Saturday, August 28, 2010

Writing a novel in a year - setting goals

Greetings fellow writers. I read a lot of success books. Meaning, books about becoming successful. Successful at whatever your heart desires. And of all the books, from Napoleon Hill and Earl Nightingale to Tony Robbins and Zig Ziglar, they all stress the importance of setting goals.

Goal: write a first draft of a novel.

Seems easy, doesn't it? Well, for those who've never done it, it can seem like a daunting task. Let's break it down, shall we?

Oh, I'm forgetting something. You also need to put a timeline on it. Timelines can change, and they will as you go along. That's okay. Give yourself permission to do it. There is a famous saying that "there are no unrealistic goals, just unrealistic time frames." Not sure who said it, but it's true. Okay, here we go . . .

Modified goal: write a first draft of a novel in . . . one year (365 days).

How does that sound? Terrifying? Exciting? Both? It can be done.

Now that you have your larger goal of writing a novel in 365 days, let's break it down into daily tasks. Let's say . . . write one page a day. "Okay, Mark, I can do that. No problem."

Day one: write that one page. When it's done, look at it and pat yourself on the back. You are one page closer to getting it done. If you do that for a week, you'll have seven pages. Phew! Holy cow! After a month, it's thirty pages (yes, you'll be writing on the weekends too). You are thirty pages closer to getting it done.

But how long is your novel going to be? Who knows? Let's say . . . 400 pages (note: none of my novels have I really known ahead of time how long they'll be but we had to pick a number so just go with me).

"But, Mark, at that rate, I'll never finish the 400 pages in a year."

Ah, ha!

Let's say after thirty days you've started to get a good rhythm and you do two pages in a day. Wow, two pages! If you do that for a month, you'll have sixty pages. All total, ninety pages. Very impressive. Now it looks like you'll finish that novel in a year.

But wait, there's more. You'll find as you go along, there will be days where the one or two pages will just flow and the next thing you know, you've written somewhere between five and ten pages. This doesn't give you permission to take the next few days off. No way! Keep writing. And before too long, if you keep this pace up, constantly writing more and more pages as you go along, three or four months have passed and it'll be done.

Then, comes the next phase of writing: editing.

But that's for another day, fellow writers.

Final note: write down your goals. Post it where you can see it everyday.  In fact, even get a calender and write how many pages you write in a day. You'll be surprised how many you can do when you set a goal, write it down, see it, and execute.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

To outline or not to outline . . .

To outline or not to outline is a definite question.

It was the consensus of today's writers' group meeting, when the subject of outlining came up, that outlining stories is . . . a complete waste of time. For us, that is. I must stress that too. For us.

I know, I know, there are those of you out there who just can't seem to start a story without detailing every minute piece of it before starting your "Once upon a time . . . " If that's you and outlining works for you, by all means do it.

Every author does some sort of planning, in varying degrees, before they start their story. I'm reminded of a Chevy Chase movie called Funny Farm where Chevy plays a sports columnist-turned-author. For some reason, a publisher gave him an advance towards writing a novel (and he hadn't even started it yet - sorry, this would never happen in the real world, for a first-time novelist). Anyway, after Chevy sets up his writing room in their new house, which is in the middle of the New England countryside, he types the title page on his typewriter (yes, a typewriter - not a computer or a laptop or some other electronic do-hickey), then inserts another page and types out CHAPTER ONE. Proud with himself at this point, he inserts the third page, types a "1" at the top, and starts writing . . . "The" he writes and then he draws a blank. Okay, this may seem a bit extreme and one should have a plan, but it doesn't mean you need a mega-detailed outline of each and every chapter, etc.

Bottom line: I do not outline, save for some vague notes on characters and other plot points that I don't want to forget (because I most certainly will, if given the chance). In fact, as of this writing, I have five completed novels and well over a dozen other novels I've started, and none have been outlined. In fact, how I write is a lot like excavating an archealogical dig: who knows what I might uncover, which is half the fun of writing - I never know what comes up the next time I sit down to write.