Why you need to become a “best-selling novelist”

For years I said, “One day I want to write a novel.”

Okay, that’s not entirely true. What I actually said — though rarely out loud — is, “One day I want to write a best-selling novel.”

It was only a couple summers ago, after a couple decades of such daydreaming that I finally had this epiphany:

An unwritten novel has ZERO chance of being published, much less becoming a best-seller. (Feel free to quote me on that.)

I decided I’d better get cracking. So I did. And all that cracking, all those months, and 92,000 words later, I can report: Writing a novel was one of the great experiences of my life.

Is my story any good? I have no idea. Will it ever be published? I couldn’t tell you.

But what I can tell you is that the process itself was amazing. It was eye-opening (and crazy-making). It was exhilarating (and exasperating). It was life-giving (and lonely). It was unbelievably hard… and utterly worth it.

I’m now convinced everyone ought to try it, at least once. You should do it — even if you hated English composition class with a white-hot hatred. Write a novel, or at least a “novella” (French for little tiny baby novel) for at least four reasons:

Write a novel because the world needs more stories.

Back when I used to speak publicly on a regular basis, I noticed an interesting thing. When I would stand and pontificate, spouting all sorts of “profound” principles and propositions and points, people would glaze over. (Even nod off.) But then, even in the middle of the lamest, most boring presentation ever, if I said something like, “I met this Hungarian ventriloquist once who was 7 feet tall and he — ” every head in the room would snap to attention.

Fact is, we are wired for stories, and we can never get enough of them. I suspect this is because good stories remind us that we are part of the biggest, wildest Story of all.

Write a novel because it’s cathartic.

There’s a reason writers confess, “All writing is autobiographical.”

This will sound weird, but my make-believe characters helped me identify some of my real-life demons, and they encouraged me to deal with my baggage. My “fictional friends” occasionally functioned as proxies or stand-ins. They’d step forward and boldly say or do things I might never feel comfortable saying or doing (or even writing about in a secret journal). In my writing experience, imagined events and conversations blended with actual memories and raised all sorts of important questions.

Go ahead and call me a head-case (you wouldn’t be telling me anything I don’t already know), but there were multiple times in the writing process when deep emotion came welling up to the surface of my life — joy, fear, anger, grief. Be assured…not all my buried “secrets” made it into my final manuscript, but it was good to wrestle with that junk — and a lot cheaper than therapy.

Write a novel for the experience of solitude.

There is something unnerving about being alone with your thoughts. Believe me, I get that. This is the reason most folks opt to stay busy.

I can only tell you that sitting down in a quiet, empty room with my laptop (a pad and paper would have worked just as well) made me ponder and reflect and ruminate and question and dream — all important activities that none of us do nearly enough. I suspect this kind of time apart may actually help keep us from coming apart.

Write a novel because when you create, you reflect the image of the Creator.

Writing, of course, is not the only way to reflect the reality that we are made in the image of God. Any creative act — singing a song, planting a garden, painting a landscape, retrofitting your Ford truck to run on old fast food grease — does that. But the worldview I hold says the Creator used words to bring this world into existence from nothing. Stunning to think that we can do a comparable thing.

I know two things: (1) You have at least one whopping good story in you. For God’s sake, and for ours…will you please tell it? (2) The novel you don’t write will never, ever become a best-seller.

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