one, then THANK YOU!! Readers make what we do possible.

And 6 Good Ones


Some people are born storytellers whose destined medium is the book. These people think in terms of stories from the time they can talk. They have to write. It's like breathing.

Here are some signs you may be a born novelist.

1) You see stories everywhere


Every newspaper headline gives you an idea for a plot. Every stranger's tale of woe makes you think of putting into a novel.

And every time you get a cup of coffee in you and somebody to listen, you start telling them about the great ideas you have. You get more and more animated as you tell the details about your characters and their backstories and….your friends' eyes glaze over, your girlfriend texts that she's moving to France, and nobody's returning your phone calls.

That story is itching to get out of you, but you're putting it in the wrong place. It belongs on a page. Don't worry if it's any good or not. Nobody will know unless you write it down.

Writing skills can be learned. But the ability to think up stories can't. You have a gift. Use it.

2) 100s of characters are living in your head (even when you're on your meds)


Whenever you read a news story about odd human behavior, you wonder who those people are and what motivated their behavior.

Before the end of the news piece on the surge in bank robberies by senior citizens, you've got a whole scenario going and you know what all the characters look and sound like.

You know Gladys and Myrtle robbed those banks because they needed money to finish their craft projects. Because craft supplies cost so much more than they can charge for the finished products on Etsy, they have had to turn to a life of crime to afford all those needlepoint kits and crochet patterns. The bank teller who refused to give them the money, Holly-Ann Wiggins, is a crafter herself, and she recognised them from their You Tube video on tatting...

If random people pop into your brain at regular intervals and beg you to tell their stories, you're probably one of those people who has a novel in them. Or three or four or ten.... 


3) You love being alone with your own thoughts


Authors need to be alone a lot of the time. If you're a born writer, you cherish and crave your alone time like a visit to a lover.

Anybody who needs immediate feedback or has abandonment issues when left alone for a few days is going to have trouble writing for the long periods of time it takes to compose whole books.

If your other possible life paths include lighthouse keeper, park ranger, or sailing around the world solo, then you've got one of the major talents that helps you become a successful novelist.

One of the best things ever written about being an author is Michael Ventura's 1992 essay "The Talent of the Room". Ventura—a veteran novelist, journalist and screenwriter—tells aspiring writers the most important talent they need to succeed is the ability to be alone in a room. If you haven't read it, do. It might help you decide if you're cut out for this life.

4) You're a patient, self-motivated person who can endure hardships while keeping your eyes on the prize


If you like long-term projects and you don't rely on outside validation for your sense of self, you have a much better chance of succeeding as a novelist.

Some things come with the territory. You can pretty much guarantee you're going to have to work at day jobs to pay the bills long after you'd hoped to be writing full time.

You're also going to get lots of flak from your friends and family who can't figure out why your project is taking so long.

If you can tune it all out and hang onto your dream, getting energy from your characters and finding joy in your story, you've got what it takes to write a novel.

5) You're great at thinking of worst case scenarios


Always imagining the worst? Paranoid? Anxious?

Can you write that stuff down instead of panicking?

You may have a novel in you!

Novelists need to be able to put their characters through the worst possible challenges for hundreds of pages before they reach their goals. People who shy away from conflict and drama may be able to write lots of fabulous prose, but if they can't think of enough awful things to happen to their characters, they won't be able to write successful novels.

A novel or memoir about smart, happy people having a great time in the good old days when everything was perfect is not going to attract a lot of readers. Humans want stories. And stories need conflict. If you've got dramas going on in your head all the time, they may help you write a compelling book.

6) You're in love with words… and sentences…and paragraphs...and chapters


If you're a person who verbalizes thought—who is always looking for just the right word to describe that shade of blue, that feeling, that pang of cosmic pain—you've got writing in your soul.

If you go to look up a word in the dictionary and find yourself lost in it for hours…you're probably a born writer.

But you may not necessarily want to write book-length narrative. I know a lot of people writing novels who prefer writing poetry or short fiction.

A novelist has to be able to see the big picture: not just the word or phrase or exquisite image, but the paragraph and the chapter and the story arc.

Poets who write novels will usually say it's because they want to make money. Which takes us around back to #1.

Don't let yourself be bullied into giving up your favorite medium. Writing novels only for money is like buying lottery tickets as a retirement plan. Not the best choice.

Thing is, the chances of most novels to make money are about the same as the chances of most poems. It's not a big number.

