The Loneliness of a Long-Distance Novelist


People sometimes ask me what characteristic is most important for a writer to possess.  I expect they’re waiting for me to say that you need a felicitous turn of phrase, an outrageous imagination, an overweening ego, or something similar.  Now, perhaps all of those things might help, in some shape or form, but if I had to choose the one thing that every novelist needs, I wouldn’t opt for any of those.

I would say: stamina.

Writing a book, any book, is a seriously long slog.  It takes up a ridiculous amount of time.  You need stamina to keep getting up to face that coyly winking cursor every day, when it really would be so much easier to do just about anything else.  There are so many reasons not to write – good, sensible reasons at that.  You need stamina to put them all out of your head, every last one of them, and to do the work that needs to be done.  Above all, you need stamina to keep on at it when things aren’t going well, which will probably be most of the time.

I have spent the last six years getting up at five o’clock every morning and writing for two hours before the rest of my family wakes up.  Then I go off to work.  Sometimes it’s been very difficult to haul myself out of bed and switch on the computer, but I did it, every day.  And now I have my (rather long) book.  I don’t say any of this to boast.  I’m just a stubborn bastard, is all.  If anything, it shows you that anyone can write a book, if they’re determined and bull-headed enough.  By the same token, the most outrageously talented writer won’t get very far if he or she can’t (or won’t) sit down and write, day after day after day. Progress may be measured in tiny (sometimes microscopic) increments, but it’s still progress.  I know that every hour I spend with my manuscript is an hour closer to its being finished.

One thing I’m sure of: these books are never going to write themselves.  So, writers: are you ready for the long-haul?

Comments 2

  1. This is very heartening. I’m in the middle of that very long re-rewriting haul. And I know the only guarantee when I reach the end is that I will at least feel that I have done the very best that I could do… which isn’t glory and fame, but it’s better than feeling you haven’t done the best you could do, right?

  2. Post

    You’re right, Elizabeth. If nothing else, we have to strive to do the best work we possibly can. That can, and should, be its own reward. Thanks for commenting.

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