Columns > Published on January 24th, 2022

Writing a Novel vs. Writing an Album

I’m finishing up a novel and an album right now, both of which have been in the works for years. Too many years. It’s weird to be completing both projects at the same time, during mandatory isolation, especially when one involved finding and working with other people to see it through.

Both tasks have been really, really hard, and feel like they’ve taken forever. If you are just writing or making music for fun, it might not take up as much of your time, but if you are trying to get the work to a professional level—that’s when the months turn into years. It’s a process. A process that is hard to trust at times.

The stopping and starting, writing, rewriting, recording, re-recording, and just trudging along can really wear on a person. The patience and perseverance needed to stick with it while having to work and deal with life can take a lot out of you. I create art (and I imagine others can relate) because I have to. Neither of these pursuits are motivated by money, though there is always the goal of getting compensated in some form. I do them because they bring purpose to my life.

I have gone over the track list for my album obsessively, trying to decide what order the songs should appear in to tell the perfect story. I've made multiple revisions, all with the goal of "getting it right." The work really becomes its own reward. Hearing the song you've recorded or reading the chapter you've written. There is something about the labor involved. No other act really comes close.

Yet, a lot of people stop pursuing these kinds of purpose driven art forms. You can reach a point where the sacrifice is no longer worth it, especially once real life gets in the way. You could put all your heart and energy into something, investing time and money, but in the end, people might not care.

Maybe you need to be a little nuts to see your artistic endeavors through?

Maybe you need to be a little nuts to see your artistic endeavors through?

I’ve seen both of mine through, and I must say, I found one way harder than the other, but your mileage may vary.

For me, being a musician in a band is harder in the big scheme of things. You actually need other people to create art, as well as gear, unless you do it all on a MacBook. Gear costs money. A MacBook costs money! Recording in a decent studio costs real money. Chances are you will lose money being a musician, while writing a novel only requires a library card, which is free. You just need to read, write, and make a couple of online writer friends. Seriously, that’s it.

I am in an interesting position, because my guitar player has a studio, and that’s probably why I can afford be a musician. But if you take money out of the equation, which is harder? Being a writer or a musician?

I found the overall experience of writing an album way more fun. Writing a song is like being possessed by a melody, and putting together an album is like making sure all the ghosts you conjure can co-exist. You listen to the demos and see how they flow together. See what needs to be fixed. If you feel like something is missing, you can always write more songs. Need something with more energy? Go write it. If you feel you need another single, try to write something catchy. You can keep writing till it feels done, or you have more than you need—then you have to narrow it down. It’s an ongoing process that in some ways you don’t want to end. It’s an artistic endeavor that has so much vitality to it. It’s fun and feels expansive if you give yourself the time. I feel a lot of this is a direct result of collaborating with other creatives.

A novel unfortunately does not work like that. Yes, there can be too many scenes, and yes, they have to compliment one another, but once the narrative is set in stone, you can't just flip scenes around. They not only have to flow together chapter to chapter, they must have causality as a whole. It is a different kind of continuity or cohesiveness. One bad chapter can mess up the whole damn thing. There are so many choices to make while keeping the voice consistent and strong. You need to stay in the same key the whole damn book. It’s also harder to tell if your writing sucks. If you are honest with yourself, you know if a song has something, while a novel really needs an impartial and experienced reader to tell you the brutal truth.

I feel like a novel is more of a crap shoot. With music you are usually having fun while creating it. It is orgiastic, Dionysian. Something spooky takes control that you have to trust. Sure, telling stories is fun, but writing a novel with the intention to sell it to a legit press or agent is a real labor. Especially when you add in all the revisions you’ll have to do. And then after you think it’s done, an editor or agent might be like—I like it, but we still need to fix all these things. 

You can WILL your way into writing a song with intention—you can, I’ve done it—but you can’t WILL your way into writing a novel you feel good about. You can put a lot of time and effort into a novel that just might not "sing", or just ends up being OKAY. It's also a lot harder to get feedback on a full novel, due to the time and attention constraints of readers, while with an album, you can get an almost instant response. Immediate feedback = immediate morale boost. It’s a lot harder to maintain morale while writing a novel that can take years and years of redrafting and returning to the drawing board. 

Damn, writing this article, I realize why writers are always having meltdowns, while musicians just drink a lot at shows. Until a novel finds readers, writing is kind of a miserable hellscape. At least musicians get to play shows. The writer equivalent is the live reading or con. They can be a boost, but they almost always involve other writers, whereas rock shows will have actual music lovers there. It means more when a genuine fan likes your work, as opposed to a fellow artist.

So here I am, gearing up to find representation/a home for my new novel, while my band’s debut single drops Feb 11th. I feel like I've survived both  endeavors, and whatever happens, I hit the standard I wanted to hit. Making worthwhile art is really, really hard. But the truth is, it’s only going to get harder once the art is complete. I believe in the work and now I have to do my best to reach out and find an audience that will love it as much as I do. I'll keep you posted on my novel. Subscribe below to see if you dig my songs.


About the author

Christoph Paul is the Managing Editor and owner of CLASH Books, who have published over 60 books and have been covered by NPR, Poets & Writers, Rolling Stone, Believer Magazine, Oprah Magazine, The Observer, Fangoria, and Publisher's Weekly. The press has had books translated into Spanish, French, and Italian. He has been editing books in almost every genre for over a decade. As an author, he won a humor award and had viral cult success under a pen name. He is the lead singer and bass player of the rock band The Dionysus Effect, who have received positive reviews in Loudwire, EARMILK, and Red Rock Magazine. He sometimes writes songs about the books he publishes because even artists are inspired by their day jobs. Follow him on Twitter @christophpaul_ @clashbooks @dionysuseffect.

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