But some do. I always list contests here for poetry, essays, and short fiction as well as novels. Some story and poetry prizes are more than the average advance on a novel. Don't discount the short form if that's where your muse is most comfortable.

Write what you LOVE. Not what anybody—not even the third grade teacher who lives in your head—says you should.

Instead heed the words of the great Joseph Campbell and follow your bliss. If you don't find that bliss alone in a room with a keyboard, don't let anybody beat you up about it. Go out and find it!

That WIP will still be sitting in your files if you find out your bliss was there all along.

John Steinbeck said, "If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes, but by no means always, find the way to do it. "

If you have that "aching urge" that can't be soothed by anything but writing a book...go write one!


What about you, Scriveners? Have you always been a storyteller? Do you love to be alone? Do you think you might rather paint or compose music than write? Have you ever felt trapped in one medium when your soul longs for another? 


COVER REVEAL!!


 Here is the cover for the fifth book in my Camilla Randall series of comedy-mysteries. 

SO MUCH FOR BUCKINGHAM

A comedy about character assassination, online review bullies, and Richard III. Also a cat named Buckingham.





Launching in early July from Kotu Beach Press

I am so in love with this cover by Keri Knutson of Alchemy Book Covers!

Anybody who would like a pre-launch review copy of the ebook, contact me at annerallen dot allen at gmail dot com.



BOOK OF THE WEEK


 Sherwood Ltd. is only 99c this week on all the Amazons!
also available at 
And in paper from Amazon and Barnes and Noble

"It's an hilarious lampoon of crime fiction, publishing and the British in general. Anne Allen gets our Brit idioms and absurdities dead to rights...Its digs at the heroic vanities of micro-publishing and author narcissism are spot on...Whether you enjoy crime suspense, comedy or satire - or all of them together - you'll have enormous fun with this cleverly structured romp. Highly recommended!" Anne is "obviously a Brum lass masquerading as a Yank"...Dr. John Yeoman




Follow Camilla's hilarious misadventures with merry band of outlaw indie publishers in the English Midlands. Always a magnet for murder, mischief and Mr. Wrong, Camilla falls for a self-styled Robin Hood who may or may not be trying to kill her. It follows Ghostwriters in the Sky, but can be read as a stand-alone. (And sets the scene for So Much for Buckingham)


OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


BARTLEBY SNOPES CONTEST   $10 FOR UNLIMITED ENTRIES. Compose a short story entirely of dialogue. Must be under 2,000 words. Your entry cannot use any narration (this includes tag lines such as he said, she said, etc.). These are the only rules. 5 finalists will also appear in Issue 15 of the magazine. Last year they awarded $2,380 in prize money. Deadline September 15, 2015.

Rattle Poetry Prize The annual Rattle Poetry Prize offers $10,000 for a single poem to be published in the winter issue of the magazine. Each entry can contain up to 4 poems. 10 finalists will also receive $200 each and publication, and be eligible for the $2,000 Readers’ Choice Award, to be selected by subscriber and entrant vote. Entry fee $20 (includes subscription) Deadline July 15th.

Golden Quill Awards Writing Contest: Flash, Poetry, and Short fiction categories. Entry fee $20 for stories and poetry, $15 for flash fiction. The theme is TRANSFORMATION. Deadline July 15.

Glamour Magazine Essay contest.  FREE! Theme: "My Real Life Story". Prize is $5,000 and possible publication in Glamour Magazine for personal essays by women, between 2,500-3,500 words. Enter online or by mail. Open to US residents aged 18+.Deadline July 15th

MARK TWAIN HUMOR CONTEST  Entry fees: $12 Young Author or $22 Adult. 7,000 words (or fewer) of any original work of humor writing. Submissions must be in English. Submissions are not required to be in the style of Mark Twain or about Mark Twain. 1st Prize: $1,000 (Adult), $600 (Young Author). Other cash prizes! Deadline July 10, 2015

Saturday Evening Post Great American Fiction Contest. Entry fee $10. Your story should in some way touch upon the publication's mission: Celebrating America — past, present, and future. Think Norman Rockwell. No profanity or graphic sex. Any genre. No previously published stories, but they can have appeared on your blog. Between 1,500 and 5,000 words. Deadline July 1, 2015

Big Beautiful Wellness Creative Writing Contest. NO FEE Poems up to 30 lines Fiction or Nonfic between 1000 and 2000 words. $100 first prize. Theme: Body-positive living. Looking for inspirational, positive stories. Deadline July 1.

