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3 Reasons Novel Writing is Like Building a Start Up

I met someone recently who runs his own start up. It’s a super niche technical business, so when he started talking about it (albeit passionately), I expected everything to go completely over my head.

A lot of it did.

But as my friend began to talk less about gadgets and more about the daunting experience of starting a business, I found myself suddenly able to relate. That’s when I realized it- writing a novel is basically like building a start up.

start up

Here’s why:

1. Whether Building a Start Up or Writing a Novel, No One Really Gets What You’re Doing

My friend is creating some GPS gadget (sorry friend), and the innovation lies in something very technical. He said he tries to explain his vision to friends and family, and while they are supportive, they really have no idea what he’s trying to do. There are apparently only 3 people in the world who get it.

This experience is exactly like writing a novel. Sure, people understand the concept of novel writing and maybe even your basic premise, but you (and maybe your editor) are the only ones who get what you’re trying to do. You know the message you’re trying to convey. The nuances. The weeds.

2. Building a Start Up and Writing a Novel Both Require An Appreciation for Innovation and Creativity

My start up friend talked about the creators of Uber the way I talk about J.K. Rowling. He went on and on about the innovation of the company and other pioneers because he was struck by their creativity. He was moved by both the simple and complex, so long as it was creative.

As novelist, I could relate to that. Seeing such innovation in others makes you want to find that creativity/innovation in yourself. It’s inspiring.

3. Writing a Novel, Like Building a Start-Up, Requires a Significant Investment

My friend was the first person to invest in his start up. He quit his job and dedicated 100% of his time to the company. Then, he convinced others to invest (and believe) in his ideas, skills, and strategy as well.

Writing a novel also requires a significant investment. The first investment is from yourself- it’s definitely a time commitment and probably a financial commitment as well (i.e., for classes, conferences, editors, etc.).

By asking people to buy and read your book, you’re requesting that they invest their time and money into your ideas and skills—and your characters.

So novelists, next time you meet an entrepreneur, make sure you tell them, “I get it.”

What about you? Do you think writing a book is like building a start up? Let me know what you think in the comments. 

PRACTICE

Take fifteen minutes to write about an innovator or writer who inspires you. How can you relate to them? What can you learn from them to help you become a better writer? Don’t forget to share in the comment section! 

 

About Monica M. Clark

Monica is a lawyer trying to knock out her first novel. She lives in D.C. but is still a New Yorker. You can follow her on her blog or on Twitter (@monicamclark).

  • In a former life, I led 8 start-ups. To my mind, writing a novel is more akin to a singer/songwriter slaving to combine rythm with words that resonate in an 8-hour song. If it’s great, people will remember the lines and word will spread. I’m wrapping up my 6th novel. michaelthompsonauthor(dot)com.

  • dduggerbiocepts

    “By asking people to buy and read your book, you’re requesting that they
    invest their time and money into your ideas and skills—and your
    characters.” I think you would better define this process as marketing – “asking people to buy” and technically they aren’t investing (the expectation of receiving more resources in return than for those initially expended) in your ideas and skills, or characters – they are spending (expending resources) purchasing an experience not unlike other entertainment experiences like theater, movies, or even video games. The value of the said reading experience being highly subjective, intangible, and difficult to quantify.

    I do like your analogy to startups and the analogy does work. I have always equated writing more to building/construction because there are similar process elements. These elements are research, design, planning, a foundation laid, structural elements erected (plot), visual elements applied to the structure (location, scene and characters), inspection and revision (editing) of the finished work, completion, marketing and sales.

  • If you are writing to be published either with a traditional publisher or self publishing, you are creating a product of words. One you hope readers will buy, like, and tell others about it. 😀

  • Portia McCracken

    I enjoy Monica’s website and I’ve gotten a lot from some of her other essays, but this one was a waste of time. Sorry Monica.

  • Stiennon

    I have started 21 companies and am working on #22. After #21 failed I came to the realization that I was just bad at raising money. I forswore startups forever. Instead I would focus on my consulting business. First step: write a book! As I researched the process of book writing and publishing I had a sinking feeling. Business plan? Marketing plan? Target audience? Pricing? This was the startup process all over again! Thanks for the great thoughts.

  • Monica,

    I agree almost 100%.

    Writing one novel is like launching a start up.

    Creating a career of writing novels is like building that start up into a successful business.

    That’s a minor point, I know, but for most of my adult life, my “business” has been painting portraits of horses. While each of those portraits has been like a mini-business, it’s been the accumulation of all of them, over the years, that has become The Business.

