I tried writing for years. I had ideas but every time I thought I might write some down, I’d bog down and lose interest after just a few pages. Short stories seemed an easier route, but there are two things wrong with a short story. One, they are difficult to market — i.e. does anyone really make money writing short stories? Two, they are more difficult to master. On the surface, they seem easier because they are, well, short. A novel is long. But the length of a novel allows an author to more fully develop characters and more fully develop the story. In a short story, all of that has to occur in a very short space of time. I have a degree in English. I’ve studied both. There are a lot of really good novels. There are few really good short stories. There are adequate and interesting short stories, but really successful and masterfully crafted short stories. It is a fine art.
In short, it doesn’t matter … both are difficult. The one caveat, one must WRITE.
In 2010, I came across a book at Goodwill. NO PLOT, NO PROBLEM, by Chris Baty, promised that one could write a novel in 30 days. I was skeptical. I leafed through the book and thought to myself, well, I’ll give this a try. Just a few pages in, I saw that it revolved around some sort of vaguely referenced “contest” called National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. Curious, I read on, trying to find out — just when IS this month? I found out it was November. I was reading this on November 30. Late again, I thought to myself.
Ah, but as I read the history of the event and the philosophies that were at its core, I began to realize, some of this made sense. I studied this book all through December and wanted to try it. November was a long time away … but I thought January looms just a few days away. Why not do it all by myself in January. So, in 2011, my new years resolution was to write a 50,000-word NaNoWriMo-style novel in January.
I dusted off one of my old ideas, worked up a short outline of how I thought the story should go, and sent my goals. January has 31 days, to November’s 30 so the daily average would be lower than traditional NaNoWriMo (which I conceded was a good thing 1612 vs 1667).
Jan 1 I plopped down and started writing and kept writing until the word count was enough. The next day I repeated. It became a routine. I wrote first thing in the morning, but my routine evolved. At first I got coffee and just started writing but I am decidedly jello-brained in the morning before that kicks in. In normal times, I watch mindless TV with that first cup. I was bogging down. I decided to get up earlier and do my normal routine, THEN write. That worked.
What I found, was that hammering out words with a goal, also worked. And it did something else. The fast pace fueled creativity. And my story was evolving. Ideas popped into my head while I was writing. Tangents cropped up, new conflicts arose. Seemingly insignificant characters moved into more major roles. Somewhere in the depths of my subconscious, multiple items seems to be meshing together like a jigsaw puzzle. I liked this.
I kept going, and as I got closer to the end of the month, and as my word count piled up, I found that … I was stoked to get back to the keyboard. I did not have a clear idea of the outcome, but I actually couldn’t wait to write each day because I was actually wanting to see what happened next.
I did it, I completed that draft, just over 50,000 words, a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end, in just 27 days. I think I averaged a little under 2000 words a day. It’s not a bad story either, but I found out there are more hurdles: revision and editing. Now that I cracked the rough draft code, I found I needed to learn a new skill … crafting the novel. THAT is the hard work. I still plan on completing that first, first draft. I always liked that story idea.
I’m at that phase now in the current NaNoWriMo … this is a sequel to my just published (2012 NaNoWriMo project, The Fever) … it’s called The Curse. I’m driving toward the conclusion … this time I do have an idea of where I’m going. I’m already considering revision steps.
It’s late to start this year but if you’ve always wanted to develop that novel idea you’ve thought about for years, you might just want to visit nanowrimo.org and plan on giving it a go next year. They have interim programs too … Camp NaNo for instance.
Understand this, if I could do it, you can do it.