Truman Capote once famously said “Finishing a book is just like you took a child out in the back yard and shot it.”
Um, no. I have children and it’s not even close.
But there are similarities. In both cases you become enormously tedious to people are not actively involved in writing a novel or raising a child.
When I first had a baby I walked around dirty and dazed and a little surprised to find myself out in the sunlight. On one of these outings I ran into a friend and we talked about music and bands and people we both knew.
“So what are you up to these days?” She asked.
“This thing,” I said, pointing at my two week old baby. Obviously.
“No, I meant creatively,” she said. And she laughed a little like I’d misunderstood the question and it was a bit funny. How could you mistake a baby for a fun project?
This is very similar to the conversation I have had with almost everyone over the last year about my upcoming novel debut.
Random Friend: When is your novel coming out?
Random Friend: Wow, that’s a long time from now. Why does it take so long?
Me: I have no idea.
Random Friend: Can't you speed it up?
Me: No. It doesn’t have anything to do with me.
Random Friend: (yawning) Oh. So what are you doing now?
Me: Waiting around for stuff to happen.
After a while having a debut novel starts to feel like a conversational dead end. It’s as though someone asked you what you were doing in January and you answered “painting my living room” and they asked you again in July and you said “painting my living room.” Any logical person would ask “Is your living room the Taj Mahal? Are you painting it with a toothbrush?”
And just like painting a living room everyone knows how to do it. They're pretty sure they could paint your living room over the course of a weekend, with a whole hell of a lot less personal drama and hand wringing.
There is no way to explain to the layperson how exciting, and fraught with existential terror the debut novelist experience is. But I think I’ve come up with a conversational gambit that while not strictly truthful, captures the feeling of being a debut novelist perfectly:
Random Friend: So what's up with you?
Me: I’ve liquidated my life savings and I’m planning to take all my money to Vegas to play Blackjack.
Random Friend: What?? When is this happening.
Random Friend: But that’s so soon. Are you sure you know what you’re doing?
Me: Well, I have spent the past four years huddled over my computer evenings and weekends learning the rules of blackjack. I think I’m prepared.
Random Friend: But it’s still gambling. You could lose everything. You could become famous as that person who lost their life’s savings at the black jack table.
Me: Good. I want to be famous.
Random Friend: Really? But you’re so shy. You want to be famous? You want to speak in public about your experiences at the tables?
Me: No, not really. Maybe? I’m not sure…
Random Friend: This plan seems half-baked. I’m worried about you.
Me: Yeah, I’m pretty stressed about it myself. But it’s my life's dream. I don't think I'd be happy if I didn't at least try.
Random Friend: Well, maybe you'll get rich. There's a lot of money in gambling, right?
Me: Not really. I mean if you're J.K. Rowling sure. But that's not the point. I'd be happy to break even. But it's really about the experience.
Random Friend: I don't understand.
Me: I'm not sure I do either.
I have to disagree with Truman Capote. Finishing a novel is not like shooting your child, not even close. It’s a much smaller experience akin to mortgaging your house and risking your saving and your sense of self-worth on a combination of gambling skill and good luck at the casinos.
In December. December 26th, to be exact.