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.”

4 thoughts on “Why it Hurts to Write a Novel

  1. I had this set aside for “when I have time” and since it’s 3 am and I’m frustratingly wide awake, I guess I have time.
    Not to be thrown in that Bargain Bin as a reject, I’d love to read that book you wrote over the last year. Is it available?
    I sincerely hope you got some positive feedback from this exercise in sharing, Naomi. It’s not nice that you have a hobby.
    It should be a full time job. Thanks for sharing. It didn’t help my insomnia at all!

    1. Hi Sheila,

      Thank you for your kind words, they mean a lot to me. I would love to be able to write full time and not just as a hobby, that would be my dream come true! At present I am querying my novel with traditional publishers but will consider self publishing down the track. It’s not available for sale, but I am always looking for beta readers. Let me know if you are interested.

      Thanks again, and I hope you are able to get some sleep!

      Cheers, Naomi.
      (btw I responded to you by email a couple of days ago as this comment came straight to my inbox to moderate).

  2. Oh, boy, this is so true of the life of an author! Not every book is for every reader, but there will be a select few that will be touched by something you’ve written. It makes it all worthwhile to me that something of mine was significant to someone. Thanks for this kick in the butt to get back to writing!

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Lila, I am glad that my post has encouraged you to get back to writing. It’s really worthwhile, as you say, when your writing resonates with someone. But it’s not an easy gig we’ve chosen.


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