Alex Kane's picture
Alex Kane from west-central Illinois is reading Dark Orbit November 14, 2011 - 11:20am

Okay, so my plan for this winter (between college semesters) is to get a running start on my first serious novel, a sort of literary horror/dark satire novel written in the minimalist style of someone like Palahniuk or Jeremy C. Shipp, Denis Johnson, etc.

I've got about a page or two of written notes, another page of typed notes, and I'm starting to wonder how much research I should do before taking the dive.

Am I just procrastinating, or should I wait and get all my school projects -- and holy shit, there are a lot of them I have to get done over the next three or four weeks -- finished before I start? What sort of mental state do I need to sustain a long-term, exhausting project like a 250-page novel? Would all this chaos and stress benefit the book, or should I wait until I've got a month free and then write like mad?

Haven't written a finished novel since I was 13, so it's been, well, 9 years. Been focusing solely on short fiction since then, and I'm definitely ready to knock out the First Novel. At least, I think so -- I've written about 30 short stories over the past two years or so, and have been published five times (got eight acceptances, but three of those won't see print unless I can sell them again).

Advice for a "first-timer"? Words of wisdom or encouragement? Care to talk me off the ledge, and keep me in the short-fiction kiddy pool?


avery of the dead's picture
avery of the dead from Kentucky is reading Cipher Sisters November 14, 2011 - 11:29am

Really it is kind of whatever works best for you.  Sorry - unhelpful.

How much tiem do you think you could honestly devote to it at the present?  If you don't have time for it, I wouldn't start it.  But that is just me.  I liked to set a goal for myself to keep me moving.  I wanted to get at least 1,000 words a day to feel satisfied. 

What motivated me...I had a writing buddy.  Not someone who would critque me really, but soemone who was expecting to see new pages from me every few days, so I couldn't give up because I would have let down my writing buddy. 

Brandon's picture
Brandon from KCMO is reading Made to Break November 14, 2011 - 11:36am

Been here, man.

-Adhere to a schedule.  For instance, if you work 9-5 like most people.  Make sure you ass is in that chair from 6-10 (at the very least) every afternoon.  And then kill it on the weekends.

-Cut distractions: cell phone, Facebook, video games, etc.  All that shit will be there when you get done for the day.

-Have a daily word count you can meet.  500 is more than reasonable, but this will at least keep you on pace and goal-oriented.

-Have at least a rough outline.  Seriously, nothing kills a novel like not knowing the ending.  Map out your five or six major plot-points and connect the dots.  If you don't know where you're going, you're likely to get stuck or "blocked."

-When you end work for the day, try to leave yourself in the middle of a sentence or thought so you can come in the next day and start writing immediately.  Starting is always the hardest part.

-Don't forget to blow off steam.  It's a long process, so it's important to get out from time to time to keep from getting burnt out.



misskokamon's picture
misskokamon from San Francisco is reading The Moonlit Mind November 15, 2011 - 12:40pm

I work a ten-hour job, usually with an extra hour or two of commuting. When I get home I have talkitive roommates, pets hungry for attention, and a belly waiting to be filled by supper. While I've suffered a few month-long lapses of little writing action because of this, I'm learning how to balance a busy lifestyle with the burning desire to write a comprehensible (and, perhaps, enjoyable) novel.

This is what I've learned so far:

  • Become Ultraportable. I grabbed an ultraportable laptop when I noticed I couldn't focus on writing in my apartment anymore. I write everywhere I can, on public transit and at cafes by the office. 
  • Stay away from the creative bubble. When you build yourself a writer's workspace you end up wasting your wroodling time modifying that space. Sure, a corkboard with inspirational quotes from your favorite authors is cute, but you don't need it.
  • Figure out an outlining process. Up until this month I couldn't get into writing an outline, but that's because outlining to me has always been that "proper" way we learn in high school. I'm going to explain the process I've found works for me.

I don't really outline, but I write detailed synopsis (synopsesis? synopsi? synopsis?) What I do is I tell myself the story, one chapter at a time. Each chapter equals about two or three paragraphs of explanation. I do very little showing, the object is to just get down the feeling of the scene and the action. Sometimes I'll include dialog, thought, or pretty words I'd like to use as ingredients to a tasty sentence.

I sort of did this before November, but when NaNoWriMo hit I wanted to experiment with different methods of getting a book done. I tried this method of outlining and it has now become part of my routine. An outline is never enough for me, but a synopsis gives me enough detail to let me know if I'll be running into blocks. If I do, it doesn't take much work to shift events around or scrap them altogether, and I waste little time because the actual story has yet to be written. There is enough of a description of the chapter that helps me to anticipate character changes, theme, and foreshadowing, but it is loose enough that I don't feel trapped or bored by the story. 

