Mark Hunter (ozma914) wrote,
Mark Hunter

next week's column: A Novel Idea


I’m going to take November off. Well, actually I’m going to work my butt off in November, but people might think I’m huddled under a piece of furniture in my kitchen. Which I tend to do during cold months.

But no, I won’t be down there unless I can drag a keyboard in with me. I’ll be participating in National Novel Writing Month, often called NaNoWriMo because hey – isn’t that easier to understand? You can find the web site here:

Not that you need a web site to write a novel, and you can write any time of the year. Why November? Why not? The idea is to start November 1, and write a 50,000 word novel by November 30. That’s about 175 pages; to compare, my columns run about 2 pages, maybe 3 on a windy day.

At first glance this seems intimidating. And at second glance. I just sent a novel manuscript to a contest at – about 65,000 words, not much longer than the NaNoWriMo goal and fairly short, as novels go. But it took me a year from the time I conceived the plot to the moment I finished the fifth revision and stuck on “The End”. (You’ll have to guess where I stuck it.)

So why insist on such a short time frame? Because if there’s one thing many writers are terrible at, it’s finishing.

Writers love writing, but we’re the world’s greatest procrastinators. There’s nothing more intimidating than starting at a blank piece of page (or that blinking curser on a blank screen), just waiting for you to pour your heart out.
Believe me, a good writer will put his heart into it.

Not for money. The median income for fiction writers is $45,460, which drops drastically when you remove earners like J.K. Rowling and Stephen King, who have hay bale sized bundles of cash dropped off at their door every week. Remember that fiction writers are freelancers – they provide their own health and life insurance and retirement plans, and must handle their own taxes.

They don’t do it for fame. Fame? Hah. The Dan Browns of the writing industry are a fraction of a percent of the writers who slave away unnoticed, and a large percentage of the modern population wouldn’t recognize J.K. Rowling if she hit them over the head with a broomstick.

We just love writing. Still, it’s such a difficult and heart rending job that we have trouble applying our fingers to the keyboard. Someone once said producing an amazing story is “easy”: Just open a vein and bleed. It’s that hard. So, as much as we love creating new worlds, a lot of us will find any excuse to actually get started, up to and including chasing dust bunnies in the attic.

Once we do start, many of us obsess over getting it perfect. We continually polish each word, each sentence, over and over, continually trying to make chapter one perfect, but never getting to chapter two.

NaNoWriMo is about quantity, not quality. It’s okay to suck; nobody has to see it. Just get that story down, get the black onto the white, then go back and fix it later. For many writers, this approach is the only way they’ll ever finish a story.

As for me, I have three completed and polished manuscripts, as well as several other drafts, awaiting a bit of polishing. After – get this – 30 years of writing fiction, I’ve finally come to accept that I’m pretty good at it, and I’ve already come within a hair of selling. When an editor for a major publisher sends you a personal letter, explaining why they can’t use your work but asking you to send more in, you’ve come incredibly close. That same editor sends out hundreds of form rejection slips every week.

I’ve also been dabbling in fanfiction, stories based on someone else’s characters – from a TV show, movie, or book. It’s a non-paying hobby, obviously – you can’t profit from someone else’s characters – but it’s great fun. The good reviews I get, and several awards from various internet writing sites, allowed me to finally accept that I can do this; I’m a good writer.

So why NaNoWriMo?

Even though fiction writing is my first love, I let myself get pulled all sorts of other ways. I’ve taken other challenges on, and accept them. Everyone should contribute to their community some way. Everyone should work, and support themselves. Everyone should spend time with their family. Everyone should clean house, every now and then. No, really.

But if you want to be a writer, you have to write. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? Getting published will take time, encouragement, and a whole lot of work. I’m 45 years old, people. If I sold a novel today, it would be at least a year before it saw print, probably more. Sure, maybe I’ve got 45 more good years, but I feel as though I’ve come to a crossroads, and that if I’m ever going to succeed as a fiction writer, I have to put the extra effort in right now. And so I need that kick in the pants, to get me going on a new rough draft; once the draft’s done it’ll be a lot easier to start polishing, even if that process takes several more months.

So I’m taking November off. (Well, as much as I’m able; a guy’s gotta work) I even wrote up four columns ahead of time, so I can send something original to the paper. Yeah, that flea thing happened back in September.

I can’t say if I’ll make my 50,000 in 30 days, but I’ll be far enough along to continue the work once November is up. Then comes the revising, and the polishing, and the proofreading, and after that comes the really hard work: the selling.

Does anyone else have a novel in them? After all, there’s no limit to the amount of people who can sign up for NaNoWriMo, so maybe now’s your time. I’m up for the adventure – are you?
Tags: fiction, new era, slightly off the mark, weekly column, writing

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