The Wrong Reasons to Write a Novel

I’m writing my novel, Coffee Bar, for a lot of reasons.

And most of them are dead-wrong. 

“i want everyone to like it”

Sadly, I’ve always lived and died by the opinions of others. My wife has lovingly pointed out that when a critique rolls in, I instantly sweat over how to fix it before anyone else can catch the mistake.

A novel is art, and art is subjective. Not all will like it. Pride and Prejudice is a beloved novel; some would argue it falls in the “Best Ever” caste of literature.

I hate it.

I simply can’t connect to it. However, that hasn’t stopped millions from enjoying the works of Jane Austen.

Getting everyone to like your book is impossible. Rather, focus on making your book accessible, or, as a friend recently put, “Welcoming.” Work on flow, word choice, and even the use of vacant space to make the experience as enjoyable as possible for your reader and his/her eyes.

“it’s the next great American novel”

Of course we write with greatness in mind. No one actively seeks to write the world’s worst novel.

But just like art, the standards of “greatness” and “American” are subjective and shift with the mercurial times. “Greatness” is awarded over time. And what is “American” today will change in a matter of months. It takes years to get a novel published.

A novel should pursue its own greatness, as determined by you and (possibly) your community of artists. Once you release the best version of your novel into the wild, its readers and students will decide whether or not it stands the test of the time and becomes “Great,” “American,” or both.

“it’ll get me out of my day job”

I don’t know that, and neither do you.

No novel can carry the weight of this lofty expectation. By heaping such immense hope on your novel,  it no longer becomes a work of art, but a parachute.

Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely hope to someday be a full-time author, coach, and speaker. And I truly think my novel can be a stepping stone on that path.

But the novel alone will not get me there. A novel is merely a cog in the wheels that will turn one’s future. Putting all your hopes and dreams into it will crush your spirit and kill your ethic to work hard in other essential areas of your writing career.

“to make my family proud”

Someday, maybe.

But as you probably know, securing “your” writing time comes with a cost. Someone has to watch the children. Someone has to prepare meals and fold laundry and vacuum hairs and rice off the floor so they don’t get eaten by the baby.

And if you’re anything like me, an hour in the book produces a two-hour list of things to fix or add. Few things in life snowball like a writer’s to-do list. (<— tweet that)

With this in mind, we need to put substantial energy toward our family’s dreams. Am I pursuing my spouse’s goals with the same vigor as my most recent line edit? I’d better be if I want her to be on board and ever, ever, be “proud” of me or the book.

“i’ll finally make good money”

This, I admit, is a constant temptation as I write. Just like a gambling addict, I assume that luck will break my way and I’ll walk out of the casino of life with armloads of cash.

To be fair, part of this is good: I want to improve my income. I’m producing a product that will bring value to someone’s life, and I should be paid for it.

But to hustle on a novel with dollar signs in my eyes is painfully misguided. The entire premise of my writing, and yours, shouldn’t be wealth or fame.

It should be justice. 

There’s nothing wrong with earning a reward for hard work – I hope you and I do, and soon.

But unfortunately my dreams of success seem like payback for years of hard work and tight budgets. I want a mansion with a bitchin’ man cave. I want a truck at my second home in the mountains or Florida coast. 

I want comfort. I want constant luxury.

This is a terrible reason to write a novel.

Writing should pursue justice, and justice involves sacrificing for others.

If I’m writing a novel for the sole purpose of achieving zen-like levels of comfort, then I’m missing the point of art.

Sure, I may write a self-obsessed yarn and rake in cash like lawn clippings.

But for what? Who benefits? What good has been achieved?

The pursuit of art must have a moral foundation. All religions and cherished philosophies centralize around the reality that injustice plagues our communities.

But they also teach that justice is right around the corner. If only some with the means would make sacrifices for those without.

Justice.

I want to write a novel about that. 

Yes, a successful writing career can and should reward authors with an income that makes it possible to continue writing.

But if I dream of wealth, comfort, and isolation from suffering, I will miss the real point of telling stories: To make the world a better place.

And that’s the best reason to write a novel.

What do you think? What are other Reasons not to write a novel? Share in the Comments below!

Image Credit: SnapWire Snaps, Creative Commons

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2 thoughts on “The Wrong Reasons to Write a Novel”

  1. I love the honesty in this post. And I think you nailed it on the head with all the worst reasons! The funny thing about fame and popularity as an author if you read the biographies and such is that they kind of just landed in it without meaning to. Maybe the trick is to just do it plainly for ourselves 🙂 thats the only common reason. Thank you for this!

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