Writer's Village International Short Fiction Contest Prizes totalling $3200! And every entrant gets a critique. (which makes this a great deal.) Any genre of fiction up to 3000 words. Entry fee $24. Deadline June 30th.

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76 Comments:

Blogger Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Congratulations, Anne! A cat named Buckingham. That is funny.
Getting sued doesn't sound like fun.
Another reason not to write a memoir is a boring life. Unless it's a great bedtime story for putting kids to sleep. (I'm sure mine would be a snooze fest.)
It is very true that other mediums might be better, or at least complimentary. Music actually calls more to me. Especially as those hundreds of characters in my head have left the building...

June 21, 2015 at 10:15 AM  
Blogger CS Perryess said...

Brava to Keri Knutson's fabulous cover for Buckingham. May it bring many smiles to many readers. And thanks for the post. I'm pleased to find that I've got some great reasons for wiring novels.

June 21, 2015 at 10:16 AM  
Blogger Linda Maye Adams said...

I've always written since I was eight. At that point, I could have also been an artist, but once I split away, I lost any trace of artistic ability (I can only do stick figures now, though I could duplicate portraits before).

The thing we creative have to do is protect our writing processes with force fields and phasers. I always wanted to write full time and tried to learn from how-to books and later online resources, and the one thing I didn't realize is that nearly that entire world assumes your outlining. That turned out to be so destructive to my writing that I couldn't produce a book length work without it self-destructing. I hit a low point when an agent gave me a personal rejection with about two sentences of comments. But it was enough to say that I was introducing something to cause the problem. I wondered if I would be able to ever produce a novel that wasn't a complete mess and that maybe I should only do short stories. It was very frustrating and discouraging.

It was only once I started to strip away the layers of writing advice like plot points and structure that my writing actually started to function and be fun again. But there's so much out there that sounds reasonable and makes sense that you have to really project your creativity from it.

June 21, 2015 at 10:41 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Alex--Getting sued might boost sales, of course, but it can also cost a whole lot in legal fees.

Sorry to hear your characters have left the building. Great to have your music to work on. You may find those characters come back if you give them some time off to listen to the music.

June 21, 2015 at 10:46 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

CS--Thanks! Some people were born with writing in their souls. They can't not write. I think you're probably one of them.

June 21, 2015 at 10:47 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Linda--You're right that applying "left brain thinking" to a right brain activity like creative writing can be counter-productive.

Yesterday I sent off my ms. for my new novel to the formatter. As I was cleaning up my notes, I came across my initial outline. I had only stuck to it in some of the major plot points, but everywhere else I had deviated from it. I didn't even have the murderer character in the original outline. The perpetrator was somebody else entirely.

For me an "outline" is really just a jumping-off point. It's a bunch of notes about plot and character that get the juices flowing If I'd tried to stick to it religiously, the book would be dead on the page. .

June 21, 2015 at 10:54 AM  
Blogger Melodie Campbell said...

Yet another excellent blog I will be pointing my college students to, Anne. My experience has been: all my students want to be a writer. Very few of them want to write.
But here's the point that says it all: "The problem lies in the fact that lots of people think learning to write a novel or memoir is somehow easier than learning to paint, play an instrument, compose music, or design clothing."
Thank you for this one!

June 21, 2015 at 10:57 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Melodie--Thanks! "Everybody wants to be a writer, but very few of them want to write." That needs to be cross-stitched on a sampler! So true. People think it's easy, and they can hang onto their illusion as long as they don't actually try to do it. LOL.

June 21, 2015 at 11:16 AM  
Blogger mindprinter said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

June 21, 2015 at 11:17 AM  
Blogger mindprinter said...

I must be doing something wrong. This is my third attempt. Hope you don't get three replies from me. Great post and I love your new book cover. Colorful and fun. Just what you'd expect from one of your Camilla's. I've tried over the years but I'm not one of those folks with a novel in them. I'm happy I write short and feel comfy and cozy in my short story/novella format. Anything longer scares the socks off me. Paul

June 21, 2015 at 11:18 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Paul--Sometimes Blogger is just slow. It seems to be sluggish this morning. You're a perfect example of a writer who has taken your talent for the shorter form and run with it. Your novellas are wonderful!

