And This Is Why I Will Never Finish a Novel
There are plenty of story ideas to pop up during the day, but it's putting them all down to form a novel that's the problem.
I’m driving down the highway with the FM radio blasting or ignoring the stinging of floral soap in my eyes in the shower when it hits me—the perfect story idea. The sudden idea simmers in the forefront of my mind for a moment, then two, then three, and I realize that it’s the best idea I’ve ever had. It has romance and tragedy and action and maybe a bit of magic thrown into the mix, because, hell, why not? I’m grinning like an idiot as my heart races with excitement. Then I think, I'm a genius!
I continue to pat myself on the back throughout the day, all the while still fitting a handful of possible side details into the main storyline. Everything has its place, and I am determined to find it before I sit and write it all down. By the time I do, all the words will flow seamlessly from my mind to my fingertips to the keys of my laptop, with little need for a backspace. Who needs to rewrite when the original idea is flawless?
Anyone who has written anything ever is probably shaking their head and cursing my name under their breath at that crazy and ridiculous notion. I ask again: who needs a backspace? Turns out, I need a backspace! I might need a whole new computer to undo the damage I’ve started.
In my head, I can see the whole story unfold perfectly. Every character has its place and line and personality. Every setting is vivid and real and crisp. Every plot line is unique and unexpected and without obviously plot holes. Square block in a square hole—excellent fit.
It’s in this place where each word intertwines harmoniously with the next. Each one is like an ebony inked quarter note on ivory sheet music. I’d like to imagine the sheet music I’m holding is something like Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. A masterpiece just waiting to present itself to the world so that all can see how utterly beautiful it is. That instantaneous idea that revealed itself to me eventually transforms itself into a grand novel that anyone would love to have on his or her bookshelf.
Can you hear that? That’s a whole universe of writers laughing in my face. Can you also hear that? It’s quiet, in the back of the room. That’s me. I’m sputtering noises that are a mixture of hysterical, hyena-like cackling and uncontrollable, ugly crying. I am nowhere near Beethoven. I’m not even Beethoven’s hairdresser’s sister’s best friend’s over-the-pond 5th cousin from New Jersey who might have heard the name Beethoven once at a party.
This has been going on for years, even before I got the bright (and painstakingly hard to accomplish) idea to pursue a career in writing. I’ll be pretending to work or binge-watching Game of Thrones or in the middle of some other mundane activity when a thought for the next best YA book series slaps me in the face. It’s all sunshine and enthusiasm at first. And why shouldn’t it be? Nothing’s easier than not writing a novel.
Details and names and future payment negotiation speeches tumble through my head right up until I sit before a blank Word doc. My once filled-to-the-brim mind is empty. And I mean blank. Whatever brilliant storyline I had concocted up has vanished without a trace of what once was. Did I want monsters in my book? Was it taking place in a not-too-distant future dystopian world? What about Abraham Lincoln hunting vampires?
Wait, I don’t think that’s mine.
If by some miracle, I’m able to remember every feature of my future best-seller, none of it comes out like I dreamed it would. The characters are flat. I forget to describe the setting, so I guess everyone it just floating around some colorless abyss. And plot? Pfsshhh. What is this plot you speak so highly of?
So what do I do next? I put the story to the side. I hope beyond hope that I might get another surge of greatness that will allow me to come back and write it the way that I meant it to be written. Until then, I’ll save it in the darkest part of my computer along with all the rest. I’ll finish one of them one day. How hard can it be? I’ll just—wait! Another great idea just came to me!
And the cycle continues.