I’m about a third of the way through the first draft of a novel. As it happens, this is the furthest I’ve ever gotten with one — ignoring the misbegotten monstrosity that spawned from my 2007 NaNoWriMo — and I think I’ve finally at long last found a process that works for me. (Famous last words!)
It’s this: write, one scene at a time. After writing the scene, review it to make sure it actually has some kind of conflict or tension, and that it moves the story forward and is sufficiently interesting. Also continue to think often about the story as a whole, and periodically read the book from the beginning, so that things don’t go off the rails. After finishing each scene, add it to an outline to make high-level review easier. (This is all inspired by Dean Wesley Smith’s Writing into the Dark and Steven James’s Story Trumps Structure.)
So far, it’s working. I have a loose deadline of mid-July for finishing the first draft, which means writing around 1,100 words a day. I’ve written 80 pages so far and am aiming for roughly 240 pages total. (My current vision of myself as a novelist, by the way, is primarily writing short standalones rather than long books or series.)
Organic writing like this is familiar, in that it’s what I’ve always done for stories and poetry, but at novel length it’s mildly terrifying. I have vague ideas about where the novel is going but it keeps surprising me so who knows. Truth be told, while I’m having a lot of fun with this writing method, I also frequently find myself wishing I were an outliner. Having a roadmap for this book would be really, really nice. Maybe someday, for future books. In the meantime, though, this method is producing results. If all goes well, sometime this fall I should have a finished, polished novel.
Brief update: still alive, doing fine, just staying home with my wife and kids in the hope of helping stop the spread (and ideally not getting COVID-19 either — one of our kids has a heart condition which makes this scarier for us than it would otherwise be).
I haven’t really worked on any art lately (not in the right headspace for it lately), but I have gotten back into writing, and that’s going well. Hoping to have some new fiction to post before too long. And new art, too.
The only time I’ve had success writing each day has been when I’ve made a physical chart, taped it up on my wall, and then filled in a box each day I hit my goal. It’s Jerry Seinfeld’s don’t break the chain idea, and it works remarkably well for me. My current streak (I don’t write on Sundays):
Since this seemed like it might be useful for others, I’ve made daily goal charts, available for free PDF download:
There’s also what I’m calling a “blank” chart, where you can write in the number of words you wrote (or anything else like that):
Charts for 2018 through 2023 are up. (I figure five years is enough for now.)
Update on projects: I’m working on a short story. All of my story drafts of late have turned darker than I’d like, so this one is intentionally not dark. Seems to be going better than the others.
I’m also partway through revising my next picture book. This one is a story (as opposed to The Circle Book, which was just a list of random things) and I’m excited. The urge to design a typeface for it has proven too strong to resist, though, so I’m working on that as well. The typeface is called Golly. I’ll post some screenshots soon (I’m almost done with the lowercase letters).
Sidenote on type design: I built Curves (a Python library for designing type, via exporting to UFO and compiling that to OTF) to see whether designing type in code works. Turns out it doesn’t. Even with easy previews (SVG and @font-face), the cognitive gap between the code and the points seems to be a little too much. I have some other ideas for type design tools that seem more promising, though. More on that later.
And I’m slowly working on the remaining reader’s editions (print/PDF of D&C, Pearl of Great Price, and Words of the Prophets).