There is a question that I get asked every time someone is told that I’m writing a novel. It is always, “What’s your novel about?”
I used to have very strong feelings about this question. Basically, I hated it.
I have been working on a novel of some kind since I was fourteen. I’m going to be thirty-two in a couple weeks. For a large chunk of that time, I suffered from social phobia. It was a dark, horrible place. Talking to people at all was a struggle, let alone trying to answer that question of horror.
The reality is that novels are complex beasts and since I’m always in process and never finished, it’s actually really difficult for me to summarize what I’m working on.
This is probably different for every writer, but for me, it’s practically impossible to tell you what my novel is about. It’s not because I don’t want to share it with you. It’s because I don’t actually know.
The trick is usually trying to figure out if the person I’m talking to is someone I can trust with the information that I don’t know what my own novel is about.
When I was young and terrified, nobody could be trusted with that information. I wouldn’t willingly hand it out. So what did I do? I usually tried to get away with saying what genre I was writing. “Oh, it’s a fantasy novel.” If that didn’t work, I tried to summarize. And I failed. And then I felt like an idiot. And then I probably resolved never to talk to that person again out of shame.
So I think you can see why I hated this question back then.
Nowadays, I’m not as scared of people or what they think, so I find in most cases I can go ahead and tell them that I don’t know what my novel is about. It’s actually the perfect mechanism to change the subject from what my book is about to how I write. Since the next obvious question is something like, “How can you not know?” or “Are you some kind of idiot?” Then I can answer, no, not exactly, I’m just a discovery writer. I find my story as I go along. See? Now we’re talking about my process and I no longer have to attempt to summarize the slush that is currently my novel.
I loooove talking about my writing process. I could talk about that mess all day long.
And since I no longer hate and fear the dreaded question, I can instead appreciate the person who asked for being interested in my writing at all.
I find in most cases, gratitude can change your outlook on anything. Something I used to hate is now something I can be grateful for. I know that people who ask aren’t trying to make me feel anxious or stupid. I know that they simply want to get to know me. So instead of telling them what my story is about, I tell them why I don’t know what it’s about.
So if you ever ask me what my novel is about, you can be sure that I won’t give you a direct answer. Even if I had some kind of summary to provide, it would be meaningless. If you asked me the same question a week later, the entire summary would be different. This is how I work. My creative process is a mess. It works, but that means my story is also a mess and thus summary is impossible.
In conclusion, I am grateful to anyone who expresses genuine interest in my writing, no matter what questions they ask. Just remember that I’m dodgy and don’t be offended if I don’t actually attempt to summarize my novel for you. I’m still happy you asked about it.