June 21, 2015 at 11:32 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Love your snappy new cover! Catches the “real ARA” perfectly. :-)

Someone (was it Moliere?) said writing is like prostitution. First you do it because you love it. Then you do it for your friends. Finally, you do it for the money. ;-)

June 21, 2015 at 11:42 AM  
Blogger Barry Knister said...

Anne--
Thanks for another solid post. For me, there are no good or bad reasons for writing a novel. Who cares about reasons? Those belong to the writer, and will no doubt be sanitized later for public consumption. All that really matters is the book itself. Does it work, or not? End of story.

June 21, 2015 at 12:19 PM  
Blogger BooksAndPals said...

Good post, Anne. I think I've read books written for all of these reasons.

I'd suggest another item for the first list although it is loosely related to some of the others on the list (2-revenge and 4-setting the record straight, maybe others). That is to make a political point in order to change people's minds to your way of thinking. Political issues can be a great basis for a novel, but if a reader can tell beyond any doubt which side of an issue the author is on, the book always seems to have cardboard characters with no subtly to them and be a lousy read. This applies, even when I agree with the author's politics.

June 21, 2015 at 12:31 PM  
Blogger G. B. Miller said...

Fortunately, the six bad reasons listed were not the impetus for me to start writing, personal problems formed the platform which has brought me here to day to comment on your wonderful post. Writing is cheap inexpensive therapy and except for a three year long detour, I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Having said that, most of the good reasons for writing apply to me. I do have some extremely funky ideas that every once and a while breakthrough the dull haziness of life and fortunately, I'm at the point now where even though I'm not writing much due to real world issues, I'm still mentally working on my latest so that when I do get back to it, I'm not lost.

Father Nature's Corner

June 21, 2015 at 1:05 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Ruth--I'm so glad you like it!

I think that quote is from Moliere. It's okay to write for money after you've demonstrated that people are willing to pay for what you write. But as you know, expecting the big bux for a first novel is not wise.

June 21, 2015 at 1:22 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Barry--My point is that people who write for those reasons usually don't end up with a novel. They either quit or end up with a hot mess. Novels written for these reasons are not going to work.

June 21, 2015 at 1:23 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Al--Great point! I could have added a #7: Politics! Okay, a few people like Harriet Beecher Stowe, Helen Hunt Jackson, and John Steinbeck wrote books that made political points, but they were also great novelists.

June 21, 2015 at 1:26 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

G.B. I'm a firm believer that a writer writes even when he's not writing. Letting your muse go on vacation (even if it's a forced vacation) can be the best thing to do for your work. Sounds as if yours is doing just that.

Next week Ruth Harris will have a great post on "Care and Feeding of your Muse" which touches on this as well as a lot of other great points.

It's true that writing is great therapy. And while you're getting that therapy, you may also learn how to write well. Then you can take that "therapy writing" and use it for the raw material of real art.

June 21, 2015 at 1:31 PM  
Blogger Nina Badzin said...

Such great points about novel writing not having to be the only way to express yourself as a creative person. I agree with your excellent reason to write and NOT to write a novel.

June 21, 2015 at 1:31 PM  
Blogger Katarina West said...

Inspiring post, thanks! It's not easy to become a writer. But I bet it isn't that much easier to sail around the world solo...

June 21, 2015 at 2:34 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Nina--You're a perfect example of somebody who "followed your bliss" and discovered that personal essays, rather than novels< were your favorite writing form.This has led to what looks like a great career!

June 21, 2015 at 2:41 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Katarina--LOL. I agree. I'd definitely rather write a novel than sail around the world...solo or otherwise.

June 21, 2015 at 2:42 PM  
Blogger Barry Knister said...

Anne--Okay, but do you really think people who act on the basis of foolish motives can be deterred by common sense? As for your list, I certainly agree that setting out to show how smart you are is laughably wrong-headed, as is setting the record straight (usually a veiled version of revenge), and enjoying describing yourself as a writer. The others I'm not so sure of, but that's just me.

June 21, 2015 at 2:44 PM  
Blogger Florence Cronin said...

Another insightful post, Anne. I have nothing more to add to why people should NOT write a novel ... and about the six reasons we should ... I must say YES YES YES. Characters live in our heads, we see stories all around us and to give that voice ... as Nina has done or you have done is to feel complete, satisfied and grateful for the ability.

