Should You Tell People You’re Writing a Novel?

The sensible answer is probably ‘no.’ If you do, most people will assume, firstly, that it’s going to take at the very most a couple of months to complete. You must be prepared for endless check-ups on your progress.

‘How’s the novel going?’ is a question that will seriously test your capacity to lie when you’ve spent the last week clearing weeds from the footpath, scouring price comparison websites for cheaper car insurance, taking up Rag Rugging and building up your stamina in the plank position. In other words, any activity going that didn’t involve writing a novel.

If it drags on any longer than six months, people are liable to ask in a tone normally reserved for their builder, ‘what, you mean you haven’t finished it yet?’

When people ask, ‘What’s it about?’ and you try your best to tell them, you must learn to deal with the expression of abject disappointment on their faces. The chances are you don’t even know what the novel is about, but if you admit to this, you’re going to get a look that approximates to What-Kind-of-a-Hopeless-Twat-Are-You-Anyway?

People also tend to overlook the small matter of achieving publication and envisage this book you’re writing as bound and covered and imminently ready to fly onto the shelves at Waterstones. Nobody wants to know about sheets of A4 held together by elastic bands festering on the slush piles of a hundred agents.

It’s no doubt different for an established author with an ISBN number to his or her name. But for pre-published writers, there’s a serious risk of laying yourself open to charges of pretension and of committing the good old English sin of getting ideas above your station.

So why, given all these hazards, do I admit to writing a novel?

Well, I reckon it’s a lot less pretentious than pretending you’re not writing a novel. Besides, people can be very supportive and incredibly helpful when it comes to research; like my midwife friend who found out for me whether it was plausible to strangle someone, other than a baby, with an umbilical cord.

A gentle way of ‘coming out’ is to do an MA which legitimizes the whole thing and awards you a qualification for dreaming.

Talking of dreaming, here’s a picture of the vintage typewriter I bought on Ebay. If you want delusional, this is it, because there’s no way I can write a novel on this machine. I can’t even change the ribbon. It’s really just a trick of the mind. I believe in the typewriter and the typewriter believes in me.

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11 Responses to Should You Tell People You’re Writing a Novel?

  1. Janet O'Kane says:

    A great post and one I really identify with! That being said, although I’ve come up with some plot twists my mum and husband find a wee bit worrying, I’d never considered an umbilical cord as a murder weapon. I can see I must up my game.

  2. Becky says:

    I prefer a cow’s umbilical cord. I’ts 6-7 feet long and much stronger for killing purposes. Your person of interest could be scouring some pasture during calving season. Sometimes the mother doesn’t lose the cord right away and it drags and dangles. An easy pick.

    • claudia says:

      Thanks Becky. Well I can see that would be more practical and plausible but it doesn’t have the same emotional impact as the mother killing the father with the cord belonging to their joint offspring – unless, of course, the main protagonists are all bovine.
      (Just for the record, this is NOT what my novel is about)

  3. Becky says:

    So, it’s not “All Creatures Great and Small and Dead”. Pity.

  4. BTW, thanks for the follow just now on Twitter! I relate to this post! I wrote for 40 years (literally) without publishing and I was always reluctant to tell anybody because people just assume you’re either published or you’ll be published soon, or if you aren’t, then what’s the matter with you? You obviously can’t be any good! But now that I’ve self-published two books and am on the cusp of producing the third, I am proud to announce to the world, I AM A WRITER! Most people don’t care whether it’s indie publishing or commercial publishing. I even had some freebie business cards printed up and I give them out to anybody who will take them – the dentist, the ophthalmologist, the postal clerk, the cab driver – even the lady who stops by my house every year to pick lilacs! So far I don’t think that has netted me any sales but I’m definitely ready to proclaim my status!

    • claudia says:

      Hey, thanks Lorinda for your comment. At least you’ve got the books to prove it. Good luck with the publication of the third.

  5. Sarah says:

    I love this. And that typewriter is gorgeous.

  6. Steven Holland says:

    I am reminded of something Kafka (?) said, something to the effect that he was horrified any time someone told him they were writing a novel. But when you think about it, why should admitting to writing a novel seem any more pretentious than admitting that one is studying to be a doctor, or working on a great business deal, etc.? Writing, including writing novels, is something that people do. There is actually nothing particularly grand in writing a novel in itself (look at thousands of throwaway novels that have been written–and published). Perhaps there is something grand in writing a great novel, and it might indeed be pretentious to say that one is writing a great novel. Perhaps one should aspire to that, as one might aspire to humility or nobility, but not go around claiming it. Good post.

  7. claudia says:

    Hi Steven. I don’t know why it is that it feels pretentious to say I’m writing a novel. I think it’s probably a particularly English distaste for putting yourself above other people. But, as you say, there is nothing inherently superior about novel writing. I would never claim to be writing a great novel, just hopefully one that some people will enjoy reading!

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