5 Things About Writing I

Michelle Richmond
Nov 25, 2014 · 3 min read

Wish I’d Known 20 Years Ago (Part 2)

See part 1 of this essay: It’s a Long and Winding Path

When I published my first novel eleven years ago, I thought I’d finish another one within a couple of years. That’s because I thought that, having written one novel, the next one would be easier. Which brings me to:

My fourth was just as difficult, if not more so, than my first. My fifth, the one I’ve recently turned in, was just as difficult to write as the rest of them. Through long experience I’ve finally accepted the fact that writing a novel never gets easier.

As I mentioned in How to Write a Novel, there’s no magic formula for novel writing. Each novel demands its own structure, its own pace, its own way of looking at the world.

Each time I complete a novel (and by complete, I mean very specifically the moment that I receive word from my publisher that the novel in its current state is ready for publication), I tell myself that I don’t know how I’ll have the patience to do it again. But patience is beside the point. Because by then, invariably, I’ve already started another novel, a novel I cannot bear to abandon, a novel that promises to be everything the last novel wasn’t, a novel that surely, certainly, will not be as difficult to write as every one that came before it.

I know, I know, the definition of insanity and all that. Call me Homer Simpson.

Where is the hope, then, for novelists, if this thing we do never gets easier? I take comfort from the ice skaters. Yes, the ice skaters. And, if I may be so bold, the aerospace engineers. It doesn’t get easier because it shouldn’t. Who wants to go back to the salchow when you can do a triple lutz? Who wants to merely go into orbit when you can go to Mars?

This metaphor implies, of course, that each novel is more complex than the last. That isn’t necessarily true. But with each new novel, your skill set is larger—or should be. That’s because you should have learned something from the process of writing the last one. Your first novel will probably teach you a lot about timing. Hopefully, it will teach you about clarity. But what it will not teach you is what shape the next novel should take. Because the shape of the story changes.

If it never gets easier, why do we do it—again and again and again? Most of us do it because we love it, and because, though we live by imagination, our imagination fails us on one particular point: we simply cannot imagine a life without writing. While such a life might very well be worth living, it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.

I take inspiration from one of my favorite books, a novella by Lars Gustafsson, The Death of a Beekeeper.

“Kind readers,” Gustafsson begins. “Strange readers. We begin again.”

And so, strange beings that we are, we begin again. The next novel, the next story, the next essay. And while it never gets easier, for this writer at least, it never gets boring. Each time you begin a new novel, you inhabit a new world. Each time you finish—finding, as most of us do, that the book you have written falls far short of the idea of the book you had intended to write—there is the hope of the next one. Today, the salchow. Tomorrow, the triple lutz. Carry on.

to be continued

Image for post
Image for post
“Mesmerizing and intricate, Richmond’s dissection of California on the violent brink of secession from the nation provides the backdrop for her deeper inspection of the fragile relationship between siblings. A riveting read.” Booklist, starred review.

Michelle Richmond is the author of six books, including most recently the novel Golden State and the story collection Hum. She is the founder of Fiction Attic Press and the creator of the The Paperclip Method for novel writing and the iphone/ipad app 30 Day Novel.

Get Michelle’s weekly writing and publishing tips delivered to your inbox.

The Caffeinated Writer

Notes on novel writing, publishing, and the writing life…

Sign up for The Caffeinated Writer

By The Caffeinated Writer

Notes on Writing and the Writing Life from New York Times bestselling novelist Michelle Richmond Take a look

By signing up, you will create a Medium account if you don’t already have one. Review our Privacy Policy for more information about our privacy practices.

Check your inbox
Medium sent you an email at to complete your subscription.

Michelle Richmond

Written by

NYT bestselling author of the THE MARRIAGE PACT and THE YEAR OF FOG. Caffeinated in Cali. Books at michellerichmond.com Write with me at https://thenewMFA.com

The Caffeinated Writer

Notes on novel writing, publishing, and the writing life from New York Times bestselling novelist Michelle Richmond. Join my Fiction Master Class: https://novelin9.com

Michelle Richmond

Written by

NYT bestselling author of the THE MARRIAGE PACT and THE YEAR OF FOG. Caffeinated in Cali. Books at michellerichmond.com Write with me at https://thenewMFA.com

The Caffeinated Writer

Notes on novel writing, publishing, and the writing life from New York Times bestselling novelist Michelle Richmond. Join my Fiction Master Class: https://novelin9.com

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store