Suspend Your Disbelief

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Why to give up on your novel–or not start at all


Everywhere you look, there are reasons not to write. If you believe in omens–as I do–you may start to wonder if the universe is trying to tell you something.

You may feel like you shouldn’t even start writing. Recently, the Huffington Post offered 10 reasons not to write your novel. And some of them are pretty damn good. For instance:

2. Someone has already written your novel, and better than you ever could. Certainly you’ve visited a bookstore, picked up a new release novel the plot summary of which filled you with loathing. “That’s the idea I had,” you mutter. See? What did I tell you?

5. Instead of writing a novel, why not focus on, say, sex? Imagine that you give your wife, husband or partner the same amount of attention that you lavish on this, this idea — these voicesthat you can’t get out of your head. Imagine what perfection you would attain in the sack! Think of how heroic and loved you would be!

6. Substitute parenthood for sex (above).

If you do manage to get yourself writing, you may constantly be wondering if you should stop. Novelist Tony D’Souza writes about scrapping his novel and starting (gulp!) from scratch.

On November 7, 2009, more than two years after writing the first lines, I crossed my fingers and sent the first 150 pages to Liz. I was a wreck. Maybe it really was a masterpiece, I kept trying to convince myself as I paced and chain-smoked cigarettes. After a few days of that, her email pinged in my inbox. She’d written, “Tony, a few of us have looked at this. I’m sorry, we don’t understand why you’re on this track…”

I showed the email to my wife, then did what I should have done some time before: I put Voyage of the Rosa down for a much deserved rest. No matter that we needed money urgently. No matter that I had slaved at it like doing lacquer-work for years. No matter that I loved it. No matter that I felt like jumping off a bridge. Voyage of the Rosa was not happening at that time, and somehow, I managed to admit it. The next evening, I wrote the opening 20 pages of my new novel Mule.

How do you keep going when faced with all these reasons to quite–or to not start at all?

The best answer I have found is this quote from Annie Dillard–which I have painted over my desk:

Every morning you climb several flights of stairs, enter your study, open the French doors, and slide your desk and chair out into the middle of the air. The desk and chair float thirty feet from the ground, between the crowns of maple trees. […] Get to work. Your work is to keep cranking the flywheel that turns the gears that spin the belt in the engine of belief that keeps you and your desk in midair.

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