Each path traveled is unique to the traveler and what they see along the road their special perception of life. I suggest that with no matter what a person decides their passion is in life, that they follow it wherever it leads. Just remember to bring a good pair of walking shoes, a rain hat and a strong constitution ... because to succeed in what we love is no easy task :)

June 21, 2015 at 3:09 PM  
Blogger Maria D'Marco said...

ahhhhhh thank you! Your six reasons to write a novel were like fingers pointing at my face. The six reasons not to are now printed out and stuck on an open spot on my "look at this!" board. They are now my cheat sheets when talking to the authors I edit who fit snugly into 2 of 3 of them. You've saved me from trying to call up reasons their struggle is so great. Will I sound wise and kind? You bet!

As always, a great post that speaks truth without raising lumps on the head.

June 21, 2015 at 4:50 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Florence--Thanks! You're so right that the road is long, and has a lot of rough spots, so we'd better make sure it's the right one for us!

June 21, 2015 at 5:05 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Maria--Oh, good: I've been waiting for an editor to weigh in. I suppose I was kind of wearing my editor hat when I wrote the first part of this post. I've seen so many manuscripts doomed to fail because the people writing them weren't committed to learning to write--only to another agenda like revenge or getting on the bestseller list. I'm glad this post will help you communicate with them. They always want an editor to work miracles.

June 21, 2015 at 5:09 PM  
Blogger Wm. L. Hahn said...

Anne, you really make a guy have to think. I feel a bit caught in the middle of your two lists: certainly I have no idea of revenge or setting any record straight by writing about dragons and magic swords, but I don't know as I identify too closely with any of the good reasons either. I wonder if "joy resulting" can be a good reason? Chronicling the Lands of Hope makes me happy, full stop.
At my first book fair yesterday the headliner, bestseller Mark Bowden said some very interesting things, one of which really bears on your list. He pointed out that thinking in single, focused story-lines isn't really natural! We live our lives constantly whelmed and pushed by ideas from every angle, without obvious relation to each other. Finding, or creating and then describing anything as a unified story out of that is hard work, because writing a story is not the way "life" usually happens. Except, I noted to myself, when you read a book!
Wonderful thoughts, thanks again and as always.

June 21, 2015 at 5:20 PM  
Blogger Karen Jones Gowen said...

What a wonderful story about the man who found his real talent in painting. I remember thinking I wanted to paint when I was young, took classes and learned early on I had no talent in that direction. 4 out of my 6 books are novels, and I'm currently working on a different type of book to see if I can have more fun with it. I so agree that writing, hard as it is, still has to be fun to do. Otherwise it makes no sense.

June 21, 2015 at 5:38 PM  
Blogger Maria D'Marco said...

I have squirmed through so many consults with writers who desperately want their book to be 'real' and have hung their star on one or more of your "reasons not to". The self-publishing options now available are seen as a blessing for many writers, and rightly so, but also can be seen as a green flag to move forward with the book that should never go public.

I never want to slow anyone's roll and have encountered a number of tortured writers in recent years who do have a real novel in them, are operating under a few of the wrong reasons, but are tortured because they also operate under more of the right reasons.

I like posts that validate my advice to authors - well, posts from people I respect...and I perform no miracles, but I do have a magic wand.... lol

June 21, 2015 at 5:58 PM  
OpenID katharinetrauger said...

Well. I got 100%. Thanks for this affirmation. I'm crazy, but it's all good. Whew.

And I will love quoting you from now on: Criticism is easy; art is hard. Wow. Thanks, again!

June 21, 2015 at 7:20 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Wm--I suppose "seeing stories everywhere" involves trying to make sense of the chaos around us, which is what storytellers really do. Seeing patterns where other people see none. That's why stories and memoirs that tell "how it really happened" never succeed. We need to take that raw material--and raw pain--and make it into art. That involves making sense of the senseless.

June 21, 2015 at 8:04 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Karen--That story has stayed with me for thirty years. I hope he gave up the guilt about the bad novel and kept painting.

When I was 13, I wanted desperately to become a fashion designer. I told my academic parents--both with PhDs--that I wanted to go to art school and learn fashion design. They refused to listen to me and told me to go read. Eventually I went to an Ivy League school and did rather well, but I never gave up my love for design, even though I had no talent in that direction. I think maybe that's why I've written my mystery series about a fashionista.

Good luck with your new type of book. We need to keep exploring new paths!

June 21, 2015 at 8:09 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Katharine--It's a good thing to keep in mind. Any moron can look at a Picasso and say "my 2-year-old can paint better than that." It takes a trained eye to see the genius there.

