How Writing a Novel is a lot like a Relationship

Last week I mentioned that I’d finished reading Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance. Rather than be a creativity kleptomaniac, I’m citing Ansari’s book as the inspiration for this article.

In his book, Ansari talks about the strange thing that happens when someone we like makes themselves available to us. The moment we know this person is a possibility they go from being the one to an option. They lose their appeal. We let our text exchanges with them fizzle out. We’re suddenly too busy to set a concrete appointment. The thrill of discovery is gone. This reaction is especially true to emerging adults fresh on the dating scene, where the search for a soulmate is a numbers game.

Ansari says that between 2005-2012 one third of couples who got married met online. He says the people who were dissatisfied with online dating spent too much time looking at screens sifting through their options, mistaking introduction services for actually dating. The message Ansari keeps driving home is this:

“With so many romantic options, instead of trying to explore them all, make sure you properly invest in people and give them a fair chance before moving on to the next one.”

Replace the word “romantic” with “writing” and you’ll see where I’m going with this. If you’re serious about writing you’re going to need to start following through on your relationships with words long after the thrill of discovery is gone.

I’ve written about the urge to cheat on your novel, how a blog can try to seduce you away from it, and how it feels to break up with it, but I haven’t written about what it takes to make a relationship with a novel work: commitment. One of the biggest challenges early writers face is the allure of all their options.

How do Writers Choose the Right Muse?

Just as millennials are waiting longer to get married early writers are spending more time exploring their options. Just as the internet has given emerging adults a venue for casual hookups it’s given writers a place to test casual material. Just as emerging adults date before settling writers dabble in digital mediums before committing to putting their work in print.

Early writers flirt with stock photo writing prompts, sense-centric exercises, and flash fiction sprints. They have meaningless flings with fan fiction, slash fiction, and creepy pasta. They get polyamorous punching-up prose with multiple partners, groping at the groggiest of group activities, and chipping in on chain stories.

Just as young lovers leave their partners when things run their course early writers wrap their stories up when the romance is gone, even if that’s somewhere in the middle of act one.

Love of Writing

Why do You Keep Writing When the Passion is Gone?

Passion is a fleeting thing. The spark fizzles out fast, whether it’s the spark of love or something creative.

Just as young lovers are hesitant to put rings on the things they like early writers are hesitant to invest in a 90,000 word undertaking. They have no idea where their manuscript is going, but it feels suffocating.

Coming home to the same partner can get boring. So can coming home to the same piece of writing. Partners can cramp your style, keep you from going out, working on a novel can do the same. Sometimes lovers need you to drop whatever you’re doing just to validate them, to pay a contrived compliment when one couldn’t be any further from your tongue. Sometimes you’ll have to push through an arduous chapter when you’re not feeling the least bit clever.

What do you do when your manuscript’s mysterious magnetism suddenly feels mundane, when its revelations feel redundant, and its maintenance feels monotonous? What do you do when the butterflies in your stomach flutter off, when your crush eases, and all the sweet nothings turn out to be just that: nothing?

Adjust your expectations.

There’s passionate love and there’s companion love. One fades after a few years. The other grows over time. One is hot and heavy. The other is warm. One will give you a nervous jolt. The other will put you at ease. If you spend all your time trying to capture that early electricity you’ll miss out on the thing it was supposed to be charging.

In his book, Modern Romance, Ansari felt he wasn’t getting much satisfaction going on so many first dates. He decided to experiment with finding someone decent and sticking with them to the fifth date. He was surprised to find that long term dating didn’t feel like settling.

Early writers have an embarrassment of riches. They’re surrounded by seductive ideas quick to give out their contact information. They’re not lovesick with writer’s block, they’re stuck at a fork in the road with too many directions to go down. Just as we all want to find the best possible lover, our soulmates, writers want to find the best possible story, when we’d be better off seeing the one we’re working on to completion.

Closing Thoughts

You can keep trying to replenish your supply of passionate love, text another suitor while the one you’re with bores you, or you can start making memories with someone you care about. They might not give you the same rush of endorphins, but they may ultimately feel like home. When the thrill of the chase is gone you might have something worth maintaining.

Short fiction comes on like an exotic lover, but novels stay on like true companions. See your work in progress through before you start fantasizing about the next one.


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8 thoughts on “How Writing a Novel is a lot like a Relationship”

  1. Writing is not ‘like’ a relationship, Drew, it’s one of the best relationships you can have, and I mean with anyone, anywhere. And to answer another of your questions, when the passion goes, hang up your pencil, for nothing happens or is real with a little bit of passion…

  2. I would have never thought of these analogies, Drew…. So accurate!
    Probably the best advice here is… ¨Adjust your expectations´…Or remain single and unpublished for the rest of your life 😀 …Love is full of risky choices, and the same applies to Writing, I guess.

  3. OK, yeah, yeah. Terrific post. Brilliant analogy. Hooray.

    Now, let’s talk about what really matters …

    “…polyamorous punching-up prose with multiple partners, groping at the groggiest of group activities, and chipping in on chain stories”? What is happening right now? I mean, I’m always impressed with your use of internal poetic devices in your prose. But did you just actually include a 4-3-2 alliteration sequence, and in the same sentence? Forget about dating and writing. I think I’m in love with you right now.

  4. Great post Drew, reminds me of one i wrote a while back on dating and writing analogies! Its all so true.
    now having read this I actually really feel great about having invested 4 years on my novel and not lost focus (much) on it. The long game is always the best if not the most exciting 🙂
    Now if I could just find the same longevity and commitment from those who cross my path in romantic relationships….it seems a modern epidemic this lack of commitment thing. To anything.
    Great post, enjoyed it a lot 🙂

    1. Hi, Joanne. This reminded me of a greeting card I once saw.

      Card front: “You know how you go to a public restroom and open a stall and it’s vile, so you go to the next stall, and it’s a complete mess, too, and then you go through them all, and they’re all pretty much compromised, so you go back through and just pick the least disgusting one?”

      Inside: “That’s how I feel about dating.”


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