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So, Are You Working On Your Novel? Or Tweeting About Your Novel?

If you spend enough time on Twitter, you've probably run across tweets from people who are ostensibly writing a novel but manage to leave a digital trail that indicates they may be doing anything but:

Artist and computer programmer Cory Arcangel started noticing these aspirational tweets and began collecting them in his @WrknOnMyNovel Twitter feed. He's now curated that collection into a book called Working on My Novel.

He tells NPR's Audie Cornish that he hopes his years of curating will turn this "tiny little phrase" into a statement about "who we are."

Interview Highlights

On why the book is labeled as fiction

All the tweets in the book are real, and there are links in the back of the book which are to ... the actual URLs. ... We decided to call the book "fiction," I think in the end because we thought it was more poetic. ... Fiction leaves a lot of things open. There's a kind of romance to fiction, and it just seemed like it opened more doors.

On the way we romanticize the process of writing a novel

That's the reason it was "working on my novel" and not "working on my screenplay" or something else: Because when I first thought of the idea, I wanted to contrast ... status updates or microblogging ... with the other end of the spectrum, which is the novel, which I think is a kind of goalpost for the kind of romantic, creative effort.

On how creative work sometimes requires being unfocused

I think it's important actually to turn off sometimes. Does that make sense? Like, I think when you're working ... it's important to have focus but it's also important to not have focus. And for me, you know, I'm a fine artist in my day job, and a lot of what I do is just, like wander around and don't do anything. And so I do have a lot of feel for these people who are kind of creatively unfocusing — because it's important.

On what these tweets reveal

One, it's people working on their novel, which you could tell from title, obviously. Two, I think it's a lot of struggle with creativity, which I have sympathy for because that is my entire life. ... Three, I think also you get a picture of what people are doing today, and kind of the world today.

On whether this book is really about people being distracted from their writing projects

The more that I've thought about it over the past few years that I've been working on it, I'm not so sure it actually has that much to do with distraction. ... [Just] because somebody is tweeting or Facebook messaging ... I don't think it necessarily means you're distracted. ... When I'm working, I'm tweeting all the time, and it doesn't necessarily mean that I'm not working.

On the aspiring novelists included in the book

I've heard from a couple people — definitely everyone was really excited when I originally reached out to them to be in the book. ... I think people are proud to be a part of it. And I'm eternally grateful for their participation.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR Staff