And yes, we're all crazy. :-)

June 21, 2015 at 8:10 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Maria--It's why I gave up editing. I felt so awful taking money from people for polishing something that was never, ever going to be a readable book. But it's true that a good editor can sometimes put enough lipstick on the pig to make it attractive in its own way. :-)

June 21, 2015 at 8:17 PM  
Blogger Rosalyn said...

Congrats on the new cover! It looks great. I think I write because there's nothing quite like that snuck of pieces coming together, like an infinitely complex puzzle. I'm not sure I have all six of your qualities, but I've got enough. And I'm happier writing than not, so that has to count for something, right?

June 21, 2015 at 10:29 PM  
Blogger Michael J. Fitzgerald said...

Excellent blog - I have forwarded the link to all my writer amigos... And the would-be writer amigos, too...

June 22, 2015 at 6:01 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Wow, I just loved this post! I don't read a lot of memoirs, (as opposed to biographies), because I've always instinctively felt they were rationalizations of one sort or another. I've also wondered: How can there ever be a book two? Most memoirs took years to live before book one. Thanks for the contest sites. And most especially, thanks for the wonderful article by Michael Ventura: "The Talent of the Room." Wonderful share. I downloaded it to print off and to refer to often.

June 22, 2015 at 7:18 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

PS: Yes, congrats on the new book cover. The series sounds great!

June 22, 2015 at 7:19 AM  
Blogger Veronica Sicoe said...

Great lists! :)
It's characters swarming around in my head (and their wretched situations) AND a bit of sadistic pleasure in imagining gruesome, tragic moments that change their lives forever.
And I like to torture myself with huge projects. Yeah. That.

June 22, 2015 at 9:45 AM  
OpenID writerchick said...

Wow Anne. First of all, love the new cover - adorable.

This made me laugh - I'm afraid I have all 6 in the do column. When I was a kid I always made up alternate realities - back then they were called lies - now they're just stories, right? I think too maybe we could add daydreaming to the list, although that isn't a strictly writerly thing.

The essay is awesome and I think maybe above all else, the joy and willingness to be alone in the room is the first 'talent' a writer must have.

Great post, thanks.

Annie

June 22, 2015 at 9:55 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Rosalyn--I don't think you need all six to be a good novelist, but one or two make your journey a lot easier. And yes! I love that moment when you see everything falling into place. Sometimes it doesn't happen until half way through, and sometimes it doesn't even happen until editing, but it's what we live for, isn't it?

And yes, I think writers feel better when we write than when we do anything else. Even when it's frustrating.

June 22, 2015 at 10:05 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Michael--Thanks! I hope the would-be amigos don't get their feelings hurt. I don't want to discourage anybody who really wants to write.

June 22, 2015 at 10:06 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Elizabeth--I feel the same about most memoirs. But I adore David Sedaris--and what he writes is technically memoir. There's a thin line between the "memoiric essay".and stand-up comedy. Good memoir can have many sequels, because a good memoir isn't about a whole life--it's about a specific set of circumstances with a story arc just like a novel.

I'm glad you enjoyed Ventura's essay. He's an amazing writer and original thinker. He's no longer writing regularly for the Austin Chronicle, but his work is archived there.

June 22, 2015 at 10:11 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

I'm glad you like the cover! It really caught the essence of the series: funny books for serious people.

June 22, 2015 at 10:12 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Veronica--We are sadists aren't we? Novelists torture our characters...and ourselves.

June 22, 2015 at 10:13 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Annie--Daydreaming is certainly the mark of the creative mind, no matter our medium. I got in so much trouble for daydreaming in elementary school. I had so many stories going on in my head.

I think you're right that joy in being alone is the key. I'm not hugely introverted (I always come out on the cusp of I and E on the Myers Briggs test) but I cherish my alone time. Always have, even when I didn't write. People who fear being alone have a much harder time with writing. Especially long-form work.

June 22, 2015 at 10:18 AM  
Blogger BooksAndPals said...

Count me as one of those who likes memoirs. The memoir can take a lot of forms. The travel memoir, as one example that many don't think of when they think memoir. (Some of Bill Bryson's books come to mind.) The key is to communicate something of worth in the story whether it is a lesson the author learned that we might benefit from or something about the human condition or even understanding what life is like for someone in circumstances much different than your own. (For example many of my generation - not sure about those younger - were required to read "Black Like Me" in school and, at least in my case, think I am a better person because of it. That I remember reading it more than 40 years later is impressive in itself. :) )

The memoir is no different than any other story. If the motivation for writing it is to tell a good story, it is stands a chance. If the motivation is something else, it's probably doomed to fail on all counts.