  • I never thought of it that way, but it absolutely makes sense. You start out with an idea, and it grows to be bigger than you can handle. you devote your life to it, and you’re the only one who really understands what’s going on until you hand them the book. then they’re amazed.
    Also, it actually is a small business, once it’s published.
    Great comparison, Monica, and something only a writer would think of!
    Reagan
    “Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not unto men”
    (That’s really the most important part, whether it’s a business or a book)

  • And here is my assignment (not to be confused with my opinion, which I previously posted).

    One of the writers I most admire and who I consider to be an entrepreneur is J. R. R. Tolkien.

    Tolkien was a writer and thinker who was also a contemporary of C. S. Lewis. They taught at the University of Oxford, England at the same time, though in different fields, and they were writing their books at the same time. They were even members of the same writers’ group, the Inklings, from the early 1930s through 1949. The group, which was made up of a core of about a dozen writers who attended regularly and many others whose attendance was more sporadic, read their current works to each other, commented on each other’s work, and offered encouragement and, sometimes, criticism.

    While Lewis and Tolkien were close friends, they did not like each other’s fiction writing. Tolkien had very little affection for The Chronicles of Narnia. Lewis didn’t like the Lord of the Rings.

    In fact, there were a lot of members who didn’t understand the Lord of the Rings or the world Tolkien was creating. At best, they were noncommittal. At worst, they were openly critical and sometimes downright hostile.

    And yet Tolkien continued, writing and rewriting his books until his last days. According to comments made by his son, Christopher, Tolkien never considered his books complete. There are, in fact, many versions of some of the stories that make up the

    SilmarillionSilmarillion.

    The reasons I admire Tolkien as a writer probably don’t need to be explained. One has only to look at the ongoing popularity of his books and the movies based upon them to understand the magnitude of his work.

    It may be less obvious why I see Tolkien as a modern-day entrepreneur. Here are a few of the reasons that most encourage–and, yes, inspire–me.

    He had a vision of a world that existed nowhere outside his own very fertile imagination. He developed that world with such patience, endurance, and dedication that it sometimes seems to have taken precedence over the real world. He wrote more than one language for his fictional world. He populated it with all manner of life forms from divine to evil. He knew the history of that story world from it’s very beginning through the end of the Age of the Elves and Dwarfs and to the dawn of the Age of Men.

    He didn’t let the influences of those who didn’t understand his vision sway him or deter him. In reading the little bit of about him as a writer and a man, I have to conclude that every grain of opposition motivated him in making his vision real. In some cases, it appears he used that opposition to inform his novels, to make the characters more three-dimensional. He infused his writing with life experience, good and bad, personal and observed.

    He endured. It’s difficult enough to endure through the writing of one 100,000 word novel. How much more difficult must it have been to endure through the writing of three major novels and who knows how much supporting work in addition to teaching duties and all the writing necessary for that in a pre-computer time?

    In these three areas alone, Tolkien exhibits the qualities of modern entrepreneurs. They are, it seems to me, the mark of the successful person in any endeavor.

    Vision.

    Confidence in the vision that is strong enough to withstand the criticisms of friend and foe alike.

    An ability to endure to the end, no matter what obstacles or hardships and no matter how long it takes to complete.

    What more does any writer need to succeed?

    • This is great. I was just talking with one of my students about Tolkien. C.S. Lewis happens to be my favorite author. My daughter’s name, Lucy, came from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I’ve always found it interesting that Tolkien and Lewis weren’t fans of each other’s work. It is incredible the amount of work Tolkien put into his story and story world.

      • Tom,

        I was amazed to discover Lewis and Tolkien were not only contemporaries but close friends up until Lewis’ marriage.

        I’ve also been fascinated by the amount of work Tolkien put into world building. It must have consumed his non-working hours.

  • Kenneth M. Harris

    At first, I did not believe that it would be so very difficult to write a novel. I completed my novel last November and have not went back to it. The author that inspires me is none other than TONI MORRISON. I have read everything that she has written. I read an interview that she did on writing. What I learned most from that interview is when she was asked what happens when you complete your novel. She starts off by writing with a pencil and a yellow pad. Once she completes the novel written, she transfer the novel to the computer. She said that the best part of the writing is when you rewrite. You have already wrote novel. Next, there should be close to 8 rewrites. (I shudder when I think of that) But, she said this is the fun part for me. She said something else that I had never heard. You should write about what you don’t know, rather what you know. I believe and I might be mistaken about this, I’m going to look this phrase up again. I have a terrible habit of reading another writers great work. Afterwards, I usually feel like mine is HORRIBLE. The phrase that I heard was Never compare yourself to other writers, you have your own voice. Only compare your work to the writer you was 5 – 10 years ago. That has really helped me. THank, KEN

    • Chantel DaCosta

      Toni Morrison is my favourite too.

