I think my fiction writing is really bad. While biking home at night a few months ago, I came up with the premise for a sci-fi world that would allow me to write all sorts of fun short stories. I set a goal for myself to write exactly a page in my notebook every night before going to sleep. Two weeks later, I had 14 pages going nowhere, and I shut it down.
To be honest, I thought it would be pretty easy. I have been blogging fairly regularly for over 8 years now, and I can write a couple hundred words in maybe a half hour for it. It turns out, however, that blogging is one of the easier forms of writing. The audience typically isn’t very harsh, the posts aren’t too long, you can reflect on recent experiences, and you can work out the point as you’re writing. Fiction isn’t so forgiving. Even short stories are longer than blog posts, what you create must be somewhat original, and my experience is that the ending won’t write itself. I definitely lack those skills.
Given that challenge, I’m planning on participating in National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo) next month. The rules are pretty simple: write a 50,000 word novel in one month. On the surface, it seems like a bad idea: why would anybody force themselves to write an average of 1667 a day for 30 days in a row? When you think about it a little harder, it seems like a worse idea. Whatever you can write that quickly is going to be crap, and having a week’s writer’s block adds another 500 words a day for the rest of the month. No one really cares whether you succeed or fail, and it’s all voluntary work on top of regular life. It’s kind of like running a marathon, except maybe with more of a geeky stigma.
I myself am looking forward to it as a challenge. Given other things going on in my life, next month doesn’t seem particularly timely for me, but until retirement, I’m sure I’ll come up with another excuse each year. I have a history of picking up overly ambitious projects, but time-bounding this activity will be very helpful in keeping things realistic. It will really be a challenge for me for the reasons above: it relies on a lot of writing skills that I don’t have, and having some external structure will help me complete it. I think it will be fun.
Okay, I’m not actually feeling as hopeless as I posed above: I have one trick ready. Like many students, I had a lot of difficulty writing papers. To get past that, I started treating my papers like blog posts: I opened up an editor like a blogging text editor and thought through it like a post. Just a minor change in the context brought it closer to something comfortable for me.
To get through fiction, I’m planning to draw on a related skill I have been using a lot recently: developing RPG plots. A few months ago, I started DMing for a Dungeons and Dragons group. In addition to rolling the dice for the monsters during game sessions, a DM (dungeon master) also requires a lot of preparation for the adventure. A compelling campaign is an interactive plot with the rich backstory, imaginative world, conflicting motivations, difficult decisions, meaningful themes, and satisfying conclusion. Hopefully my players will agree that things are getting interesting, and maybe trying to come up with an adventure for my protagonist will work the same way.
Because I’m a geek, I’m planning to write my novel in markdown and use git to track my progress. If you care to follow my progress, you can see everything unfold at https://github.com/StoicLoofah/my-nanowrimo-novel . And if you’re interested in writing yourself, I naively recommend it for you, too: I think there are more words in all of us than we think.