Javier Marías’ recent Threepenny Review post, ‘Seven Reasons Not to Write Novels and Only One Reason to Write Them,’ arrived in my Feedly list just as I was about to embark on the fourth major redraft of my novel. Neck deep in the process of this novel, with the end about in sight (I bloody hope), Marías’ seven reasons not to write novels spoke to my own doubts about the worth of the work I have spent the last couple of years writing. Let’s face it, reason one, ‘There are too many novels and too many people writing them,’ is enough to stop most aspiring authors before they even get started. In truth, it was exactly this idea, that there are already so many authors and books and what of worth can I possibly add to this ever expanding sea of literature, that kept me from writing much of anything in my late twenties and early thirties (exactly when I should have been writing lots and lots and lots). And that’s just reason one not to write. There are six more of the bloody things on Marías’ list. And who needs six more reasons ‘not’ to write.
If it wasn’t for the one reason to write – easily the clearest and best explanation of why we write anything, seriously, go read the whole thing now – I might have given up on my current novel right then. Reading his explanation of why we write, which is also an explanation of why we read, I realised that he was simply making explicit what had been driving me to write fiction and read it since I had been capable of doing either.
Marías explains: ‘Writing novels allows the novelist to spend much of his time in a fictional world, which is really the only or at least the most bearable place to be. This means that he can live in the realm of what might have been and never was, and therefore in the land of what is still possible, of what will always be about to happen, what has not yet been dismissed as having happened already or because everyone knows it will never happen.’
Marías goes on to show how this idea also provides the reasons why we still read classic novels; it’s all about embracing what he calls the ‘eternally possible.’ I love how he describes fiction as ‘the most bearable of worlds because it offers diversion and consolation to those who frequent it.’
Reading those words drove home why I keep turning up to the page, why I am already planning and eagerly anticipating writing my next novel (just as soon as I put this one to bed). I realised I was mistaking own over familiarity with the my current novel-in-progress with a dislike or mistrust of the same. As I begin to tire of the book I am now writing, what is actually happening is I am getting ready to say goodbye to it before I boot it out into the world (or it ends up at the bottom of a draw) and I get on with writing the next one.
And yes, while Marías is talking about novels here, this stuff goes double for short stories, whose pleasures are magnified by the fact that we never stay long enough in their most bearable of worlds to grow weary of them, either as a reader or a writer.
I always knew I preferred fiction to the real world. Now I know at least a sliver of why that is.
One Response to Why write a novel?
I’ve always preferred fiction to reality too. I’m glad that none of the reasons he gives for not writing a novel have ever interested in me (fame, money, posterity, romanticism etc) – it’s always been the siren call of immersion elsewhere.
I wish there was a way of making a novel feel like the writing of a short story. I’m avoiding the second draft of my novel like the plague and wondering if I’ll ever have the guts to go back in and fix it.
All the drafting and redrafting can be a bit like a bath. The fourth draft feels like wrinkled prune-like skin where you don’t even recognise yourself anymore.
I so hope your book finds lots of wonderful readers to embrace. It still haunts me. Up there with ‘Under the Skin’ for books that have stuck firmly with me this year.
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