Why is fiction so hard to write?

I attended a small writing workshop a couple weeks ago taught by Alison Pick, a Canadian writer whose novel Far To Go was nominated for the Booker prize and a teacher from the Humber School for Creative Writing. I haven’t read her book yet, but the workshop was very interesting. She put us through a series of exercises that I found quite challenging, since they were mostly rooted in fiction and, for some reason, I can’t write fiction. I had to develop a character, do a 10-minute ‘free write’ from the perspective of the character, and then be interviewed as if I were my character by a partner. I scraped by, piecing together an invented person who was mostly based on a younger version of myself with bits and pieces of information gathered from other people I know. There’s was nothing terribly new or fresh about that character for me.


Whenever I try to come up with a fictional plot, my imagination freezes and I can only think about truth and reality. It’s odd, since as a child I had a vivid, boundless imagination and created made-up stories all the time. I wrote about elves and Santa (my favourite subject), princesses, dragons, and magic. Stories poured out of me during my weekly hour of writing time at the computer, and I pounded away on the keypad of my parents’ ancient Mac Apple without pause. Back then my ideas flowed easily, but now that flow has dried up. I feel like a boring adult who can’t even make up a bedtime story for my sons.

Something will have to change because, starting on November 1, I’ll be participating in NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, as it’s known more officially. This is a global challenge to writers of all kinds to write a novel (approx. 50,000 words) in 30 days, which works out to 1,700-2,000 words daily. Last year, over 341,000 people participated in NaNoWriMo, clocking their progress online in order to be accountable and motivated. I’m excited for the challenge, since I’ve always wanted to write a novel but haven’t got the stick-to-itiveness to actually complete something of that size. The biggest challenge from my perspective, however, is not the daily writing amount, but developing a fictional idea that I can run with.

I gravitate toward reading historical fiction, so that’s what I see myself writing. Plus, I did a history degree once upon a time, so the ability to research exists somewhere in my brain; I just have to find it again! After a week of thinking hard, I’ve come up with a single idea. I can’t say yet what it is because I have a lot more thinking to do, but once I’ve got a clearer idea of what I want to write about, I’ll pitch it on this blog for feedback.

Have any of you written much fiction or participated in NaNoWriMo? Any tips for a fiction novice? Here a couple helpful articles I’ve read so far:

Welcome to NaNoWriMo Prep School, Word Nerds (thanks, Warm Ginger!)
How to Get Ready for NaNoWriMo

You might also like:
Is Education Ever A Waste?
My Literal Writer’s Block(s)
Defining a “writer”


8 thoughts on “Why is fiction so hard to write?

  1. whoo hoo!! i’ve signed up for NaNo too:) last year I did as well, I only managed 20,000 though. You miss one day and all hell breaks loose…I’m going to try for the full 50k. I consider myself a fiction novice too, but all I can suggest is write what you know and what you’d want to read. I find pictures can be a great writing prompt, and I’m a big believer in having an outline. We should have a writing session during NaNo. Good Luck Lady!

  2. I’m in the process of writing a fiction novel. I’m only a novice myself but what works for me is taking myself and life experiences and just exagerating. Incorporating my dreams, goals and nightmares.
    Try writing a short story with the main character as an extream versiob of yourself, put the character in either a fantasy or nightmare scenerio and just write from your heart. How would you react, feel…?
    It may not work as well when you start writing for different characters but its a start….

  3. Good luck with NaNoWriMo! I attempted it two or three years ago but had to give it up because I just couldn’t make the daily word count. I like the idea and I would love to do it when I have some free time but this year I am up to my eyes in studying, researching and writing essays, so any free time I have is spent not writing!

    Have fun and I look forward to hearing about your NaNoWriMo experience! 🙂

  4. I never did NaNoMo, but 2 years ago, I did write a 50K word novel geared to 11-year olds (now in the looooong process of trying to find a publisher). I had never written any fiction before, but a story had been brewing in my head for at least 10 years, and when the down-economy made my business take a one-year break, I spent the year writing. Oh, how much fun it was! But, definitely not easy. My husband used to come home many nights and find me practically weeping with frustration. But….that’s the way all art is—for me at least. Lots of frustration and a small bit of pure wonderful. It’s the last part that keeps you hooked. Now, I can’t wait for another break to write the sequel! I think if you stick with it, little by little it will come. If you really want it, you’ll find a way.

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