Inhuman Swill : August 2010

Novelophobia

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I don't know why I've spent so much of my life being afraid to write a novel. All these years I've figured I was afraid of failing at it, that the short story was my natural form as a writer.

That was all ridiculous, and easily disproved had I stopped to think about it. Back in 1994, I wrote a 170,000-word novel in about eight weeks while I was between jobs. I holed up in my apartment and wrote eight to twelve hours a day. On my most productive day of that period, I wrote 8,500 words. The Revivalist was a huge, sprawling, shambolic, undisciplined thug of a novel, but it wasn't entirely bad. I never sold that book, but I also never did the subsequent work that was necessary to turn it into something saleable.

Clearly I didn't have a problem writing. What I had a problem with in the years that followed was getting off my ass and committing to doing the work.

Don't get me wrong. I did a lot of work in those years. I wrote a 250,000-word memoir, which through subsequent drafts I revised down to nearly half that size. I wrote and sold a bunch of short stories and a couple of novellas, but my one or two longer projects ran out of gas. I kept psyching myself out with the idea that I didn't know how to write a novel, and for the most part I kept that fear to myself.

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William Shunn

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