29 July, 2014

Reasons (Not) To Write Novels

The Independent published this article by Javier Marias (a novelist) on seven reasons not to bother writing novels, and one reason why you might want to bother. If you are interested, then do read the whole article because his points are far more nuanced than my blunt summary, but it basically comes down to this...
  1. There are too many novels already.
  2. Writing lacks any sort of merit or mystery because pretty much everyone learns to write in some way.
  3. It won't make you rich, or even able to live off your writing.
  4. It won't make you famous, and it would be a ridiculous way to try to get famous when there are so many easier ways.
  5. Novels are forgotten almost immediately - within a few years of being written.
  6. It doesn't flatter your ego because you don't watch people enjoying your art (unlike, say, actors) and even if you happen to get good reviews, pretty much nobody else will read them.
  7. The life of a writer is not an easy one - full of insecurity, isolation and an "ambiguous relationship with reality."
And the one reason to write novels?
  1. Writing novels allows you to spend your time in the fictional world which is "the most bearable place to be".
On the whole I agree with his seven reasons, although I would also add (as he does, in a way) that none of them are particularly good reasons to want to write either! I also don't personally find the last one particularly true - I don't feel isolated or insecure, my life is happy. I don't entirely agree with his one reason to write novels either.

I agree that the novelist "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" - but not necessarily that this is superior to the real world or the sole reason to become a novelist. However, I do love his description of this world we create in novels and the article is worth reading just for that. I also love his description of novel-writing as "the rather modest and pleasing art of inventing and telling stories". That's exactly how I would want to put it!

So what do you think the best reasons to write novels are?


  1. I think the best reason to write a novel is because if you don't, your characters will keep haunting you. And you wouldn't want that, would you?

    1. I now have images of my characters standing at the foot of my bed in the night, wailing and pleading with me to write about them!

  2. Replies
    1. And that, surely, is the best reasons of all :)

  3. His 'objections' (I know that's not the right word but can't call up a better one just at the moment) surely apply to all art forms, and I would imagine the majority of normal jobs, too. What's he suggesting as an alternative? We can't all be Hollywood megastars!

    1. Indeed! Although I think the ultimate point of his article was that it was still worth doing despite all these arguments. That writing novels was worth it because you get to live in this un-real worlds through the "modest and pleasing" art.

  4. I'm afraid I can't agree with most of it - it almost sounds like one of those insincere, attention-seeking articles to me!

    1. Saying there are too many novels is like saying there's too much music - we always want more and there can never be too much! (Unless it's coming from your neighbour's garden in the summer, or when stuck in a lift...)

    2. Again, I'd liken it to music - anyone can make a violin sound like a dying cat, but few can captivate people and reach their souls.

    3. It just might, though!

    4. Ditto - but the only point I can generally go along with. It's probably easier to date a footballer and then sell your story to the papers.

    5. Good ones aren't, and anyway what's wrong with a few hours' enjoyment with a book that will be forgotten. Many wonderful things in life are only fleeting.

    6. Agree up to a point, but just knowing that some, however few, enjoy what you've created is surely enough?

    7. Few people have easy lives. Try working in a factory or down a mine!

    And his good point I find rather sad. For me reading is escapism, not writing. I enjoy the real world (mostly!)

    1. I think it was probably meant to be controversial, but at the same time, as I said, it was a bit more nuanced than my summary made out! And his overall point I think was that none of those reasons not to write novels should have been a reason to write one anyway. So I kind of agree with that, but, like you, I'm not sure I agree with his final point completely, although it's worth reading it as a whole because some of the stuff he says is really beautifully put.


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