If you’ve ever done NaNoWriMo, you’ve probably noticed that some people reach the goal not in a matter of weeks, but a matter of days. My feelings towards those writers are conflicted. On the one hand, I’m jealous. I mean, if I could write my draft in a week instead of a month, making it as an author would be no problem. I could pump out full series in the time I’m taking to write a single novella! On the other hand, there’s no way that writing so much in such a short time could produce anything worthwhile. Several writing guides I’ve read, such as Jordan Rosenfeld’s A Writer’s Guide to Persistence, have hammered home the point that you don’t rush genius. Even Stephen King writes only a couple thousand words a day.
Well, a couple months ago I did it. I cracked whatever impossible mental code I needed to get out 10k per day and had my first full-length novel finished in under two weeks. I got up early, stayed up late. I wasn’t dictating, even though I do have Dragon. I typed all day, every day, every chance I got until my forearms were constantly sore from the strain. I feared that if I took a break, I’d lose all energy and inspiration, so I kept on a mad sprint until I finished it. Later this summer I plan to start submitting the project to agents, but let’s take a look at this experiment before going further.
How did I do it?
Actually, for the past few months before then, I was at a really dark point in my writing career. I had no inspiration. Even though I was working through a couple different story ideas, nothing worked. They were coming out as mechanical, unemotional, and without any distinct draw for readers. And I couldn’t change that to save my life. Literally–I was in tears. I spent full days studying bestsellers, observing the art of story until I felt I knew it inside out, but when it came to my own typing, it was almost like something had died and the shell of the story was all that was left. Living my dream was quickly turning into living my nightmare.
My husband got sick with food poisoning one night and would not return to work for a few days. Usually, that’s a bad thing for me because I can’t dedicate a whole lot of time for my own projects, but I was a little relieved that I didn’t have to keep staring into my doom for a while. I decided to try out some simple free-writing on my computer. Yeah, it was a distraction, and it was procrastinating on what I felt were more important projects, but I couldn’t expect to get any real work done, and I welcomed the break. I typed out 3,500 words of an urban fantasy story–and I didn’t think they were terrible.
The next day, I wanted to see if I could do it again by continuing the same story. I wrote 5,000 words. The day after that I passed 7,500. Afterwards, I was able to keep between 7,000 and 11,000 words every day until I finished a draft. There weren’t any stakes involved. This wasn’t a story I needed to write, and it wouldn’t matter if I messed up. Anna became Julia, the locale changed from Alaska to Michigan, and the recurring cult morphed into a group of teens on a road trip. I didn’t go back to fix what I had written. Actually, when I reached the end, I looped around and re-wrote the first 15,000 words entirely to match what I had in the end of the book.
Was the draft any good?
This was a messy draft. I wasn’t actually sure if it was even salvageable. It switched from past to present tense (which I usually don’t have a problem with), the pacing was all over the place, and sometimes the main character wasn’t all that lovable. But there was something else to it. I couldn’t be sure at first. I’d just written it, and many of the images were still strong in my mind. But this story wasn’t like others I had written. Everything that I had internalized about stories, all the bestsellers I had studied, came out with a raw and at times unintentional force. The book was, under some of the roughness, a goldmine. It was brilliant. Or at least, I thought it was.
But there was something else to it. I couldn’t be sure at first. I’d just written it, and many of the images were still strong in my mind. But this story wasn’t like others I had written. Everything that I had internalized about stories, all the bestsellers I had studied, came out with a raw and at times unintentional force. The book was, under some of the roughness, a goldmine. It was brilliant. Or at least, I thought it was. This story was steeped in emotion and introspection (both unusual for my writing). It was heavily atmospheric and not too quick to jump from plot point to plot point.
So I started editing. Ugh. Several scenes needed to be redone top to bottom. Names were changed, characters were re-worked and thought out. I threw some foreshadowing into the beginning to keep later parts from feeling too rushed. It was chaotic at best. If I was wrong about this story, if it wasn’t really that great, I was putting too much effort into it. So I printed out the first 20 pages and handed them to my husband.
Now here are a few things you should know about him: he’s a school librarian, and he’s a tough critic on books. I don’t like showing him my writing because he’ll always find something wrong with it, and he’s usually right. He knows all about YA fantasy. I handed him the opening with the expectation that he’d tell me that maybe I had a good idea, but I’d still need to put a lot of work into it to make it any good and that I should probably go back to my other projects.
Not the case. He couldn’t believe it. He said that everything I’d been struggling with was near-perfect in that excerpt and pumped me for more about the story.
Was it worth it?
I’m still editing, and I will be for a while. There were a lot of kinks to work out! This story is now my chief project. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve decided to aim for traditional publication if I can–I’m thinking big five or Scholastic, but I’ll see what agent I can get a hold of, if any. There will be two or three more books added to it in the end.
The scary part is that, since I haven’t shown it to many others, I still can’t know for sure how many will like it. I could still be dreaming–another of those dime-a-dozen girls who brags about being an author when all she really knows is spelling and punctuation. But this experience has definitely rekindled the writing fire for me, and I am thrilled to see what’s next in store for the story I’ve created.
For more tips on writing, please check out the Finish That Novel book, now available for preorder on Amazon and other online book retailers. Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and I look forward to getting in touch!