My Friend Once Asked Me Why I Am Not Writing a Novel

It would have been about three months ago, now. My friend, a good friend of mine, asked me why I am not writing a novel. We were standing in a smoke-filled garage, at a going-away party for a mutual friend.

It came up because we were talking about what might be a good future for me. He is well on his way to a great career, and is happy for it. At that moment, I was thinking about adding a little bit more ambience to the garage.

When he was going through a bit of a tough time in his life, I bought him a notebook and gave him one of my favourite pens. I told him to write things down. I told him that by doing so he will have a record of the things in life that are worth remembering. I told him that by having a record of what is worth remembering he will be able to reflect and engage with his thoughts over time. I told him that one day, when he has practiced enough, he will be able to theorise about the future and practise of his profession.

The bane of his existence is forgetfulness. To his credit, he rarely forgets how much he hates not being able to remember, so has been quite diligent about keeping his facts in good order. He does sometimes forget to return my phone calls, and I have not spoken with him in about three months.

His question to me still plagues me. Why have I not written a novel? Or, why am I not working on a novel?

A photo of a story that I am working on.
Cory, in progress. Photo credit: Aly Gulamhusein

When I was younger I had an idea for a novel. Now, I cannot be sure that I know what the difference between a short story, a novella, and a novel is. I can be fairly certain that it has to do with length, but then there must be some other difference that I am not aware of. Even if it only has to do with length, when can a story claim to be short, when does a short story become a novella, and when does a novella become a novel?

For the novel that I had thought up, I had character developments and a weak plot line. Somewhere in my hoards of notebooks, the story ideas are written down. I still think it would make for an interesting short story, novella, or novel.

To revert back to the question that sparked this blog post, the reason that I am not writing a novel is because I have not put in the effort. Lately, I have been listening to the Writers & Company and The Next Chapter podcasts, in an effort to gain insight into what writing is like. I have been perusing through different short story writers’ books, such as Etgar Keret and Mavis Gallant, to help me understand the structure of short stories. I have not sat down regularly enough to write anything substantial.

Right now, however, I am working on a story, tentatively titled Cory. It is far more difficult to write, and write well, than I would like it to be. The ideas I have for the story are convoluted, making it difficult to be clear in my writing.

I figure that if I continue to plug away at the story it will eventually get written. My ideas, and my penning of them, will hopefully become clearer as the story takes shape. Most importantly, I must not forget about the story, or any story. Anything I write, in whatever literary category of prose it falls into, must be worth remembering.


  1. Nice blog entry Aly! I have also been asked this question a lot, and it is a real struggle. People think it’s so easy to write a novel (probably because every d-list celebrity has some crap novel out about their half-assed rise to becoming “Google-able”) but it’s not easy, not easy at all. It takes a lot of time and dedication, and usually years and years. Sadly I have yet to surpass the effort I made when I was about 11 years old and I wrote a “book” (it was literally hand-written in one of those Hilroy notebooks from the first page to the last) called Stitches, it was a horror story and I reread it when I was back home a few years ago and it’s terrible, by adult standards, by 11 year-old standards I thought it was pretty damn good but it’s still the closest I have ever come.

    1. Thank you very much, Jen!

      Writing anything well is difficult. In fact, I have been pondering my response to you for about eighteen hours. This is the best I can offer you.

      Did you use every page of an eighty page spiral bound Hilroy notebook? How many Bic pens did you go through? Is the book illustrated?

  2. Perhaps you can be inspired by editing my thesis? It is almost like a novel, written in chapter form, starting with the middle chapters and working my way to the ends? Wait, do authors write their books like that or is that something I just designed in hopes that it helps me succeed? Maybe that is your mistake, maybe the key is to start in the middle, after all in less then a week I have been able to write two chapters.

    Give it a thought, if anything you will have the inside scoop on some new and critically acclaiming research.


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