Writing a poem is like baking a cake. If it works, yay! You got a cake, and you can eat it and share it right away. If it doesn’t work, oh well. You wasted an afternoon and you probably learned something that’ll let you make a better cake tomorrow.
Writing a novel is like trying to build a rocket in your garage. It takes years, it sucks up all your money, you neglect your family and your health, and at the end of it all, it probably won’t fly. One night, when you’re halfway through, your wife or girlfriend or husband or boyfriend or mother or friend will come in and ask: ‘Why are you doing this?’
And you’ll say: ‘I want to go to the moon.’
And your lover/mother/friend will say: ‘But aren’t rockets really hard to build?’
And you’ll say: ‘Yes, but I want to try. You only get one life, and I don’t want to spend my wondering whether I could’ve made a rocket.’
And your lover/mother/friend will say: ‘But it’s making you unhappy. Maybe you should come indoors and I’ll make you some hot chocolate and we can watch Buffy.’
And you’ll say: ‘But then all my work will have been for nothing.’
And your lover/mother/friend will say: ‘But… now I don’t mean this unkindly, but… you must realise that it’ll probably be for nothing anyway? And I can see how stressful you’re finding it. Is it really worth it?’
And you’ll say (tears in your eyes now): ‘I don’t know. I just know I can’t stop. I couldn’t bear it if I stopped.’
And your lover/mother/friend will look a little sad and say: ‘That’s what I’m worried about.’
And they’ll leave you there, in your chilly garage, as you rivet the seam on another tailfin and glance nervously at the blueprint tacked to the wall, wondering if the power-to-weight ratio isn’t just a little out, wondering if it is all worth it, wondering if you can ever be happy.
And somewhere, through the sheetrocked roof, past clouds raked into glowing streets, beyond the invisible membrane of the tropopause, tens of thousands of spaceships orbit the Earth, moonlight flashing in their portholes. You feel them as you work. They call to you, like strange squid.