Friday, April 29, 2011

"it's not you, it's me": INTERN's guide to breaking up

breaking up is never easy…

About eight months ago, INTERN went through her first big breakup. It was horrific—there were tears, accusations of infidelity, tender afternoons where it seemed like everything was going to be OK followed by screaming sessions on the front lawn. INTERN has been too emotional to talk about it until now.

The breakup wasn’t with Techie Boyfriend, if that’s what you’re worried about. It was with the godawful novel she’d been working on for over a year. In many respects, INTERN’s relationship with this novel was more tumultuous than any of her other relationships have been, and the parting of ways was definitely messier. INTERN just didn’t know how to leave.

Lucky for you, INTERN has had eight months to mull things over. Here, with 20-20 hindsight, are six ways to know it’s time to break up with your novel.

You’ve been cheating.

There’s no use trying to deny it any longer—you’ve been sneaking around with another novel. You know, the one your mind drifts to when you’re supposed to be gazing into your other novel’s eyes. The one you’ve been having thrilling forbidden encounters with in coffee shops and bars and even, once, in your writing room when you were sure your other novel wasn’t home. The one you’re making plans to elope with if you could only find the courage to face the hurt and betrayal in your other novel’s eyes.

But hey, didn’t you read somewhere that people only cheat when their emotional needs aren’t being met by their current relationship? You’re justified in leaving your other novel by, like, the entire field of psychology. So no worries.

You’re in it for the wrong reasons.

You’re only dating your novel to make your best friend jealous. Or because you had something to prove. Or because it was convenient at the time.

But now that you’ve been together for a while, you don’t know how to break this to your novel without sounding like a total jerk. Well guess what? You are a jerk. And you ought to do some serious soul-searching before you start dating another novel—if another novel will even give you a chance after word gets out about what happened with the first one. Didn’t your grandma tell you you should only date someone you could see yourself marrying? Next time, don’t take up with a novel lightly.

You’re just too different.

You’re a literary fiction buff whose tastes run to Cormac McCarthy and Michael Ondaatje. For some inane reason, you thought it would be “fun” to have a crazy fling with a YA fantasy. “It’s only for the summer,” you told yourself.

Fast forward six months and you and that YA fantasy are living together in a shitty studio apartment arguing over who does the dishes. Your crazy fling has turned into a ball and chain. “Why did I ever think this would work out?” you ask your best friend, and she just rolls her eyes.

The spark is gone.

Sure, most relationships take work once the initial rush has worn off. But it’s not just that your heart’s stopped fluttering when your novel walks into the room—you’ve been actively avoiding spending time with her. Let’s face it: those late nights at the office aren’t due to a sudden desire to be Employee of the Month. And don’t give me that “I have a headache” excuse either. The truth is, you’re not attracted to your novel anymore. In fact, you get as much stimulation from working on your novel as you do from mopping the floor. Don’t lie—you’ve been fantasizing about other novels. It’s written all over your face.

You just can’t make it work.

You’ve tried date night, self-help books, and even couples therapy. But the same issues keep coming up again and again. Your novel always wants to talk about feelings, and you’re craving action. No matter how hard you try to like them, you find your novel’s friends shrill and annoying. And no matter how many times you promise yourself not to get caught in the same old patterns, you find yourself having the same arguments over and over.

After a certain point, you realize that no amount of outside help or advice will save your novel. You have to face the facts: this is a sinking ship, and it’s time to stop bailing and swim to shore while you still can.

Your novel wants commitment and you want to play the field.

You’ve been though one draft together. It was fun and all, but now you’re thinking you want to write a thriller, or maybe some poetry, or that screenplay you’ve been thinking about. Your novel, on the other hand, wants to settle down and make beautiful revisions together. Maybe even find an agent.

This freaks you the fuck out. You’re not ready to commit to untold months of revising, querying, and revising some more. You like your novel, sure, but that doesn’t mean you want to spend your whole life together. You’re only 25 (or 32, or 47) for crying out loud. This is your time to play the field. You’ll settle down later.


INTERN’s breakup has a happy ending. She ran off with the novel she really wanted to write, leaving the mistake novel behind. Will they get back together someday? It’s possible. But hopefully by that time they’ll have both grown up a little and learned something from their mistakes.

Before INTERN signs off, she’ll leave you with one last piece of (extremely hard-won) advice: whatever you do, DO NOT break up with your novel over the phone. ‘Cause no matter how mad you are, that’s just cold.

