Writing a Novel in 30 Days
by Mike Shea on 12 October 2007
Lately I've been reading "No Plot, No Problem" by Chris Baty to prepare for my own writing of "Seven Swords" in November. While lacking some of the strength of better books on writing like Stephen King's "On Writing", Ray Bradbury's "Zen and the Art of Writing", or even Strunk and White's "Elements of Style"; "No Plot" helps empower amature writers to throw away all the mental bullshit and self doubt that plagues every writer and tells us to just sit down and do it.
I have my own strategy for writing my book in the month of November. It's going to be a very hard undertaking but I'm going to try the following:
Write ten handwritten pages in a large Moleskine per day - every day. That's 2000 words a day.
Go on an information diet. Eliminate my Google Reader news feeds. Shut my Mac down and don't turn it on until I've met my daily quota.
Reward myself with some Halo 3, a tasty snack, or some other reward once I've met my quota.
Write in the afternoon when I get home from work. Write in the evening before bed. Write early in the day on weekends.
Listen to music instead of Podcasts in the car on my commute. I always think through a lot more of a story when I'm listening to Music instead of talk.
Reading is ok to relax when I'm not yet at my daily quota, but internet surfing and gaming is out.
Build a writing shrine with a pic of my dad smiling with his hand on his All Things Are Lights first draft, a copy of Ray Bradbury's Zen and the Art of Writing, and little motivational cards with cute quirky sayings like "Write". Keep a couple of good pens around in case my Pelikan M-1000 explodes. Keep my ink and blotter paper and nib cleaning cloth handy. Don't have anything else around.
Ignore the inner editor who questions my story seed, my characters, my setting, or any other element of the book. I can fix all of that in the second draft. Word count and deadline above all.
Tell all my friends and family what I'm going to do. Get them to pester me about my daily page count. Write an email to them asking for their help. Remind them that this is really important to me.
Bring my book with me and write during Thanksgiving. Build my writing shrine along with me.
There are a lot of good ideas throughout "No Plot, No Problem", most of them built around the idea that the deadline is king and everything else is just bullshit. Here are some of the more valuable ideas I got from this book:
- Week one is fast, week two is full of self doubt, week three is where the story and characters really come together, week four slides past easily. If you can get through week two, you're golden.
- Enlightment is overrated. Don't wait for the golden idea, just start writing.
- Being busy is good for a writer. The busier you are, the more your mind is working. Don't wait for that ideal time - it will never come.
- Plot happens on its own. Don't pregenerate a full plot, let the characters and setting dictate what happens.
- The most effective creative tool for a writer is the deadline. Learn it, live it, love it.
- Good deadlines are rare so just pick one and stick to it.
- Keep expectations low and keep your yield high. You're not going to write a masterpiece in a first draft but you will find some good ideas working out in week three.
- Write in packs. Use the energy of other writers to empower yourself.
- "The quickest easiest way to produce something beautiful and lasting is to risk making something horribly crappy."
- A good deadline is to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. Some really great classics were about 50,000 words including the Great Gatby, Brave New World, and the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
- Rally the troops. Get your friends and family behind you. Remember that they won't all BE behind you - you will have to sell them on why this is important and how it will affect your lives.
- Four discussion points when talking to your friends and family: you won't be gone for a month, you'll be around for eleven others. There will still be time for fun stuff. This is important to you. You need their help. I'm really liking those last two.
- Use shame to force you into action. Brag about it before you start. Place bets on it. Really make yourself have to finish it by November.
Here is my list of things I don't like in fiction:
- Characters with no clear admirable attribute (most of those in Spook Country).
- Unclear and overly described philosophy.
- Stories set in the present.
- Too many characters to keep track of.
- Bad guys who use "Crazy" as their motivation for their actions.
- Clear white and black characters or stories.
- Deeply intrinsic soul searching.
- First person narratives
- Long flashbacks
- Miscommunication as a plot device
- Difficult or long sentences
- Over description of unimportant detail (the guy's Pete Townsend nose in Spook Country)
- Who-dun-it explanations (Voldemort's talk at the end of Harry Potter - just about the end of every Harry Potter).
- Long descriptions of miserable situations (half of Eye of the World)
- Two characters talking to eachother with no other purpose than to tell the reader something. ("Prime - numbers? What's that?")
- Long descriptions of travel.
- Meetings in taverns or inns.
- Breaking the rules of the story's world.
- Unnatural subplots.
- Manipulation of the reader.
- Characters controlled like puppets by other characters in a story or the story itself.
Here's an incomplete list of things I like:
- High fantasy and high science fiction.
- Descriptions of the fantastic. Huge ring planets and walls of ice eight hundred feet high.
- Characters with realistic backgrounds and motivations that remain true to themselves throughout.
- Fast blinding action with just the right amount of violence.
- Characters that build the story based on their own realistic actions.
- Fast but powerful descriptions of character history.
- Fantasy and science fiction worlds with very realistic details, actions, and results. (people worrying about infections when wounded in fantasy).
- Very realistic villains with clear goals that make you say "I don't agree, but I know what he was saying" or bad guys who are "right" even though right is pretty horrible.
- Stories of sacrifice and actions having equal opposite reactions. Scott Card's "there is no magic without sacrifice".
- Stories of dark rituals and horrors from the hellish scapes of ... hell.
- Stories that don't hold back with their subject matter. Robert Howard never held back with Conan.
- Details of fantastic clothes, arms, or armor: The ruby-eyed valarian sword in Feast for Crows.
- Real surprises in the story, not who-dun-its, but shocking and story-changing acts. Pretty much all of Game of Thrones is full of this.
- Clear descriptions of acts of skill. Roland having Jake shoot six plates out of the air with six shots of his gun in Wolves of Calla.
- Very old things. Huge ancient temples buried under the sands for ten thousand years. Shapeless demons trapped in tombs for eight millennia.
- Old dusty bucked leather-bound tomes especially ones that contain dark histories or magics that no man was meant to behold.
- Just enough of a seed to spark my own imagination to build things. Unwritten histories or sparing references to older times where things were different. "I used to fight with your father in the Clone Wars" before we knew that the Clone Wars was stupid.
- Creatures not meant for this world that shift hugely in the darkness seeking souls.
- Good SF stories without faster-than-light travel.
- Continuous movement of the story.
- Good descriptions of comfort, warm sheets, lazy sundays, autumn breezes rustling crisping leaves in tall grass.