Here’s a good question: If I want to write novels in my future, why don’t I just spend my writing time, you know, writing novels?
Good question me. Great job.
I’d like to say that I have a foolproof answer, but it’s all been trial and error. So I did try to write a novel this year and got about 2/3rd’s the way through the first draft. Then stopped. It wasn’t a sudden realization that led to the cessation. It was more of a slow dawning that I was typing plenty without moving the story forward. The plot stagnated and I needed to step back, which then became a leap back, and then I buried the story in cement. Poor Henry, my protagonist.
But that hardly seems like something one who’s professed desire to write novels should do. And I won’t argue with that. But I found that having the onus of a novel before me became too much of a task to balance with my other interests, namely paying rent and having human relationships. Both of which are technically cop-outs. I could have moved back in with my mom and not talked to anybody for the six months it would take to write and edit the novel if it were my true passion. If I had perfect self knowledge, I would probably not be writing this right now and that would be a shame for you.
A few things, I have learned though.
I don’t like to write 500 words a day or less for a novel. For me, chunks of 1,000-3,000 words are better. At least for first drafts. It takes at least 500 words to get into the flow of the story and the setting of the scene. If I splash in and jerk myself out of the story it is frustrating and ends up making the whole first draft a convoluted mess of drivel. Not necessarily a show-stopper, but it does make editing a far messier and daunting task.
I have nothing against those who can write a few hundred words every day towards a long piece of writing. Only jealousy. Graham Greene used to write 500 words every day in his little notebook calling it his daily penance. Though he was British…Whereas Cheryl Strayed would write infrequently maybe once a month at minimum, sometimes renting hotel rooms to get away from her family. Khaled Hosseini wrote snippets of The Kite Runner in the morning before long days as a doctor. This is all to say that I don’t really have an excuse, but I sure like to think of them.
More technically speaking, knowing the plot, major scenes, and major characters before hitting the first keystrokes is the only way to go. I won’t belabor this point, as I learned it from Steven Pressfield, and he is far, far more qualified than I am to be talking about any of this.
Most importantly, have a reason for telling the story. It doesn’t have to be airtight. Everything we do can be picked at and fall apart under enough scrutiny. What matters most is having a plot, a theme, and character whose transition from beginning to end mean something to you. Some sort of message must be deduced, even if not the same for every reader. But they’re not the reason you should be writing. Write the story for the reason you intended and let the critics sort it out later.
I’ll poke about more around this topic until I get off my ass and start back up where I left off. Until then, having a daily writing outlet and practice keeps my mind warm and my word hoard a bit looser.