Have you ever broken up with a novel? Was it amiable, or did things get messy? Were you able to walk away, or did you keep running back? Did friends and family intervene? INTERN wants to know!


  1. "INTERN’s breakup has a happy ending. She ran off with the novel she really wanted to write, leaving the mistake novel behind. Will they get back together someday? It’s possible. But hopefully by that time they’ll have both grown up a little and learned something from their mistakes."

    LOL yep, that's how things were for me and my first novel. I'm not saying it was a mistake -- I just wasn't ready. That first novel was really mature, and I was a kid. It's been a few years, and I think I might be ready for a reconciliation. But then there's all these other great novels I've got going on... One in particular... So that first one might have to wait a little while longer.

  2. This might be the funniest thing I have ever read.

  3. "Your novel, on the other hand, wants to settle down and make beautiful revisions together. Maybe even find an agent." HILARIOUS. Oh INTERN, I'm so glad you're back.

  4. This is hilarious! Awesome post. And yes, I've definitely broken up with a few novels.

  5. But, umm, there ARE times I've been tempted to use aspects of two different pieces of work in one WIP. Ya know; character traits, story arc, settings.
    So I guess you are telling me a menage a trois is out of the question.

    Well, phooey.

    All kidding aside, there have been times I've wanted to trunk this thing. But the darn premise keeps whispering sweet nothings in my ear. "Tell my story. Please. It NEEDS to be told."

    So I'll keep plugging along. Either Old Faithful or Old Stubborno

  6. Oh yes! You are so brave! You actually made the break instead of just pretending. Bravo! Skip to the music!

    First Novel will play with the dust bunnies under the bed and pop out again someday. If there's giggling involved with the reunion, make a first date and start by shuffling around the pages.

  7. Bryce: you are so right! INTERN's next post is going to be about Staying Friends with your old novel (e.g. keeping the good bits without the pressure of a "relationship") great idea!

  8. Kristan: "the novel was really mature, and I was a kid." SO TRUE. who hasn't dated that oh-so-wrong older guy who would have been perfect a few years later?

    it's good to try to write things you aren't ready to you something to aim for!

  9. Bwaha! Ha.

    I recently had a... separation... from a novel I started about two years ago. It stemmed from a short story that never ended. Every time we sat down to have the "but where do you see this *going*?" talk, said novel would stare into the middle distance and whistle quietly.

    Now I'm working on a new novel, who is more open to making at least tentative plans for the future. We're happy. But sometimes I think it may be time to switch to a poly relationship. After all, my ex did once mention something about a threesome...

    (Hurray! Blogger stopped eating my comment.)

  10. Is it cheating if you look at other novels? Is it cheating if you return to an old novel and try to fix the parts that just didn't work for you? Now with a few years perspective, you know you can at least be friends if only you could fix those annoying habits and flabby adverbs.

  11. I've always abandoned my novels before they were fully-formed enough to really have much of a personality. They're not even aware that I'm gone.

    Cool post.

  12. DO NOT break up with your novel over the phone. ‘Cause no matter how mad you are, that’s just cold.

    That last line made me lol, out loud.

    Excellent post. Thanks for sharing :)

  13. You know why I like you so much more than other writing blogs/sites? You're funny. Although, I was a little concerned for Techie BF from the title.

  14. Oh, yes, and you asked a question.
    Why yes, I've had to mature and move on to a new novel. A new genre, in fact. The old one and I just weren't compatible.

  15. Oh God. After reading this, now I'm wondering if I'm in a bad relationship. I didn't want to see the truth. I didn't want to hear it. I... I...

  16. I'm the coward who keeps hanging on because I don't have anything better to do right now, so I keep thinking maybe I can make this work. Guess I'm just the kind of tramp, who needs the next novel,to come along before I'll let go. Too afraid to be all alone out there.

  17. Just Another Day: word. sometimes you've been with a novel for so long, you don't even know who you'd be without it. but those are the times when you have the greatest opportunity to find out!

    (gah, INTERN is really scraping the barrel on this relationship-advice thing! must read a few issues of Cosmo for inspiration!)

  18. I haven't broken up with a novel, but I have unplugged life support.

  19. Just as I was thinking of dumping my romantic suspense to hop into bed with the still hazy but sizzling PI characters of my dreams . . . I found out I finalled in a contest with my first love. Guess I'll have to give it one last go around before I bail out and move on.

  20. This is hilarious! You could make it a TV series called "Novels and the City"!