It Takes a Village (to Write a Novel)

It takes a village. It really does. The sitting down and getting the words from the fingers to the computer screen is a fairly solitary operation. But the getting the ideas to the fingers and then the computer screen to a book … a village. A big and wonderful village.

Priya is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Yahong won.)


Guest column by Priya Parmar, whose debut
historical novel, Exit the Actress (Touchstone),
came out Feb. 2011, and is available in Target
as well as all major bookstores. Priya splits her
time between Hawaii and London, is working
on her second novel, and loves meeting new
people. See her blog here.


So, the ideas. I have come to understand that writers essentially eavesdrop. It is an established truth. I steal bits and pieces and verbs and ribbons and colors and coats and nouns and shoes, and expressions and gestures and quirks and quibbles and moments of being from everywhere. I love the colors in linen catalogs and paint shops. I love strange foibles that seem to present themselves in restaurants, and train carriages, “I must sit next to the window but facing the door.”

It is terrible. My friend has a fight with her boyfriend and tells me what she said that she should not have said and off I go filing fragments away to be shaped and dressed and painted and primped and refitted into a scene of the book. I do not even know I am doing it. 99% of me is sitting there listening and 1% just makes off with the conversation, like a sandwich in a purse. Awful.

And then there is the encouragement. In Hawaii, I stop in to a little coffee place called Java Kai. I do not even drink coffee. Tina and her husband Mark own Java Kai and my friend Tora owns Relish salon next door. Every day they would ask how the writing was going. Tina asks what is going on in the plot. Mark asks how the arc of the story is feeling and Tora asks when she can read it. It helps. It makes you feel part of the world instead of like a mole in hole. I would send my pages to my mother and she would read and comment and make notes and it made me feel like I was not sending the words out into a void but off on a voyage in my computer and there were lots of friends standing on the dock to wish them well.

And then there are the blog friends. I started my blog about 18 months ago (when I was at home with a cracked rib and had just seen Julie and Julia). I had no idea that I would actually make wonderful, wonderful friends. It was the thing no body told me. Real friends, who love books and read with nuanced, practiced, discerning eyes and generous, wise hearts. It was extraordinary.

And then there is the publishing world. An agent is a marvelous thing. She fights your corner like a champion and suddenly as a writer, you are not alone in the boat. My publishing house is Touchstone and they took beautiful, sensitive care of this book. When I phoned up very late in the editing stages, my wonderful editor understood that the color “scarlet” had been repeated and had to change to “poppy.”

And two weeks ago, when Exit the Actress came out I felt a great moment of shared joy. We did it. Together. None of it would have been as memorable or happy without that sense of community, of shared endeavor. It made what was wonderful, so much better.

Priya is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week;
winners must live in Canada/US to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Yahong won.)

If you’re writing fiction and want to
make your prose sizzle, check out
The Fire in Fiction by agent Donald Maass.  


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18 thoughts on “It Takes a Village (to Write a Novel)

  1. Kristine

    Ooh! I’ve been reading reviews for Exit the Actress for awhile now! It is definitely on my "must read" list. I love the idea of using multiple voices, and media (as it were) to tell a story. It was one of the things that hooked me about The 19th Wife. I would LOVE to get a copy of it!

    As for listening in, I think we all do it. I’ve "borrowed" bits of conversation here and there, from various sources, like random puzzle pieces picked up from the street and put together to make a whole picture. It’s natural. I even get ideas from songs or music; or from dreams.

    Anywhere the muse hits you!

  2. Prip

    All good artists steal conversations, I think. It’s what helps us make our art relatable.
    I’ve seen people try to make art alone- the artist in a garret thing. It doesn’t work.

  3. Nikki

    What a beautiful sentiment. You’re absolutely correct. No author is alone and if they are, it must be pretty darn difficult for them. It’s amazing to be able to show a piece of writing to someone and get a reaction. It keeps things real.

    Thanks for writing!

  4. Shirley

    That’s a coincidence!! It was after I saw Julie and Julia on DVD that I decided to start blogging! To this day I write five blogs, two of which receive regular, almost daily, attention. My first book review, ever, was Julie and Julia on My Bookshelf. I adore the movie, much more than the book.

    I’d love the opportunity to win and read your book!!

  5. Jewel Allen

    Priya, your book sounds fabulous. Looking forward to read it. Even though we as writers are encouraged to look outside our family and friends for feedback on our writing, it’s the family and friends that keep us going for better or worse!

  6. Kristan

    "99% of me is sitting there listening and 1% just makes off with the conversation, like a sandwich in a purse."

    LOL, that’s a cute way of putting it, and I totally know what you mean. I’m glad you found your village, and thank you for sharing your story with us.

  7. Priya Parmar

    it is so wonderful to hear that i am not the only writer who does this!

    it is wonderful to have supportive community around me. they also are often what stops me from pressing delete or alternatively what helps me to press delete when i have taken a wrong turn and really need to…

  8. Liz McLaughlin

    "Like a sandwich in a purse" – HAHA! I definitely get that. Writers are a nosy bunch. I like to write because I want to see what characters will do, where they’ll go. I like to look at people’s lives, settle in really deep with them, see inside, their history, figure out the tiny moving parts. I guess I’m addicted to the intimacy. Writing is like that for me. A way to pry into someone (fictional obviously…).

  9. Kristin Barrett

    Congratulations on your book. I am working on the first revision of my first book, and I never thought of it as a group thing, but I too have people I know asking questions about it constantly, and that helps me stay on track and motivated. Thank you for sharing!

  10. Valerie Norris

    I steal things, too. Even as I was going to an absurd situation recently, I was shaping my response to it for a funny blog post. I keep a notebook in my purse for those crazy random phrases my stepmother-in-law throws out there, or for something I see while I’m out. It’s all grist.

    Congratulations on the book!

  11. Shely Immel

    Priya, what a lovely voice. And what a successfully crafted post. It made me 1) aware of your book, and 2) want to read it. What a good example for me to learn from.

    Thank you for posting such an encouraging, appealing perspective, and giving voice to the kind of experience we all hope to have as writers on the road to publication.

  12. Elisa Michelle

    Honestly, it’s great to have people surround and help you through the writing process. I’ve got many friends who cheer me through those days when I just want to press CTRL+A and then Delete after reading through a draft of my short story or novel idea. They’re worth every second, that’s for sure.

    It sounds like you’ve got a great community around you, and I hope your book does well!

    Elisa Michelle

  13. Avital

    So so true: I find myself taking every snippet of conversation overheard, suffering discussed, stories told in coffeeshops or on whizzin trains– and typing them into a document as soon as I get to a computer.
    But such is the best and most true writing– based on life at its truest, hardest and most relateable.
    looking forward to reading…


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