Joe Barlow Writes

Quirky Books for Quirky People–New Thoughts on Writing and Publishing in the Digital Frontier

Birth of a Novel: A Conversation with the Writer I Used to Be

young joeGood morning, Old Joe!

Eh? Who said that?


I’m afraid that doesn’t help. Who, exactly, is “me”?

Don’t you remember? It’s me! Young Joe! The kid you used to be, before you got old and fat! The boy who dreams of growing up to be a writer!

Oh… uh, hello. Wow. This is a little awkward. Tell me, why are you in my head today, Young Joe?

I decided to travel to the future and see how my life’s going to turn out! To see if we ever made good on that whole writing dream!

You know how to time travel, Young Joe?

Oh, sure! Remember, I’m a kid with a huge imagination! That’s one of the reasons I want to be a writer when I grow up! I love telling stories!

Hmm… now that you mention it, I do seem to remember that about you. Or me. Whatever. I’m confused.

Nice brain you’ve got here, Old Joe. Although there seems to be a lot of dust lying around. It’s almost like you don’t use certain parts of your mind any more, especially the parts that are about playing and having fun! That’s sad.

Well, it’s a little different when you’re a grown up, Young Joe.

Things aren’t always groovy, huh?

“Groovy?” I haven’t heard that word in years!

Well, remember, Old Joe, it’s still 1979 where I come from. But tell me, is my dream going to come true? Do I grow up to be a writer?

As a matter of fact, Young Joe, you do!

Hurray! I knew I could make it happen if I worked hard enough! Tell me, how did we get started? Did we write an awesome horror story about ninja robot skeletons? Or books about pirates? Or spaceships? Or vampires?

Eh… not so much, Young Joe. You see, I write non-fiction these days.

Non-fiction? You mean those boring books that don’t have any pictures? The kind of books I have to read for school?

Uh, yeah.

Oh. (*long pause*) Do you like writing that stuff?

Yes, I do. Clients hire me to write reports, manuals, grants, and other stuff like that. It’s important work.

And they don’t ever want you to write stories?

Well, no. I haven’t done much fiction writing since high school. Not since I got Miss Rose’s note.

Who’s Miss Rose, Old Joe?

Oh, that’s right! You haven’t met her yet, Young Joe. She was, or will be, our 11th grade English teacher. One day, I mentioned that I wanted to be a professional writer when I grew up.

So why did she write you a note, Old Joe?

Well, she wrote a handwritten message on the title page of a short story I handed in for an assignment.

Was it a nice note?

Well… no, Young Joe. It wasn’t.

What did it say?

You know what’s funny, Young Joe? It’s been over 20 years, and I can still remember it word for word. It said: “Joe, your ideas have merit, but your writing is flat. You aren’t a natural storyteller. Stick to non-fiction from now on.”

Wow. That must have hurt!

Yeah. It did, Young Joe. It really did. And I haven’t written much fiction since then. Hardly any at all, in fact.

Wait a minute, Old Joe. Let me see if I’ve got this straight. You used to write fiction constantly, right?


And you gave it up almost overnight, even though you really enjoyed it?


All because one person said she didn’t like your work?

Uh, yeah. I guess so. Sounds kinda lame when you put it that way.

It’s beyond lame! I wish I wasn’t just a voice in your head, Old Joe! I wish I was actually standing in front of you right now, so you could see how crestfallen I am. The fact that you would let the word of one woman destroy my dream like that! How could you do that to me? How could do that to yourself?

Wow… I’m sorry, Young Joe. You’re right. Even though I’ve written and published a lot of non-fiction, I do miss writing fiction. I never should have given it up. What can I do to make it up to you?

I think you know what you need to do, Old Joe. If you really want to make it up to me, you have to write a novel.

A novel? Really?

Yes! You need to write a novel. And you need to start working on it right now. This week.


Come on, bub! You owe me. You’ve kept my dreams imprisoned for over 20 years. Let them out!

You know what? You’re right, Young Joe. I’m going to do it. I’m going to write a novel.

Good! And make sure you tell other people that you’re doing it, Old Joe! If other people know you’re working on it, they can offer encouragement and support! They can give you all the things that your awful high school English teacher didn’t provide.

Good idea! I think I’ll post about it on my blog.

What the heck’s a blog, Old Joe?

Oops. Uh… well, it’s this thing I write on the Internet…

What’s the Internet?

Never mind. All you need to know is that I’m going to do it. I’m going to share this conversation with some of my friends, okay? It will be my way of letting them know that I’m going to write a novel. And I’ll keep them updated each week on my progress. Won’t that be fun?

Oh wow, it sure will! Good luck, Old Joe! I better get back to my own time, and let you get to work on your new book.

Sounds good, Young Joe. Thanks for stopping by. And hey, I appreciate the kick in the rear.

It’s what I do, Old Joe. It’s what I do. 

[NOTE: This post originally appeared on my old writing blog, The Coffee House Wordsmith, on September 9, 2011. That was the same week I began the first draft of Coffee to Die For, the first novel in my Clayton Gyler mystery series. Last night, on February 10th, 2014, I completed the third (and what I presume will be the final) draft of the book. As such, I thought today was a good time to repost this conversation with Young Joe. I hope he’s proud of me! If you’d like to keep informed about my further writing adventures, please sign up for my mailing list.]


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