For those of you just joining us, this is the third article in a series of twelve giving step by step instructions—for those of us who enjoy that sort of thing—to starting a writing career.
We have already written, edited, queried, and perhaps published four short stories, as well as are one fourth of a way through a novel. For a hypothetical someone who starts with nothing, that is a solid foundation.
Day 1. Write to 21,750.
Day 2. Write to 22,500.
Day 3. Write to 23,250.
Day 4. If your novel is not coming out the way you want it to be, look to the original vision.
There is always the one idea that had made you want to write this story. This is called the ignition point, and while there may be several concepts and inspirations involved, the original idea is the thing you want to remember. Hopefully, you haven’t forgotten it already.
Consider your first impression of what the book would be and notice what parts of that have changed. The most common difference for me is when I pictured a darker and more serious atmosphere than I came out with. Because of the work I’ve done over time, I’ve learned how to solve this problem—it is typical for me to choose casual and passive words in moments I want sharp and active choices. Generally it’s the little things that have influenced the change, like using the words, “a few,” instead of “two.”
Think of what you want the story to be and consider why you don’t think you’re there. This will help you develop a goal and seek it. Make a list of whatever you think you’re doing and then a list of whatever you want to be doing. Considering this during editing if you so choose, but the important part is to not start over, but use it as a reference while writing the rest.
If you hate what you made, aim to make the second half better than the first and keep going.
Day 5. Write to 24,000.
Day 6. Write to 24,750.
Day 7. Write to 25,500.
Day 8. Edit last 5,000 words.
As I discussed in the last month, editing while writing can be an honored or abhorred practice. I recommend it because of my personality type. I am a finisher, not a perfectionist. So while those who get spend too much time trying to get it right rather than done should be very careful about editing in the meanwhile, those of us who are likely to blow off the editing process all together will benefit from cutting it into manageable pieces.
Editing while you go will smooth over the rough edges of the book, making it easier to read when it’s time to do the big draft. While it is better to get discouraged after the thing is done, it is more likely to discouraged when it is done, simply because of the sheer magnitude of crap we have to shift through.
Day 9. Write to 26,250.
Day 10. Write to 27,000.
Day 11. Write to 27,750.
Day 12. Find a plot formula and jam your story's summary into it.
I believe in hindsight rules because I think it prevents the issue of fixating on them.
The weird thing about plot formulas is that while the audience expects it, an immaculate obedience to it is a sign the author doesn’t know what he’s doing. It’s a cultural tradition that to completely disobey looks like you are a baboon, but to completely adhere to looks like you’re a writing monkey, not creative.
The benefit to trying to fit your story into a formula after you came up many of your ideas is that you will be able to truly use it as a guide instead of a mold. You can snip off the pieces that will absolutely not fit, but not be concerned about certain bulges and holes that seem to follow the trend but not be glued to it.
The good news is that your subconscious, which wants to make everything normal, will have already attempted to oblige these guidelines. For the most part, you will see your story works within the context of the formula. When it really, really doesn’t, it just means your subconscious did not recognize what was considered normal—say, for instance, what’s in the middle of a story. You’ll learn what you don’t know about typical story writing elements and use it to your advantage, including going against it for creative and interesting purposes.
Take everything you know about your story and you’ll quickly find places where you want to fluff out your story, insert information, and learn what sort of thing needs to happen next.
Day 13. Write to 28,500.
Day 14. Write to 29,250.
Day 15. Write to 30,000.
Day 16. Edit last 5,000 words.
Day 17. Write to 30,750.
Day 18. Write to 31,500.
Day 19. Write to 31,250.
Day 20. Edit short story.
Last month I had you take a break to write a short story. Unlike your original four, I didn’t tell you to edit it right away. Now that you’ve had month to completely forget about what you wrote, go back and look at it again.
Don’t like it? Don’t worry about it. Go through and do mild edits. One of the most valuable things I’ve ever learned about editing is not to worry too much about making major changes to really bad work. By just smoothing it over in more edits, a gradual change will occur. You’ll suddenly realize how great it’s gotten without wanting to blow your own head off. Plus, by not concerning yourself with fixing it now you’ll give yourself a chance to suddenly have a great idea later, like in the middle of the night.
Day 21. Write to 32,000.
Day 22. Write to 32,750.
Day 23. Write to 33,500.
Day 24. Remember that other novel you outlined? Read through what you wrote down and write a scene from it.
If you’re not into taking breaks, skip this. But I’ve found that the ideas that I’ve continued toying with long before actually writing them were the ones that came easiest to me upon finally sitting down to work on it.
Because you get to create a moment that you really are interested in, you’re more likely to remember how writing is fun for you. Don’t worry about how long the scene is, move forward until you’re past the “starting bump” and felt you’ve made a good dent.
Day 25. Write to 34,250.
Day 26. Write to 35,000.
Day 27. Edit last 5,000 words.
Day 28. Write to 35,750.
Day 29. Write to 36,500.
Day 30. Write to 37,250.
And month three is down! So far we have five short stories and almost one half of a novel completed (depending on the length of the final project).
About this time you probably have received some responses to your queries and you may very well be a published author. Or you may very well be an ignored author. If so, think of it as the world making your biography just the more interesting and your success a little more satisfying when it comes.
You may notice that there are only thirty days in this month. Because the original intention was to pick it up where ever you started, the months aren’t labeled to specific names. If this is February or any of the 31 dayers, don’t worry, the Year of Writing will mold to a 365 day year. Move on to next month.
You may have been missing a few days, or allowing yourself to miss a lot. Stop it. Focus on catching up. You are your own task master and you have no boss or teacher to help you now. Being able to work without someone else harping on you is the true mark of the author. If you’re way behind, then just keep moving forward. It’s the only thing writers can do.