Why Writing a Novel Feels Both Expansive and Claustrophobic

An interesting phenomenon takes place as you increase word count.

Over the past year, I have been writing works of speculative fiction to several different lengths including short stories (under 7,000 words), serial episodes (about 10,000 words), novellas (about 30,000 words), and novels (70,000+ words).

A Novel’s Unique Spatial Paradox

I’ve found that with novels, more than shorter forms, a paradoxical sensation occurs in that I feel both dwarfed by the amount of space I need to fill and keenly aware of how each element I’ve outlined will have to be extremely concise.

It’s so strange. How can 70,000-some-odd words be a space both vast and confining?!



It’s not unlike the feeling I get from images of outer space–so expansive and wondrous yet undeniably isolating and ominous.

As long as novel word counts feel when I am chasing them, they simultaneously represent a claustrophobic space in which to pack all that back story, character development, worldbuilding, tension, motivation, theme, and full-blown conflict not to mention the actual goings-on, dialogue (internal and external), and general descriptions!

This is why writing a novel is such a curious experience, as though I am under an expansive sky and spelunking–and in response to either extreme, I’m muttering to myself, “Why am I doing this again?!”

Breathing Through the Discomfort

It’s a good problem to face because it’s so interesting, but I’m finding it really does take some conscious calming to keep going through the novel-writing tunnel, when I get that feeling of hardly being able to maneuver one idea around another in the limited space.

You know those positions in yoga where you start stressing and have to breathe through discomfort? That skill has come in really handy. I just have to keep at it mechanically instead of shutting down. Novel-writing psychology tactics are definitely a thing!

Yup, This is Pretty Much How Novel Writing Can Seem...! (Astavakrasana by Jemasty Wikipedia)

Yup, Pretty Much…! (Astavakrasana by Jemasty Wikipedia)

Word Count and Thematic Complexity Are Not Necessarily Scalable

Oddly enough, in shorter works I don’t feel this way at all, because it is less of a weaving or balancing act. Themes are much more straight-forward and character relationships serve that theme so they are also less complex.

To sum up, apparently, this paradox I’ve been experiencing is an illusion born of a tripled or quadrupled word count compared to shorter forms, combined with a much greater increase of theme and character complexity. It’s not necessarily proportional or scalable. Good to know!

That’s what I’m doing this week in my writing world…! Happy writing on all your projects.

2 thoughts on “Why Writing a Novel Feels Both Expansive and Claustrophobic

  1. Hannah G

    Totally feel you on this post! The novel’s so long and got so much left in it I just wanna cry… and at the same time, how will I ever fit everything I want to say about this into one little novel? The answer, of course, is yoga. Just like I listen to myself and make modifications for where my body is each day, I do the same for what and how much I can write. And I know eventually I’ll get there. And I know I’ll keep doing it (almost) every day, because even though it’s uncomfortable at the time, it has to be done and it’ll make me feel better and more myself when I’m finished.

    I should probably just write a whole post about this. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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