June 22, 2015 at 10:38 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Big Al--Bill Bryson is another brilliant memoirist I love to read. And I've enjoyed many others. I even liked Eat Pray Love, although I think it didn't make a very good film.

I think the big problem is a lot of new writers confuse memoir with autobiography. A memoir should read exactly like a novel. It needs a story arc that is way more than "I was born, I did some stuff, and now I'm old." That's why I speak of "book-length narrative" here, because a good memoir uses the same writing muscles as a novel.

Thanks for the clarification!

June 22, 2015 at 10:45 AM  
Blogger Anthony V. Toscano said...

Anne, I appreciated every thought expressed in this essay. Thank you.

June 22, 2015 at 11:20 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Anthony--Thanks much! Also for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

June 22, 2015 at 12:13 PM  
Blogger Jacqueline Howett said...

If I had to choose between writing and my art, writing would be all I need. I can't imagine a world without pen and paper, although these days among my notes, unawares, I keep sketching faces with various expressions. I call them my ten second sketch. And some of these faces I imagine to be in some future stories.

Yes, love my alone time. :)

Great post!

Congratulations on your cover!

June 22, 2015 at 9:15 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Jacqueline--You sound like a born novelist, Jacqueline! But it sounds as if you have a calling to visual art too. I envy you that. I have no talent when it comes to drawing or painting. How fun that you get to do both!

I'm glad you like the cover. It's so cool when you give a designer a few sketchy ideas and they can come up with something far better than what you envisioned!

June 22, 2015 at 9:22 PM  
Blogger Claude Forthomme said...

Hey Anne, I think it's all "good" 6 reasons TAKEN TOGETHER that make for a writer!

June 23, 2015 at 8:15 AM  
Blogger Kathleen Kaska said...

Well said, Anne. I passed the test!

June 23, 2015 at 8:24 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Claude--They do make the most auspicious combination of talents for a prospective writer.

June 23, 2015 at 9:15 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Kathleen--I didn't really mean it to be a "test", but I'm glad the post reassures you about your choice of life path!

June 23, 2015 at 9:17 AM  
Blogger Adventures in YA Publishing said...

I think even writers can sometimes fall into the trap that writing a book is or should be easier than other forms of art. Perhaps events like NaNoWriMo--which is a wonderful event, paving the beginnings for many books that have been successfully completed and published--help pave this illusion. "Anyone can write a book! And they can do it in one month." Well, no, you won't have a completed, polished manuscript at the end of one month. And when the work takes longer than we think it should, or doesn't progress as well as we would like, then writers become frustrated with ourselves.

But the fact is, writing, like any form of art, requires lots of skill and dedication and practice, alongside the fun and inspiration it offers. And writers, who can't help but write down all the thoughts and worlds and characters running through their minds, will hone their skills and learn the craft and study their work and others until they start producing the kind of stories they want to tell. And despite the fun of it, writing does requires commitment to perform well it in. But when writers have stories burning in them, nothing can shake them from telling it.

--Sam Taylor, AYAP Intern

June 23, 2015 at 2:15 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Sam--Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

I think you're right. A lot of writers believe that myth, too. NaNo and the whole Indie publishing movement seem to tell people they can write a book in a month (or even a weekend) and it will be perfect: they shouldn't waste time editing or polishing. They should just throw it on Amazon and write another one and another one and keep throwing that stuff out there. Never learn to write well, because somebody will like whatever you do. Doesn't your mom say it's great? Then don't listen to the experts!

Self publishing has opened many doors for many writers--especially long-time pros who were dropped by their publishers--but it has also given rise to a whole lot of toxic misinformation about how hard it is to write books and make a living doing it.

June 23, 2015 at 2:46 PM  
Blogger Linda Thorne said...

I have to say that I've thought about all six of these things at one time or another. Before writing my book, while writing it, and after it was written. I started seeing the realities early on, but hey, I might've gotten away successfully with one or two of these bad reasons. I'll just say that revenge can be sweet, and thank goodness there are ways to fictionalize the people and circumstances in a way that would make it hard to be sued. Yeah, I'm guilty of most of these thoughts. One or more, I will get away with successfully. I loved this post.

