I am not a novelist. I am a short story writer. I feel lucky that the four short novels I've written have been published (two to good reviews), and, after placing more than 800 short stories since the beginning of my writing career, I feel confident that any short story I write has a strong likelihood of seeing publication.
But I also realize that short story writers, no matter how prolific, are often viewed as the red-headed step-children among creative writers. Novelists are the anointed ones.
I often wrestle with the realization that truly advancing my writing career will require me to write another novel. Or two. Or more.
But taking the time to write a novel means not writing short stories. So I must give up immediate income to work on a project that may or may not ever see publication and may or may not ever generate income. Despite occasional attempts to write another novel, I inevitably set aside whatever I'm working on and go for immediate gratification. After all, if I don't pay the bills I soon won't be writing anything.
Earlier this week, after e-mail discussions with a couple of fellow writers about projects we never finished or never sold, I decided to reassess one of my novels-in-progress.
In early 2006 I wrote 113 pages of a novel. I stopped work on it because a sudden influx of assignments kept me busy for the following several months.
Thursday and Friday I reread the manuscript and found that the first 100 or so pages held up well and that the last dozen pages were partial scenes, snippets of dialog, and notes on what was still to be written.
Because I am caught up on all of my assigned work, and because I had no social or family engagements scheduled for this weekend, I gave myself a challenge: Could I lock myself in and add at least 30 pages to the manuscript?
Apparently I could. I now have 169 pages--an increase of 56 pages in two days of non-stop writing. I haven't gone back to reread the new material, but my initial impression is that I've written a few great sentences, a line or two of snappy dialog, a couple of compelling scenes, and a whole lot of other stuff.
The first 148 pages are pretty much written straight through. The rest of the pages, as before, are partial scenes, snippets of dialog, and notes on what is still to be written. I now know how the novel ends and have notes on how to wrap up the primary plot and most of the sub-plots.
But I also have to face tomorrow, when I will once again find myself dealing with clients and assigned work that will fill much of my time for the coming weeks. I also have social and family obligations in the next few weeks that will further interfere with progress on this novel. I don't know when I will be able to devote more attention to this project.
What have I learned or what can I infer from this weekend?
1. If I devote three more weekends to this novel, and if I have the same level of productivity during each of those weekends, I will have a complete draft of a new novel.
2. If I do this again I will ensure that my kitchen is appropriately stocked with healthy food. I found myself drinking too much Mountain Dew and eating too much junk food (much of it left over from Super Bowl Sunday).
3. Music selection is important. For whatever reason, I found myself writing more while Matchbox 20 was blasting through the CD player than when Alanis Morissette was playing. The Moody Blues, Marilyn Manson, Deep Blue Something, and a compilation album containing rock'n'roll hits that feature cowbells all proved to be good background music, but not quite as effective as Matchbox 20.
4. When I wasn't writing, eating, or walking the dogs, I read. I alternated between a variety of magazines and a novel from the same genre as the one I'm writing. Reading in the same genre helped me maintain the voice I was striving for while reading the other publications kept me from becoming too insular.
5. I didn't answer the phone and I only responded to a couple of e-mails. I used the Internet to research things I needed for the novel and restrained myself as much as possible from surfing. Limiting distractions was clearly beneficial.
That's it. That's what I learned.
Now I need to find out what happened in the world while I was locked in.