Am I a Novelist?

So…now I have completed the first draft of my third novel. Hmmm…yes…indeed.
I did this through ‘NaNoWriMo’ (National Novel Writing Month) where you are challenged to write fifty thousand words in one month (November). For the second year running I am a winner and have miraculously completed that many words and my novel has a start, a middle and an end (round of applause please!).
If you had asked me whether I was capable of such a thing a year and a half ago I probably would have laughed at you in the way that we often laugh off things that might challenge us. The kind of laughter born of disbelief and fear.
Of course there is still lots of work to do with editing my novel and rewriting. I now have two novels that require such extended work. Only the novel that I wrote for NaNoWriMo in 2011 is in any kind of finished state.
Despite the work ahead it should still be a gratifying feeling to accomplish such a creative feat, and I do feel proud of myself. In a way…
But then, being the miserable bugger that I can sometimes be, I wonder about what it all means. And, yet again, I find myself wondering why I am doing it? The writing I mean…
The first thing, and this is a hard thing to admit, is that it is a bit self-indulgent. If writers (or artists of any kind) are honest, they are often creating to entertain others, and thereby seeking to gain approval from others. We all want to be adored after all? Don’t we?
Although, I have to admit that there is a certain terror when someone I know actually reads something I have written. This is always a difficult thing. If a friend or family member reads your work then aren’t they obliged to tell you they like it, even if they don’t? So you can’t always trust what they say…
Praise from strangers is better. It is a bit like when I play gigs. Singing to strangers is always easier and less precious than singing to friends.
I guess I am just rambling now. My real question is this. Do I dare now call myself a ‘novelist’ simply because I have written some novels? Am I a novelist if no one has ever read my work?
Franz Kafka never had a novel published in his life. He only ever published short stories in magazines (like ‘Metamorphosis’). He later instructed his friend Max Brod to burn all his manuscripts before he died. We have Brod to thank because he ignored Kafka’s request and published works like ‘The Trial’ and ‘The Castle’ posthumously anyway.
Would we call Kafka a novelist if Brod hadn’t published his work and burnt it instead? If we knew he had written novels but no one had ever read them?
I am not sure what I think about this. I suppose if you write a novel (however good or bad?) that makes you a novelist…even if you aren’t published or make a living from it…
Perhaps I will challenge myself over the Christmas period. Often when we meet new people, perhaps at parties, they ask us “What are you?” to which I sometimes reply “I am a human being, what are you?” Or they ask “What do you do?” to which I sometimes reply “I like to lie on the sofa, what do you do?”
Flippant and silly I know, but maybe, just maybe, this Christmas I will be brave and when somebody asks me one of those questions I will answer “I am a novelist…”
Do you think I will dare?
What do you think?

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Franz Kafka…very Kafkaesque don’t you know…

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Self-portrait of the artist as a ‘Novelist’…
© 2012 Simon Poore

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November, a Novel and Death of the Author…

I want to congratulate myself. I wrote a fifty thousand word novel in a month for National Novel Writing month (NaNoWriMo). Many of you may be familiar with this, but for me it was a new experience in many ways. I hadn’t even heard of it until a few weeks before it began and just threw myself into it with a foolish naivety. I thought it might be fun!

For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, the concept is that you only have those thirty days to write at least fifty thousand words. This is 1667 words a day. No re-reading what you have written, no editing or cutting anything, just keep writing until the end. Like a marathon and a sprint at the same time. This, I realise now, is a tall order.

I finished today, with a total of 50,311 words which makes me a ‘winner’. Even more miraculous than that I have written a whole story. It has a start, middle and end. All in thirty days. Looking back it seems like it wasn’t that difficult, but I know I struggled throughout. I had to juggle it with my real life, trying to write in lunch hours on days when I couldn’t write in the evenings, mental blocks where I forced myself to write something; anything. But somehow I muddled through and finished it.

Now I am not writing this post to boast (well maybe just a little bit!) but it has made me think about the artistic creative process again. Always thinking about that one!

The thing is today is the 30th. I wrote the last 1800 words this morning because today I have been on strike (for those outside the UK, the Government is screwing up public sector pensions and over 2 million people were on strike – I am a teacher, but that’s a different story). This day off in protest (with no pay) gave me time to think. I have written a novel but I have never actually read it. I have only read the words as I typed them. There is lots in there that I have forgotten.

It’s like this thing I have created has left me and already it is almost an entity in itself. Sitting there waiting to be interpreted in so many different ways. It is what ‘Russian Formalist’ writers called ‘Death of the Author’. The idea here was that once a novel was published it was irrelevant who the author is, or what their background is, or even what they intended when they put pen to paper. The book is always going to be reinterpreted in different ways by each individual reader. So all reviews or questions about what the author ‘meant’ by their work are irrelevant.

I have felt this with songs I have written. Once they are recorded and performed they take on a life of their own, with people enjoying different songs for different reasons. I still sing songs I wrote over twenty years ago, and I can’t really remember what I felt like when I wrote them. I continue to reinterpret them every time I revisit them. This makes them seem fresh and new somehow.

In some ways this novel is even more exciting. I plan to leave it to ‘simmer’ for a while. Forget it for at least three weeks. Then over Christmas I will read it; read it as if it’s a novel I just picked up. I won’t be able to escape the feeling that it isn’t really anything to do with me. You ever had that feeling?

I wonder if it will be any good?

What do you think?

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Is this the man I am? Or is he anything to do with me?

© 2011 Simon Poore