June 23, 2015 at 5:30 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Linda--I can't pretend I haven't been motivated by revenge in some of my writing. After all my first novel in the Camilla series is called "The Best Revenge". :-) But you need some major power from column "B" if you're writing for any of the column "A" reasons.

June 23, 2015 at 6:33 PM  
Blogger Glory Lennon said...

At long last! Validation that my never-ending Violet's in Bloom serial novel in blog form--all 261 chapter of it so far with another 30-50 more no doubt before the story ends or I end-- is perfectly fine. So be gone all you naysayers of, "But you should publish it for real between two hardcovers or at least self publish an ebook and you can be rich and famous and..." And other drivel of which I have no interest. I write to entertain myself first and foremost. If the occasional person likes it, that is fine too, but certainly not necessary. Feel so much better now. :)

June 24, 2015 at 6:28 AM  
Blogger Charly Marlowe said...

This post was so helpful to me. I love to write, but I know that writing a novel is NOT for me. Short stories, anecdotes - sure, but it's hard to try to explain when you're surrounded by other writers, why you know you shouldn't write a book. I love words, sentences, and paragraphs, but not chapters.

June 24, 2015 at 2:33 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Glory--If you're enjoying writing your stories as a blog serial, and you have the readership you want, then there's no reason to take the next step.

But if you have written a series of novels (or novellas) your friends aren't wrong that you could monetize them by putting them out as ebooks. Your readers might enjoy having them available to read on their ereaders in one go instead of scrolling through a blog. I'm not saying you have to--or that it will make you rich and famous LOL), but it might end up being a beneficial to you and your readers if you ever decide to do that..

June 24, 2015 at 3:53 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Charly--I think a lot of writers are like you. And some of our greatest writers wrote mostly short fiction. Anton Chekhov never wrote a novel. And although Guy de Maupassant wrote a handful, it's his stories that endure. Katherine Anne Porter and Ann Beattie both built solid literary careers on stories than novels. Keep doing what you're doing! You've found your medium.

June 24, 2015 at 4:01 PM  
OpenID writerchick said...

LOL - yeah who knew that what got us into trouble in school would pay off in adulthood?

You're right about people who fear being alone having trouble writing. Though I have to admit I'm always a little surprised when someone says they hate being alone - that's the thing I love most about every day - my time alone.

Ah the joy and weirdness of being a writer, wouldn't trade it for anything.
Annie

June 25, 2015 at 9:02 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Annie--I've learned to be wary of people who can't be alone. They are often narcissists who suck the energy out of everybody in the room. They don't know who they are unless they're seeing themselves reflected in somebody else's adoring eyes.

June 25, 2015 at 10:24 AM  
Blogger Maria said...

Excellent post, thank you for sharing.

June 27, 2015 at 1:30 PM  
Blogger Cathleen Townsend said...

Great post. I love short stories as well as novels, and I've just been rediscovering that love lately.

July 9, 2015 at 10:22 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Maria--Thanks for taking the time to comment.

July 9, 2015 at 11:15 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Cathleen--Short stories are hot right now. And sometimes they can win big bux in contests!

July 9, 2015 at 11:16 AM  
Blogger Roderick Gladwish said...

I'm relieved I meet the 6 good reasons. Trouble with me is every short story idea turns into a novel. Great blog entry.

July 14, 2015 at 11:39 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Roderick--I have exactly the same problem. Every story idea grows into a novel. Sigh.

July 14, 2015 at 12:16 PM  
Blogger The Bigger Picture said...

I enjoyed your article. I think a good approach for many including myself is to consider writing just an expression of being creative and don't have false expectations that I'll be considered the next Mark Twain. If I write in the same way an amature artist would do say a paint by number....just for the enjoyment, but not to think it has to be some best time seller...The way to a lot of stress I think we might be counterproductive to ones writing enjoyment. I DO HOPE Short stories will have a place with peoples desire to read. That way one doesn't have to spend a whole year on a story and no ones interested. I think short stories should be more popular than they are...not as long to read and they get to the point. Anyway thanks for your insights.

July 30, 2015 at 8:46 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Bigger Picture--I think your approach is just right. And as for short fiction--check my "top ten" post in the sidebar called "Why You Should Be Writing Short Fiction". It's having a renaissance. Go for it!

July 30, 2015 at 8:57 PM  

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