I decided that I wanted to be a novelist in 1980. I had been a voracious reader, but I had little impulse to create stories of my own. I wish I remember the title of the novel that set me on this path. All I remember is that I hated the ending. I felt cheated. I was furious. I decided that I was going to write my own story with an ending that made sense. And I was going to show Mr. Big Name Author that he wasn’t all that.
Almost four decades later, I have yet to publish a novel. I have started more novels that I’ve finished, and I’ve abandoned most of them. It wasn’t until last week that I realized why.
I was 25,000 words into a new story, and it had ground to a halt. While I was brainstorming about how to get it going again, I wrote this:
I don’t see how this story is going to impress anyone.
And it hit me: I was writing it for the wrong reason. Not because I believed in the story but to prove a point. To impress someone else. And I realized that the same motivation has been behind every novel I’ve written.
Every novel but one, that is.
My last novel was a story that has been percolating in my brain for years, based on a real-life murder I heard about in 1987. Although I struggled with techniques of storytelling, I never felt like quitting. For once, I was writing a novel because I believed it was a good story. Not to impress anyone, but because it felt real to me. Because I wanted to find out what happened.
I’m going back to that novel. I need to excise a subplot that doesn’t fit. I want to fix some problems with the sequence. And the ending is weak. But it’s all fixable. More importantly, it’s a story I’m writing for the joy of telling the tale, and not to prove myself to anyone.