Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Does Everyone Have a Novel in Them?

Kate Burns, Co-Author

I'm thrilled to be here writing for Mystery Writers Unite. This is one of the most prolific and interesting new blogs on writing and the new world of publishing, and Ms. Illson-Skinner has honored me with the invitation to be a regular contributor. It goes without saying that any mistakes, opinions, and leaps of logic I make are heretofore my own and do not necessarily reflect on this site or its Host.

While contemplating my first article for this blog, I mulled over how to introduce myself, and thought about all of the tales I could tell about my journey in the new world of independent publishing. No one knows me. I could tell any tale I want!

However, in the interest of that not biting me in the keester later, I will opt for the truth. The truth, followed by a question.

Five years ago, I was not a writer. Far from it. I have a full time career doing work that I love -- Graphic Design -- and several hobbies to address any residual creative energy I have left over. I'm also a mom and step-mom. "Energy left over" is an abstract concept at the best of times.

I knit, crochet, decorate cakes, bake weird concoctions and force my family to eat them. I get ideas -- strange ones. Let's have a pirate treasure hunt at camp in honor of Pirates of the Caribbean Three. Not One or Two, idea didn't hit me then, but Three, hoo-boy, you couldn't get that idea out of my head. I slept, ate, drank, and drew plans for a big wild dollar store charged scavenger hunt the likes of which would be talked about by those little urchins for years to come.

So, five years ago, if you had asked me if I felt like outlining, writing, rewriting, rewriting, rewriting, rewriting, synopsizing, blurbing, entering contests, sending query letters, studying the publishing industry, designing cover art, titling, self-publishing, and promoting a novel, I would have looked at you the way I look at my toddler. Cute, but I don't get the babbling, kid.

But over a glass of wine one Saturday evening, during a rare quiet moment, I looked out the window. The snow fell, as it had been falling for weeks, and dinner ticked over in the slow cooker. For the first time, I noticed how clearly I could see the apartment building we had worked so hard to get out of… and an idea began to form. Over the next few weeks, the idea sucked in everything: news, fears, atmosphere… even the falling snow. And, without passing 'short story', or even 'novella', it stopped at NOVEL.

By the time my husband Dave asked me what I was up to, I was in it deep.

When people find out you are writing a novel, particularly if you haven't tortured over writing since Grade Six, the reactions are startling. In my case, it was almost as if I had announced I was taking up Rocket Science for the Backyard Hobbyist. You writers out there know what I'm talking about. Reactions range from excited to dismissive, with a smattering of eye-roll thrown in, in case you don't understand exactly what boundaries you are violating. After all, who writes novels?… is the unspoken question… the unspoken answer is, of course, Novelists.

Ah, Novelists.

Novelists are creatures sprung fully formed as Tormented Writers, wise from birth, lurking mysteriously at parties. Where they are born, no one knows, though one presumes that family and friend alike knew from the outset that they were Novelists.

The truth, though, is that the Novelist… is us. All of us. Anyone who wants to tell a story.

Hm. Pardon that. That's not exactly true. The Novelist is anyone who wants to outline, write, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, synopsize, blurb, enter into a contest, query, publish, choose or design a cover, title, and promote a story.

(Maybe it's not such a surprise that my friends looked at me like I grew another head.)

The best reactions come when you reach a major milestone.

"How's your 'novel'?"
"Oh! So... are you published?"
"Yes. The Ophelia Trap comes out this month."

That reaction should be very satisfying. Except for one thing. Now that I am a Novelist, on the other side of the magical door, I find that everything looks much the same over here. Except now I can see another door, another threshold to cross. I want to write a series. And my family and friends don't cast funny glances my way anymore. Now they look at me with expectation. So... I'd better keep writing.

The rest, as they say, is history. History still being written, word by word, following ideas that have been released from an invisible cage.

As promised, the question: Is there a novel in each of us? And a bonus question: If there is a novel inside of you, what are you willing to do to let it out?

Comment like crazy, please. We love the conversation here at Mystery Writers Unite. And when you get a chance, check out The Ophelia Trap.


Anonymous said...

I have said that to my wife many times, "Everyone has a novel in them." She is adamant that it isn't true!

A month or so ago, I decided I would tell those who asked what I do that I was an author. I used to tell them I was a retired teacher. I find it interesting that when I tell them this now, the comment is usually met with overwhelming indifference!

I don't think writing is for everyone, and as you point out, Kate, it's a lot of work!

Kuna Zero said...

I believe it to be true. While I have never said it to anyone before, which is not very surprising considering I'm only 17, I do find that everyone has a story to tell. To me, though, writing is the only thing I do. I've never had a job, and I'm in a Liberal Art's program, which is essentially an insane english class (and I'm loving it).
I really do believe that writing is not for everyone. I've seen people who only ever write because they have to, and frankly, that's not real writing. I find myself believing that real writing is when you want to do it, and yes it is a lot of work. I'm currently working on a series myself, aswell as doing NanoWrimo (google it if you don't know what it is), while also writing poetry, essays, and short stories (fun stuff!). Writing a novel is a lot of work, and I hope one day that I'll be able to finish both my series and my Nanowrimo novel.