When’s the perfect time to write a novel?

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The Write Question is a weekly video podcast all about writing. Today’s question? When’s the perfect time to write a novel? If you have a question you’d like me to answer you can email me, tweet me @pubcoach, or leave a message for me at the Skype account, The Write Question.

Transcript: 

When is the perfect time to write a novel? That’s the topic I’m addressing today in The Write Question. I’m Daphne Gray-Grant, the Publication Coach, still in pandemic mode.

I have a question from Alyssa Baquir, a writer based in the Philippines. Here’s what she’s asked by email….

When is the perfect time to write a novel? I decided I wanted to write my first one back in May. It took me months to get a grasp of how I want to develop the premise, and even now I don’t feel too confident about my characters and general idea. I’m a second-year pre-med student, so it’s tough even just getting into the writing headspace while thinking about homework and deadlines. What do you suggest?”

Thanks for your question, Alyssa. Before I give you an answer, let me make a couple of observations, first.

You’re probably a smart over-achiever. I say this because you’re working to get yourself into the highly competitive field of medicine. But intelligence isn’t what you need to succeed at novel-writing. You need time and space — and these qualities may be in short supply for you while you’re busy trying to get into med school.

Also, you used the word “perfect.” This term is what’s called a superlative — a word showing that something is either the best or worst in its category. Here are some other examples: best, worst, boldest, biggest, cheapest, dullest, grandest. I’m including a link to an article in the Guardian about why superlatives are so problematic. But even common sense should tell you that they’re usually exaggerations.

Rather than trying to find the “perfect” time to write, I suggest you work toward a much more realistic goal. Try to find a reasonable time.

When you’re applying to med school is probably NOT such a time. Your focus right now should be on getting the grades you need and doing some volunteer work that will help make your application stronger.

If you have any time left after that, focus on getting some exercise and doing something fun or relaxing for yourself. You might see friends, even by Zoom, or read a novel (rather than writing one).

I have a fairly large number of friends who are doctors and they tell me that the pre-med time is the hardest and most stressful in terms of marks. Interestingly, life in med school is easier and less stressful than pre-med, because all you need to do is pass — you don’t need high marks at that point.

That said, you will not have much more time in med school, because then you will have to start doing internships or residencies and you may be going several days without any sleep.

Realistically, Alyssa, right now is the OPPOSITE of the perfect time to write a novel. So, I’m going to encourage you to focus on getting into med school. There will be plenty of time for writing, later.

Finally, let me wrap up with a quote from the English novelist and essayist, Eric Arthur Blair. He’s better known by his pen name, George Orwell“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.”

Alyssa, some doctors do go on to become very fine writers. Historically, this list has included Anton Chekhov, William Carlos Williams, Somerset Maugham and Arthur Conan Doyle. But they didn’t do it while they were going to school. Get through your years of education first and then, when you’re established as a doctor you’ll have a lot more energy for writing. Even if the timing isn’t perfect, it will be a whole lot better.

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If you’d like to learn more about how to make writing a happier and more rewarding process, check out my latest book Your Happy First Draft. I don’t sell it in bookstores or via Amazon. The only place to buy it is on my website, link on the screen below and in the show notes. 

Links 

Why superlatives are the absolute worst (Guardian)

Your Happy First Draft

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