My Big Attempt At Novel Writing Has Hit A Snag


I was noodling around on the Internet (always dangerous), and I happened across a “call for writers.” A publishing company was actually seeking people to write novels. Usually, it’s the other way around, with writers wasting years of their time, cranking out stories that only they themselves find fascinating, and then spending a few more fruitless months sending their manuscripts to publishers who, truth be told, couldn’t care less.

Now, even self-publishing has become a big thing. In the olden days, self-publishing was the last bastion of the self-absorbed. Writers with more money than talent could simply plop down big bucks to have a hardcover book printed with their words inside. “Real” writers looked down on these people.

But, today, with all the changes in printing practices, almost anyone can afford to have their words published, and many of those people have worthwhile things to say. A couple dozen self-published tomes are taken out of the crate and given to friends and family members, and the rest of the inventory appears on bookshelves in stores that sell only self-published books.

So, publishers don’t even have to wade through typewritten pages of drivel, looking for the occasional gem. They can troll the “self-published” bookstores if they need a story on a certain topic.

My point is, it is almost unheard-of to find a publisher “requesting” novels.

So, you can imagine my delight. I immediately launched into writing a novel.

Now, I have never written a novel before. I have written a column since 1981, but that does not make me a writer of books. In fact, I have more or less trained myself, over the last 37 years, to peter out after 500 words. My editor wants 500 words, and that’s what he gets. Sometimes, he will humor me by letting me go a little long, and, once a year at Christmastime, he suffers through my annual poem. But 500 words is what fits his available space, so 500 words is what I give him.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that a novel is 65,000 to 85,000 words long. What? Can’t this whole thing be wrapped up sooner? Do I really need to tell the reader what the heroine’s house looks like or what season of the year it is?

Evidently, I do.

So, with a Sept. 3 deadline looming large, and me having no real idea what the heck I’m doing, I sit down at my laptop every night and try to think of words — entertaining words. I have become an expert at describing things that, in my column, I wouldn’t waste precious words describing. There are lengthy conversations between characters that I know could be written in eight words or less. (“Jeet?” “Had a sammich.” That kind of thing.)

I am proud to say that, over the decades, I have learned most of the technical aspects of writing — sentence structure, where to indent, how to wrap things up.

Here’s what I don’t know: how to tell a story.

At the 5,000-word mark, I put my heroine in the hospital, and that’s where she stays while I decide what to do with her. She also has an unopened FedEx package at home. What’s in it?

I have no earthly idea.

Hopefully, I’ll come up with something before Sept. 3.