Month: October 2019

Why it Hurts to Write a Novel

Why it Hurts to Write a Novel

How Suffering is Part of the Creative Process

At a recent writer’s group, author Michelle Tom described libraries as “archives of pain.” While this melodramatic pronouncement made us all laugh, we had to agree that there was a lot of truth in what she said.

Because it hurts to write a novel.

As a reader, you can blissfully wander the aisles of libraries and bookstores, stopping wherever your fancy takes you. You can pick up a book and leaf through a few pages, walk on by or screw up your face in disgust at a substandard back cover blurb.

Now, imagine if the author was right there with you. An author who worked and sweated and agonized for years to create that book you put back on the shelf, deciding after a cursory glance that it wasn’t worth your while.

Having recently written a novel, I can attest to the pain that authors go through. My mother, as a postgraduate student, used to say that writing an essay is like having a baby.

And so it is, because our books are our babies. Our writing, whether it is fiction or non fiction, lyrics or poetry, doctorates or theses, contain so much of ourselves.

Our books contain our dreams, our desires and our fears. They are created in love and coaxed into being during nights when they won’t let us rest and days when they push us to the limits of our physical, emotional and mental endurance.

We keep them close and nurture them until it’s time to hand them over to the world. We fight back tears at the school gate, hoping the other kids will play nice and the teacher will be a trustworthy guide.

I drew heavily on personal experience for my first novel, the one I have been writing this past year. This involved going back to times in my life that we’re difficult as well as going to happy times that have now past and will never come again.

I have had to relive the times that people have let me down, times when I have been embarrassed and ashamed and times of difficulty and hardship. I have had to remember people and places I have lost to death, estrangement or the constant flux of a life with too many changes.

I have spent endless hours cooped up in my room on sunny days. I have let weeds run riot, laundry pile up to mountainous proportions and left countless administrative tasks unchecked until they threatened to rise up and overturn my life completely.

I stopped making plans with friends, became distant with family, neglected my health and my performance at my day job has suffered.

And for what?

To produce this thing called a novel. A made up story I feel compelled to tell; a pack of lies, a fantasy. An explanation and justification for my life. A lullaby I use to sing myself to sleep.

And what do I get at the end of it all?

An elephant stamp from a publisher, if I’m lucky. A pat on the back from a reader who I’ve entertained for a while. A stab of rejection from a passerby who throws me back in the Bargain Bin with a dismissive flick of the wrist.

So much effort goes into writing a novel, with no guarantee of reward at the end.

But then, as someone said to me the other day.

“It’s so nice that you’ve got a hobby.”

Posted by naomilisashippen in About Writing, 4 comments
How to Avoid the Head Hopping Trap

How to Avoid the Head Hopping Trap

Why Writers Shouldn’t Head Hop and How You Can Avoid It

Head hopping is the jarring practice of jumping from one character viewpoint to another with little warning. When writers ping from one viewpoint to another like a pin ball machine at full tilt, the reader is left confused and disoriented.

In keeping to a single point of view, writers create a sense of intimacy between the character and the reader, especially when writing in deep point of view. Constant head hopping disrupts this relationship from developing.

Third person point of view, especially third person limited, can be, well…limiting. That’s why it’s OK to change points of view sometimes, but this needs to be done sparingly. One point of view per chapter or scene is the general rule, but of course, this is at the writer’s discretion.

Now, hand in the air, I have fallen into the head hopping trap. Below are the reasons why, and what I did to solve the problem:


I wanted to show what the protagonist looked like

Apart from the old “looking in the mirror” trick, it’s not easy to describe your protagonist’s appearance when you’re trapped inside them. Hence, I resorted to head hopping to one of the other characters in my story and seeing Helen through his eyes:


“Devinder turned his solemn gaze on Helen. She was wearing a smart green jacket today, instead of the usual droopy cardigans she favored, and she had polished all the scuff marks off her sensible black shoes.”


As you can see, we are not in Helen’s head, but Devinder’s. Instead, I have used action to draw attention to Helen’s appearance.


“Helen brushed a piece of lint off her smart green jacket. She had chosen it today instead of her usual droopy cardigans.”


I Wanted To Tell the Reader Something the Protagonist Did Not Know

Sometimes, there’s something afoot that the protagonist doesn’t know, and the other characters can’t or won’t tell them. Here, again, I raided Devinder’s point of view:


“Devinder watched Helen as she turned to stare at the grimy metal lift doors in front of her and knew that she didn’t have a clue.”

I have removed this sentence altogether and let Devinder keep his observations to himself. As the story progresses, it becomes evident that Helen is unwittingly getting herself in over her head.

I was Telling not Showing

In this example, I have gone into the point of view of a group of women, and told the reader how they are feeling, rather than showing:

To their disappointment, it was only a fleeting visit, and they were not able to get a good look without giving themselves away.

Rather than say the women were disappointed, I have shown it by their actions:

With long faces, the women slunk away from the porthole window.


Remembering the golden rule of one viewpoint per character or scene will go a long way to eliminate head hopping, as will showing and not telling and having the protagonist act rather than sit back passively and be described by other characters.

What are some of your tips and tricks to avoid and eliminate head hopping?



Special thanks to Kate Johnston at Team Writer for reviewing Chapter 1 of my novel “The Sensory Garden” and alerting me to my head hopping ways.

Posted by naomilisashippen in About Writing, 2 comments