Only then, it is still supremely uncomfortable.
You open the Word document, and there it is: a white, indomitable challenge. You write the first few words and then backspace them all again. Once you have finally gotten out the first few pages, you wish you hadn’t. It is terrible. It isn’t what you imagined at all. It is like drawing: you see a masterpiece in your head, but when you try to transfer it to the paper, you get a stick figure.
(This is the point where most people give up. I normally force myself just to keep going, using the growing word count to encourage me.
“I wrote 2000 words today. At least two of them must be worth something.”)
I think writing a novel is like cycling uphill. Once you have expended two thirds of the story (and your effort), you’ve finally reached the summit of the hill that almost sent you careening backwards into oncoming cars. And all of a sudden, the balance tips, the momentum changes, and for better or for worse, you are hurtling forward at an unstoppable pace, either toward your destination or death and destruction.
That is the very best bit, both for readers and writers! You’re obsessed, and it’s like the beginning of an addiction: quite sublime. The real bump comes after the climax, when all the action spirals into nothingness. A good writer will bite the bullet and tie up all the loose ends wonderfully and economically, within two thousand words. A bad writer will let it get to them, and will keep writing for two weeks, trying to talk their way to a good ending.
Once you’ve succeeded, you format the book so that it looks like a book. (This is really all it takes to make a book. Just double space everything, indent everything, and change the size of the font for the chapter headings. After that, it looks like you got it off Kindle). You take out all the little editing and writing notes like: “I’M SICK OF THIS CHARACTER.” “I CAN’T STAND THIS.” “WHY IS THERE A HORSE ON A ROOF?” “HOW DID THE SHIP BLOW UP AGAIN?” “THIS BIT JUST SUCKS, DELETE IT ONCE IT FEELS LESS LIKE AMPUTATING YOUR ARM.” Then you start sending it around to admiring friends. You hand-pick these, because you can only cope with encouragement.
And then you make a coffee, recline on a sofa in a “semi-recumbent position” (to quote Wilde), and bask in the glow of an impossible achievement. You are far too happy to go through the gruelling process of sending it to literary agents and publishers just yet …