“How’s your novel coming along?”: talking about my novel-in-progress part 1

“How’s your novel coming along?”

When non-writers people ask me this question, no matter how sincere the intention, I hear it spoken in an impatient or mocking tone, ala Stewie from the Family Guy (so painfully hilarious). [1]

Non-Writers People ask me about my novel a lot these days. Of course they do–I quit my tech job last summer, and I’m on sabbatical from my teaching job (yes, I had two jobs for awhile), and my life is to now write/revise my novel everyday. It’s clearly my passion, and they’ve no idea what else I must be doing.

This question is asked of me every time I’m at a cocktail party. As a conversation opener. And about 30 seconds after I’ve crossed the threshold of my former office (and my husband’s current workplace). They ask about my novel, even before they ask how I’m doing.

“Hey Christine! How’s your novel coming along?”

My non-writer friends, when they hear me whine about this, say, “At least people care.” As in, “It’s a normal question.”

Do you really all care? Will 100% of you really buy my book when it’s published? Do you know what an agonizing query this is? One that makes me feel tired and self-doubting and judged and scared and naked? One that then makes me feel guilty, because I do understand you ask out of good intentions, even though it makes me wince?

Do you know that instead of asking me “How’s your novel coming along?” you could say any of the following things:

  1. “I can’t wait to BUY and read your novel when it’s done!”
  2. “I know your novel will be amazing.”
  3. “I think it’s so exciting that you’re taking a leap and writing your novel.”
  4. “I support you in your novel writing/revision.”
  5. “May I bake you some cookies or raisin walnut bread to eat while you rewrite your novel?”
  6. “I hope your novel revision/rewrite is going well! Would you like some chocolate?”
  7. “When will you be finished writing the novel?” OHWAIT. Don’t ask that, either. I have no idea. I thought I’d be finished by now. My friend, when pregnant with triplets was understandably HUGE by her fifth month of pregnancy. People would ask when she was due, and when she stated a date four months into the future, their eyebrows would raise and they’d say things like, “Oh wow! You’re HUGE.” And another friend, who is pregnant with twins, gets the same things. Needless to say, they HATE the “due date” question. Same here. I think I’m having novel quintuplets, and I’m about four months pregnant with this novel in “novel-time.” Yah, it’s going to take awhile.

My writer friends know that “How’s your novel coming along?” is an agonizing query. It’s like getting asked how your fetus is doing–an intrusive question at best.

So here’s how my novel is coming along…

It gives me heartburn. Sometimes it kicks me from the inside at an inconvenient moment, or perhaps close to my liver and it gives me pain. Other times, the kicks delight me.

I felt my novel quicken and kick me last year, after I finished the first draft.

Now I feel it swirl and dance.

My novel makes me feel bloated.

My novel makes me nauseous.

My novel makes me crave certain foods.

My novel makes me feel alive. My novel has a heartbeat.

I often fear that this novel won’t make it. That somewhere during the creative process, I’ll lose my grasp on it. That it will just wither and die. And that it will all be my fault. And that you’ll all ask me how it’s going, when in fact, it died inside of me.

I want this novel to be amazing. I am putting all my hopes and dreams into this novel.

I fear this novel won’t be amazing to anyone but me. That I will send it out into the world, and no one will like it.

If no one likes this novel, I will have to put it in my closet, where it will live to the end of its days, visited by no one but me.

I project all my fears onto my novel.

I project all my hope onto my novel.

My novel is getting heavy.

My novel gets bigger every month.

My novel’s features are beginning to sharpen.

My novel looks a little like me, but not really like me, either.

My novel takes everything I have.

That’s how my novel is doing. It’s not done. It will be done. It cannot, at this point, live without me as a host. The only people who get to “see it,” are people who can read a rough draft manuscript, which is the “ultrasound-equivalent” of writing. I love my novel. I hope you will love, it too.

The second question is “What’s your novel about?” And I”ll talk about that in a subsequent post.

[1] Stewie’s monologue on “How’s that novel coming along?” used to be my cellphone ringer.


Filed under Novel, Revision, Writing

17 responses to ““How’s your novel coming along?”: talking about my novel-in-progress part 1

  1. Asking a writer how their novel is coming is like asking someone training for a marathon “How’s that running coming?”

  2. Oh man do I hear you sister! But I think you’re doing well. Think about all the positives: you’re financially stable enough to be able to ignore your job for a while at least in order to commit to writing and you’ve managed to get published all over the shop. Those are two more things than a lot of the rest of us have! Even better, you’ve got your eyes on the prize. I just keep writing and writing and never send out for publication. Sigh. I’m very impressed by you. Ignore those non-writers.

  3. Perfect. When people ask this kind of question, I want to pulverize them. AND. IT. NEVER. STOPS. “How’s the novel promo coming?” “Do you have lots of reviewers lined up?” “How are the presales?” Pulverize.

  4. Alvin

    Great post. I’m still in the short story phase of my career, but all the same, I really have no idea what to say to “How’s that story going?” “It’s going,” is my only response, which is thankfully enough to end the conversation.

    Also, for real, I can’t wait to buy and read your novel when it’s done.

  5. Your novel WILL be amazing. A book reveals the person behind it and that alone makes it a novel to look forward to reading–you’re amazing, and your novel will reflect that. Great post. You capture the uncertainty and the desperate love that goes into writing a book.

  6. Krista Goodman

    I am not a writer and will never be a writer. I’m a scientist, through and through. That being said, I will always be amazed by people like you who take a great leap of faith, believe in their ideas, and pour everything into a multi-year process which may or may not bear fruit. What courage, just to take that first step. You should be very proud of yourself, and when you finish your novel, I’ll buy it on pre-order. Keep up the hard work. I know it will pay off.

    • @Ericka: so painful!
      @Alvin: thank you for your faith. 🙂
      @Krys: Man, that is one huge compliment! You’re already undoing all the “How’s your novel coming along?” trauma.
      @Krista: You have always been such an amazing support to me in my writing–and you are one of the few people who knew that writing was my passion, early on. Thank you for that support and for your words and energy. Your kids are lucky to have you as their mama. 🙂

  7. I’m so glad you mentioned this. I haven’t heard it for a while since I’m now floating in a non-space between novels. Getting that question drove me insane while I was writing the book I finished this summer. Every single time any one asked for a progress report I wanted to snap rude comments at them and then I felt big stabs of guilt because I knew they were asking to show they were interested in my work. But everything you say about how it makes you feel is so true.

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  11. That sounds quite agonizing. I’d hate it if people kept asking about only my novel; never me. Keep hanging in there, though. You sound like you’re doing well! ❤

  12. “I can’t wait to BUY and read your novel when it’s done!” =)

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  14. God love you for writing this!

  15. New to novel writing scene. There was no expectancy that I would write a novel. I can imagine a person already in the academic scene would get questions about their novel progress. My first novel was a sea adventure, but my latest novel Dancing on the Beach by Sam Grant has received enguiries–about when it will be completed–it is!! Non novel writers can see writing as something you do while watching TV.
    Share the feelings of angst– I usually have physical accompaniment. Aching teeth and a sore throat, when preparing a final draft. The dentist suggested I could be grinding my teeth while asleep. I did not deny that this might be the case. I’d probably fall into a state of shock and bewilderment if people started asking about the progress of my novel writing–at any length Perhaps, you should lie and say that writing a novel is a walk in the park or in the case of my latest novel–beach.

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