How Novels Are Like Bad Eggs: Learning from Nature’s Mistakes

chicken_blogIf you keep chickens and a novelist about the homestead then you know how similar egg laying is to novel writing.

In a chicken an egg is formed over a 25-hour period. The yolk is released from the hen’s ovary, membranes and the albumen (the whites) are added, and finally the shell is put on, whereupon she lays the egg.

The novel, which can take up to 25 years to complete, undergoes a similar process as the writer transforms a vague notion into a published book for readers to crack open and enjoy.

Usually, an egg comes out perfectly formed. A little wash-up and it’s ready for consumption. The novel, however, requires many rewrites before it can be brought to market. However, not all eggs are perfect. Two percent have some defect, ranging from mild to severe. And since similar problems can manifest in novels, it’s helpful to understand the most common irregularities and their cures.

The double yolk

Two yolks are released from the hen’s ovary at the same time, causing two yolks inside a single egg.

Symptoms: Your novelist has tried to cram two novels into one. Unable to digest so much at once, the reader feels overwhelmed.

Cure: Although a double yolk is a bonus in an egg, it spells doom in a novel. It requires major, often painful excision. Rarely, the novelist may be able to turn the much-loved material into a second book, but more likely she’ll be forced to delete it.

The fart egg (AKA “wind egg” or “oops egg”)

This is a small egg with no yolk at all, caused when a foreign body in the hen’s reproductive system mistakenly triggers the formation of an egg. Often it’s a young pullet’s first effort, before her laying mechanism is fully geared up.

Symptoms: Upon learning that her life’s work is a mere fart novel, the young novelist may be quite beside herself, with alternating periods of rancor and deep despondence.

Cure: The fart novel lacks substance. There are those who prefer egg-white omelets, but rarely do readers make it through a novel on fluff alone. With much determination, your novelist may be able to retrofit a yolk into her novel. Or she can move on to her next book and revisit this one when her laying mechanism has matured.

The retained egg

The egg does not pass through the hen’s reproductive system at a normal rate or gets stuck at the exit. Signs that your hen is egg bound could be repeated visits to the nest and/or trying to lay an egg for hours and becoming distressed.

Symptoms: The novelist may experience a bound-up feeling, otherwise known as writer’s block. The novel is there; it’s just not coming out. This can lead to depression, bloating, and lethargy. She may appear droopy with fluffed feathers.

Cure: She needs to be kept warm and comfortable. A steam bath and a massage may help. If she sits at the computer for more than two consecutive days and only changes a character’s name, only to change it back again, intervention may be necessary. Help her break the obstruction into smaller parts and extract it in pieces. Afterwards, let her relax on her own with fluids.

The soft-shelled (or even shell-less) egg

The soft-shelled egg has a thin, weak shell, often caused by an immature shell gland. The shell-less egg, rather like a water balloon, has no shell at all, only a thin membrane holding things together.

Symptoms: Your novelist has “a lot of good stuff” going on in her book, but it lacks structure. Having nothing to hold things together, it’s just a big, runny mess.

Cure: Give her calcium supplements and encourage her to concentrate on her plot structure. See Master and Servant: My Outline and Me for more info.

No egg at all (spring/summer)

The reason your hen is not producing may depend on the season. In the spring or summer, she’s probably broody. When a hen is broody, she wants to hatch her eggs and nothing will keep her from sitting on the nest, even if there are no eggs in it, even if there is no rooster in the flock and the unfertilized eggs will never become chickens.

Symptoms: Broodiness, though quite natural in the novelist, can interfere with production when her ambition exceeds her ability. If your novelist has gone broody she may be unwilling to leave the nest, even to eat, and she may lose weight or pluck out her own feathers. A typically cheerful writer may show a bad temper, peck at you, or even screech at you if you try to touch her, even if you’re only trying to help.

Cure: She needs to cool down. Stand her in a pan of cool water or on a mesh floor where air can circulate beneath her. She may be offended, but she’ll soon give up the unproductive behavior.

No egg at all (fall/winter)

The shorter daylight hours have triggered a seasonal dip in egg production.

Symptoms: Recognizing periodic slumps in the novelist is difficult without a trained therapist. However, those who have lived with the same novelist for many years often learn to anticipate these unproductive spells that can be hard on everyone.

Cure: There are two schools of thought on this. You can introduce bright lights into the workspace 24/7 to stimulate production. Or you can accept the fallow period as a time of recharging. With the time off and the stored-up nutrients, your novelist will eventually become productive again.


The chalaza, more commonly known as “that gross cord thingie,” is present in every egg to keep the yolk centered. The fresher the egg, the more pronounced is the chalaza. Though an essential part of the egg, the chalaza can sometimes present a texture issue in certain recipes like chocolate mousse.

Symptoms: Too much connective tissue between scenes in the novel.

Cure: Although links between scenes are necessary, readers don’t want to examine them too closely. If the novelist properly sets up a scene, readers will gladly overlook the character’s need to wake up, eat breakfast, and arrive at the setting. Help the novelist create smooth transitions by carefully removing the offending material with a fork, leaving the rest of the novel intact.

Just as hens produce eggs of different grades and colors, every novelist’s output is unique. Some work their entire lives on one or two novels while others churn them into grocery stores by the hundreds. Whatever your novelist’s habits, with proper care, she will remain productive and healthy for years to come.


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