      • Kenneth M. Harris

        Hello Chantel, My favorite of Toni’s novels is Song of Solomon. I thought that she did a great job of creating all of these characters with unique names. Also, it was written very, very simply. However, I have noticed over the years reading each of her other books that the way she wrote during 1970 had changed. Also, she was able to write in 1st person, 2nd person and Omniscience. Each POV, she wrote excellently. I have to admit . I have always been uncomfortable writing in the first and second person. It’s very, very difficult to write all of the points of view in one novel. There is one novel that I found extremely difficult to read A MERCY. I believe that this is one of her novels that has to be re-read.
        I finally discovered why it was so difficult for me! A couple of her characters were telling the same story for from different point’s of view. What are your thoughts on this book? KEN

        • Chantel DaCosta

          Toni Morrison is a master storyteller Ken. I also need to reread A Mercy, read it back in 2009 (I think). Let’s do a reread together and discuss afterwards.

          Are you in?

          • Kenneth M. Harris

            Chanel sorry for getting back to you so late. Actually, I would not have the time to re-read A Mercy right now. I have just join this writing program and I LOVE IT I’m writing so much more than I have in a LONG time and , in addition, I work eight hours a day. But, to be among other writers, is the best medicine to keep you writing. I’m sorry to be rambling on like this. It’s great to know of other people, especially, writers that feel the same way we do about Toni. Will keep in touch. KEN

  • B. Gladstone

    I got acquainted with Denise Levertov’s writing (poetry) and was really inspired, especially after then reading a brief bio of her. Using poetry to give voice to inner thoughts and feelings, whether love, anger, protest, faith – has been used since ancient times across cultures. They say poetry is dying, but I disagree. I don’t know how “popular” it was at any one point in time, but I doubt it was much more than it is now. Today, there is a growing popularity of excellent young talent with a new form of poetry – spoken word, especially that we have spoken word poetry that I’m sure has it’s roots in beat poetry, popularized in the 1940. Both very young, urban, and socially conscious.

    In conclusion, poetry inspires me!

  • I really admire the filmmaker Christopher Nolan. He makes the movies he wants to make, and they’re always mind-blowing. I’ve always been a comic book fan, and Batman has always been my favorite, and what Nolan did with The Dark Knight trilogy is brilliant. I want to have the level of creative control Nolan has over his stories someday.

    I also look up to Jeff Goins a lot. I discovered his blog when it was new, and it’s been awesome to watch him become someone so many people respect as a writer and blogger. His example inspired my own blog, The Whisper Project whisperproject [dot] net about writing and creativity.

  • EndlessExposition

    Derek Landy, author of the Skulduggery Pleasant series and now Demon Road. In addition to being an amazing writer – I cannot sing that man’s praises enough – he manages to churn out a novel every year without fail. That’s some friggin dedication. And Neil Gaiman. All hail the god that is Neil Gaiman.

  • Chantel DaCosta

    My inspiration is Toni Morrison. Morrison published her eleventh novel this year (2015) at age 84.

    Her work amazes me. Just beautiful and moving narratives with characters that stay with me. year after year I re-read The Bluest Eye.

    Morrison inspires me to break conventional writing to telling and not showing. For me reading a Toni Morrison is novel is like having her hold my hand and walk me through and have her with me weaving these tales.

    I am also inspired to use Jamaican language and be fully authentic in telling these stories.

  • There have been several writers that have gone before me that inspire me to not give up or give in. The first is Laura Ingels Wielder, Her stories were wonderfully written and expressed so beautifully. Then more recent Richard Castle, J.K Rollings, and finally Nora Roberts. These are just a few, but they are the ones who show very different styles of writing which I love from the simple family bond as in Mrs Wielder, stories to the elaborate world of wizards. Not only do they teach me but take me away.

    I caught a glimpse during a show of Castle of his white board (I love white boards – I have 4 smaller ones) where he had planned out where he was taking his story and characters. Although it wasn’t a detailed shot for obvious reasons it did show me I was not alone when it came to mapping out where I wanted a story to go and who my characters were.

    When I think of Toni Morrison and learned here that she was 84 and had just published her 11th book, it makes me both hopeful and sad that at age 50 I only have 3 of my own books totally planned written and published by me to a dozen or so I have written under a publisher, where will I be at 84 and where will my writing take me? She may never know how she has inspired and encouraged the many of us not only about writing but life. But whether she knows it or not, because of her many of us – as writers – have chosen to live our lives and our craft as a result of what she has done before us, and it will influence us forevermore.

    ( yes, now I will stop rambling and sign off).

  • The analogy with startups is very interesting. Indeed writing is a kind of building process with some elements that writer must research, design, etc.

    The marketing plan (which we treat in on of our courses) is a very important point that writers must take care of.

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  • Jim Wilbourne

    This is so true. And on top of that: building a career as an author is, in itself, a startup. How meta is that?