  • Above all, get into the habit, man! You need to get yourself addicted to writing every day, addicted in a way that if you miss a day you feel crappy and can't sleep and you sweat and lose your appetite and people don't want to be in your presence because you've turned into a raging dick. Yeah, you need to be that sort of addicted to writing. I see writing as I see running: it's difficult to do every day the first week, but as you get used to it you crave the high you get when you pass your daily wordcount. If you have a wordcount. Some people time themselves instead because it can be less stressful that way. I like having a wordcount goal though--something manageable, so that when I pass it I can punch the air and hum some sort of victory tune to myself and waltz into my roommate's room unannounced and brag about how utterly wonderful of a person I am. 

If you feel the urge to write a novel, do it. You aren't stuck to short stories. I would suggest that you wait until your huge projects are done before you get into the grit of writing, but all the while let that novel stew in your brain. Work on your outline, build up your research. You probably should write your intro, as well, so you aren't stuck when you have the free time. You can always go back and write that part later.




Nick Wilczynski's picture
Nick Wilczynski from Greensboro, NC is reading A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin November 15, 2011 - 1:15pm

"You need to get yourself addicted to writing every day, addicted in a way that if you miss a day you feel crappy and can't sleep and you sweat and lose your appetite and people don't want to be in your presence because you've turned into a raging dick. Yeah, you need to be that sort of addicted to writing."

Yup. Just like anything addictive you just need to snort enough of it so that you can't live without it. But in a good way.

Write the important scenes first, you don't want to have to be thinking about the plot too much while writing, you execute the plot as planned and you focus on the writing, on the scenery, on the atmosphere, on the characters, and you build them around the plot and themes you are going for.

Make sure that you really like your setting, that it is the sort of place you want to spend A LOT of time because you are going to be spending a lot of time there. Have a core idea and elaborate on it in different ways while you construct these scenes.

Spend the spare minutes and hours while your big projects are going on making sure that you have a core idea about the setting, that you have a handful of major scenes that you can fill in between and that you are very excited about writing, you don't have to make character sheets, but you should at least consider it and the major characters should have at least a few well articulated traits before you begin.

Once you have done this sort of mental preparation, whether you have outlined or if you just have a short list of three "important moments in plot" and a good "idea" that you have spent a long time thinking about how it will execute, you will hopefully have crafted a large and intricate course, pulleys and wooden slabs to direct movement and to overcome obstacles. You write the scenes you are super excited about, you snort all the writing you can out of those, and then you set the ball bearings/billiard balls of your characters loose onto the course you've created and it should all start to flow and come natural.

As long as the course works and is well thought out. So do your research, make sure you have at least a rough idea of how the plot works, find the exciting scenes and get to know your setting and characters, and when you've got that then have an adventure.

I quit WoW a couple of summers ago to work on editing Citizens and working up some short stories, my roommate played with me and he was shocked that I would give it up asking me "but how are you going to spend your free time?"

I responded that compared to writing, the World of Warcraft wasn't open ended enough, and there weren't enough options. Why play in someone else's world when I could be a full on megalomaniac and satisfy my God complex by creating my own?

Do not forget how much fun writing is, as long as you enjoy doing it you will have no problem getting into the habit on the "addicted" level that it kind of takes to steam through writing a novel.

misskokamon's picture
misskokamon from San Francisco is reading The Moonlit Mind November 15, 2011 - 2:35pm

@Nk, You bring up an amazing point when it comes to WoW. I've been an off-and-on addict to Minecraft--I know, I'm such a nerd. When I get home and plop myself in front of my laptop, I can either click on the cute grassy block of dirt, or I can click on the yin-yang S that is Scrivener.

The difference is I feel no high when I finish Minecraft, no thrill, no excitement. When I finish two thousand words, though, I feel so frickin' good. My body tingles. My brain swims in a fog of euphoria. I can't stop grinning even after I crawl into bed. 

We live a life being told to consume. Consume, and you feel happy. Consume this television show. Consume this game. When we're done, there is that vast moment of emptiness, of complete silence, where boredom and depression seep in. So we move quickly on to the next thing to consume. 

But I found when we create, the feeling of satisfaction lasts so much longer.

I'm not saying we shouldn't watch TV or play games, we definitely should!  Hell, we want consumers to buy our words, don't we? The chef tastes the soup before he serves it! But I am saying that by choosing to create for bit each day really helps make us nicer people.

It helps for me, at least. I feel happier when I have a writing session. The stress melts off my bones. In fact, since I've started writing with more seriousness, I've lost weight. (That, and the doctor told me to stop eating so much bread so that probably helped a little.)

 Alex, you'll be faced with decisions like "Should I watch the next episode of Fringe, or should I write my quota today?" and you'll really want to watch Fringe, but you can always DVR that thing and bust out some words. In fact, I recommend you write before you do "fun" things, because once you start watching TV or playing games it'll be a lot harder to get into writing mode. It's best to do it when you're between chore time and fun time--I get home from work, I write half my word count, then I eat dinner and watch an episode of Psych or whatever I DVR'd that week. 

I notice my posts are always really long. Sorry, I don't really talk that much in person, so I go a little crazy when given a keyboard.

With the exception of last night, because How I Met Your Mother was really good and I had to catch up. Man! I love that show.