Novel Disfunction

Almost eight years ago, when my son was a baby and I was a stay-at-home dad, I wrote a novel. I wrote whenever he slept. I got downright prolific and it felt great. I became convinced not only that I’d sell it in record time but also that I’d write that much every day for the rest of my life and be a frillionaire, on horseback sauntering—horses saunter, don’t they?—down a white Tahitian beach sipping the finest champagne from the platinum-coated skull of my 9th grade English teacher.

My novel is not yet published. My frillions have not yet been awarded. Neither makes me particularly upset; I keep trying. The part that really drives me crazy is my inability so far to write another novel.

Since completing the novel, I’ve started no fewer than 15 thrilling, brilliant stories all up in the cleverness. I have finished none of them. OK, to be fair, some of them died legitimate deaths. They simply weren’t strong enough ideas. So be it. But plenty of them have, I think, real potential. Or at least, they should.

Here’s what happens. I picture a scene. I get fired up. My mind goes yeehaw with the ideas. Characters bloom inside me like those cool Chinese tea-flower-thingies. I plot, sketch, plan, dream. Oh, the euphoria! It’s foreplay and a trip to Powell’s at once. I gather more and more momentum and I think, “This is it! At least! The spell is broken!” Then, around 8 to 12 thousand words along, psssssst…the steam flatulates away. My novel attempt suddenly looks like Eeyore’s balloon.

I say, just as the bowl of petunias thought as it fell, “Oh no, not again.” After that, life feels lousy until a new concept jumps up and gives me new hope and eventual disappointment.

I don’t mean to say I’ve written nothing. I’ve written plenty of poetry and short stories. I’ve written tons for the magazine I work for and of course I’ve written quite a bit here at tor.com. But the lack of novel writing pains me. Looking online, I’ve seen mentions of “second novel syndrome” but this pertains to the pressures on an author following a successful first novel. If only that were my problem!

I have a full-time job and two kids and I guess I could use either as an excuse, but I think that’s crap. The vast majority of novelists never “quit their day jobs” nor must they take vows of celibacy. Anyhow, I am not writing this to lament or make excuses. I’m asking for help.

I will entertain pretty much any suggestion. Schedules, classes, rituals, unguents, surgery, hypnosis? Any old thing. (If your reaction is “You obviously aren’t cut out for it and you should stop writing,” please save yourself the effort because that is the one bit of advice I am guaranteed not to take. Giving up is no answer. Oh, and get bent. Sideways.)

There are plenty of great writers who frequent this site. Some very are accomplished, some starting out. Maybe some of you have had the same problem I have. But a whole lot of you seem to be more consistently prolific than I am.

Help a brother out?


When Jason Henninger isn’t reading, writing, juggling, cooking or raising evil genii, he works for Living Buddhism magazine in Santa Monica, CA.

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