Big Idea: What Are We Doing Here, Anyway?

There are myriad writing clichés that exist out there in the public consciousness. One of them is that any writer who is really serious about their craft probably has a novel rolling around somewhere in their head just waiting to be unearthed from the filing cabinet.

I’m not sure whether that’s true. Every once in a while, when given an assignment that’s particularly challenging, I think it’s human nature to question whether you’re the person who’s meant take that on. I feel that way any time I take on a writing assignment that involves a lot of data analysis, let alone working on a full novel. It’s probably accurate for most people that you’re never really sure in your own mind that you can do something until you’ve done it.

For the past several years, I’ve made it a New Year’s resolution to write the first draft of my novel. By the time I get around to actually doing it, the task seems immense and daunting.

I was asked to write something about how to make your New Year’s resolutions stick as a work assignment not long ago. I started doing some research and a lot of it comes down to breaking the goal into smaller, more manageable steps. I decided to take the opportunity to use the novel resolution I had been struggling with and use it as a thread throughout the piece to see what applying some of the strategies in the real world might look like.

With this post, I want to lay out my goal with this project and what this blog will be. But first, I wanted to take just a second to discuss where I think I failed before. Everyone’s writing process is different, but that doesn’t mean aspiring writers can’t learn from each other’s mistakes.

What’s the Story, Morning Glory?

I’ve tried and failed to write a novel a couple of times before. There were several things that played into this. There’s such a thing as the wrong time, place and subject and that was part of it. The other part is that I’m pretty good at getting scenes down if I have them in my mind and I know what I want to say. But the real challenge of storytelling is after you get through that perfect scene you have in your mind. What comes next?

For me, the characters, the dialogue and their outlook on the world come to me first and I have to write that scene when it comes into my head. In my fiction writing, though, I haven’t put the focus on connecting the dots in the past, so I have a tendency to get stuck at page 8. I haven’t laid it out, so it gets to a standstill and at a point I don’t come back to it.

Fairly early on in my career, one of the more experienced writers sat me down and told me to always be outlining. It works when I write informational pieces, and it should work for fiction. I think I’ve avoided it in more creative writing up to this point because it’s not the fun part, but what’s even less fun is not knowing where you’re going, so I’m going to do detailed character sketches and then I’m going to outline because once you know where you’re going, it gets much easier.

Turning Out: NaNoWriMo and Shitty First Drafts

One part of writing comes down to figuring out what your story is and what you want to say. However, there’s another cliché about writing that’s absolutely true. Writers fear the tyranny of the blank page.

I don’t know about other writers, but when it comes to fiction, one of my biggest roadblocks is the idea that whatever I’m trying to say, it could always be said better and the way I’m currently saying it is juvenile, amateurish or simplistic. The fact of the matter is that’s not healthy. Also, one big thing I remember Anne LaMott saying in Bird by Bird is something to the effect of: “Shitty first drafts are a fact of life.” So, I need to force myself to get it down.

To that end, I’ll be participating in the National Novel Writing Month this November. For those unfamiliar with the concept of NaNoWriMo, the goal is to write 50,000 words in a month which is, depending on pagination, the equivalent of between 180 – 220 pages, according to Quora. It’s an ambitious challenge to be sure, but the idea here is to force you to keep going.

For those who might be interested, you can find more on the NaNoWriMo website.

If you do the math, 50,000 words over 30 days is 1,667 words per day. I’m aiming to do something a little more ambitious and go for an average of 2,500 words per day. My primary reason for this is that I know my pattern. I’ve been writing long enough to know that when I write all week, I tend to hit a wall around 2:30 on Friday. Because of Thanksgiving, there are 20 workdays in November. If I can average the higher word count, my weekends can be for sleep and football. Bon Jovi did write a song called “I’ll Sleep When I’m dead,” but that’s a mighty long nap that I don’t wish to hasten by never giving myself a break.

In order to keep pushing myself on those long days writing after work, I’ve decided to do this in public, hence the website. My plan is to publish something every workday in November. I work best when I give myself deadlines, even if they’re artificial. Also, as a professional blogger, I know a little something about the motivation you get from realizing you need to keep feeding the beast. I watched an interview with Andy Weir, the author of The Martian, and this is exactly how he released that book in its early days. Incidentally, as far as I’m concerned, that book may have the best first paragraph I’ve ever seen in terms of getting your attention. He doesn’t mess around. But I digress.

It’s going to be a first draft, so it may end up changing a lot if I actually do something with this, but I want to be open about this process. My sister doesn’t think I’m capable of putting up writing that hasn’t been carefully edited, but I don’t think I’m neurotic to the bone about my writing. I’ll let others judge if I’m a melodramatic fool.

I also know it’ll keep me going. If I succeed, it might be useful in showing someone else who might be considering a first novel of their own that it can be done.

Anyway, whether this is just for me or someone ends up reading it, you can follow my progress here. I’ll probably put up a couple more things before November as I work through the character and story building process. Let’s have some fun!

Speaking of fun, take a look at the headers of this post and some of the references. Can you figure out what might be a major thread for at least one of my characters?