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Wait for the perfect time and place

The Seven Myths of Novel Writing

I’ve been debunking some novel writing myths over the last couple of days, so here’s myth number three. I call it the myth of the perfect house and the perfect garden. Look into the lives of successful novelists (for instance, in Mason Currey’s book Daily Rituals or Process by Sarah Stodola) and you’ll soon discover that almost none of them waited for the ‘perfect time’ to write. In fact, because it wasn’t the ‘perfect time’ they were more able to find inspiration for the conflict and tension in their writing.

Women laughing at salad

Have you heard of ‘women alone laughing at salad’? Maybe not, so I’ll explain. It was a thing that went round on social media a few years ago. The basic premise being: have you noticed how many stock photos, in magazines and adverts, feature women alone laughing at salads? There’s an entire blog devoted to it and several people have written about it – as you’ll notice of you google it.

Fancy seeing a picture of me telling jokes while eating a salad? Thought not.

In real life, almost nobody sits and laughs while eating a bowl of salad, seemingly for no reason, because we tend to laugh when someone’s told us something funny, and eating at the same time would probably be a choking hazard; so it’s obvious when you think about it that these photos are posed. Even if you really like salad, looked at objectively these women are far too happy, and far too ‘perfect’ to be authentic. I don’t know about you, but if someone took a picture of me laughing over a salad, it would be unlikely to appear an advertising campaign.

What’s going on?

So why does it a blog go viral when it points out this obvious truth – people don’t tend to sit alone in perfect make up laughing at salads? We accept these ideas of so-called perfection because we see them in the media so often. It’s easy to forget that:

  1. Imperfect might be way more interesting
  2. One person’s idea of perfection isn’t the same as another person’s idea of perfection
  3. If you wait for the perfect moment, it might never arrive

What has laughing at salad got to do with writing a novel?

The myth of the perfect house and the perfect garden is another form of procrastination and it goes like this: imagining the life of a novelist to invoke sitting at a ‘perfect’ oak desk in a dedicated study, overlooking an immaculate landscaped garden, I think, well, I don’t have that so I can’t be a writer. Or, in its less extreme form: I can’t write a novel now because I need to wait until I’ve got a desk set up in the spare room, or until I can afford a new computer or until (fill in your own blanks).

Don’t fall for it

Now of course there are times when something big is going on on your life (new job, new baby, new house, for example) and you do have to wait. If anything is interrupting your sleep, prioritise self care over writing a novel. However, make sure you’re not falling for the myth of the perfect house and the perfect garden. In other words, don’t wait for the perfect time and environment because it may never happen.

I’ve got a writing shed now, but I still work alongside my writing. And when I started out I had two hours off work on a Friday afternoon (which essentially meant they paid me less for doing the same amount of work) and a table in our front room. I also tried writing in the basement for a bit, but it was damp and smelly. Even so, the stuff I was writing then became my first novel. My point is, you’ve got to do what you can, where you are, with what you have.

The Seven Myths of Novel Writing – all seven posts in one list

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