Saturday, January 05, 2013

How to write a novel in 66 days

by RudyG

I post this hoping it might be of use to aspiring or struggling or caught-in-a-rut writers. It's not the final word or the expert's advice; it's simply one author's experience.

I just composed the final pages of a dark Young Adult fantasy novel with Chicano protagonists, villains and secondary characters. 27 chapters. 91,000 words. First draft, done.

The novel-in-MS-form is not going to a publisher or agent, yet. Nobody's going to bang on my Facebook wall for a copy. Because the story reached its end but is not complete.

Definitely weeks, possibly a couple of months--hopefully, not more--of redrafting the MS will follow. I won't list all that it needs or that I have to improve, but it's chingos. Below is how I got to this milestone where I've got a near-complete MS to work on, at all.

How to do it

It's easy if you follow this recipe, or create one more tailored for your personal tastes and lifestyle.

I. I began writing approx. Nov. 1st. That coincided with my Texas book tour of the Chicano fantasy novel The Closet of Discarded Dreams, which occurred the first two weeks of Nov.

I wrote every day. Weekends included. No matter what my schedule was. No matter whether I was in a motel or staying with family, on a plane, or between flights. I plugged my little laptop into outlets behind flight gates, sat on the floor or watched for an empty seat by an outlet.

I wrote on a Megabus between San Anto and Houston, which has outlets for every seat. I wrote on my brother's or mother's or sister's porch until the battery ran out, and then I ran an extension cord to keep going. I wrote hung-over--like now--or sober, it didn't matter.

And when I returned to Denver, I continued. Every day. For me, 5am is a good start time. Some days, the book in my head had me up at 4 or even 3:30am. That's what writing does to you when it takes over your life: your brain must follow.

II. I began each writing session by revising and editing down the new material I'd composed the day before. Always. In the flurry of creating, too much superfluous wording shows up in my writing, at least. To not let the build-up of dross get too out of hand, this daily gleaning serves me well. (Critics may say, not enough, but that's a different topic.)

III. Every day I would add new material. Sometimes, just a passage of four pages. Sometimes, a passage here and another there. Sometimes, half a chapter. Rarely, a whole chapter of approx. 10 pp.

This consistency helps me, at least, to keep the story flowing, pacing, developing.

IV. I never wondered if I'd have writer's block. I don't believe in it. I think it's a cucui created by others that may apply to them, but I strive to be an idealist and assume it won't get me.

Critics may say it shows in weaknesses of my writing, but I write the plot, the dialogue, the scenes and character development, as it comes flowing out of my head onto the keypad. IOW, I don't stop to over-think what it is that I'm doing, where the story's going or whether I've taken care of everything. The next period is when all that will be dealt with.

V. I let my imagination and hard-brain take care of questions. Where's the heroine going next, what will he find there, who's going to be in the next scene and how will things be resolved--are things I take to bed with me or file in my frontal lobes when I take a nap. Somehow, when I wake up, the psyche has taken care of enough to go into the next chapter, etc.

VI. I try to remember to rest every 1.5 hours, more or less. I go outside, check the weather and the birds, eat a small burrito, drink some orange juice and smoke a vacha. Then I go back.

I take naps. Whenever I'm tired. I don't put them off; I don't say, "Later when I finish this chapter." I answer my old body's call and give it what it needs to keep going at some more or less optimum rate.

I never work when the body or mind gets tired. I'm not being paid by the hour or punching any clock, so I'm not obligated to "just show up."

VII. I work up to some breaking point in the story. The end of a scene, chapter, etc. I try not to start something new that can't be completed in a short amount of time.

So, I'll stop my writing day anywhere after six to nine hours at the computer.

That's my story, style and approach. Writers are as different as leaves on a tree, but we're also similar. You don't have to do it like I did. You can write one page a day, and after a year, you've got a novel.

I wrote the first draft of my first published novel in 45 days. (John Nichols wrote the first draft of The Milagro Beanfield War in less time than that.) Then it took me years of revising. But, I'm better and won't need so much time this go-around.

To emphasize my opening statements, I only intended to describe elements I've used to finish a first draft in 66 days. If any of this helps, I'm very glad I helped. If none helps, I'm happy if you toss this into the Delete folder. Whatever.

If you love writing, just do it. Enjoy it. And always remember what you owe your future readers: un chingón libro, not just worth their time and money, but worth reading and passing along.

Es todo, hoy,
RudyG, aka author Rudy Ch. Garcia, holder of a few hundred pages of YA fantasy, to appear sometime this year on your slush pile.



Back in old days, Isaac Asimov and Michael Moorcock crank out books in three days.

Anonymous said...

The old days, when things were simple.

Pulp is/was easier to crank out, shorter, novella size.
Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep, 225 pp.

Plus, the better you are, the easier/faster it is for you, maybe.

Thelma T. Reyna said...

Rudy, spoken like a veterano! Good for you, and congrats on getting the MS done. I enjoyed reading this. I haven't tackled a novel yet (everything but); however, your advice makes it seem plausible for me! Buena suerte con este libro nuevo. Keep us posted on how it goes for you, OK?


And actually, I've found that faster isn't always better. Sometimes you have to experience or learn something before you can finish a novel, and the problem is, you don't know what it is you need . . .

Manuel Ramos said...

I don't see writing as a race that has to be timed. The book takes as long as it takes (for me, it is never finished.)And Chandler would never agree that writing The Big Sleep was "easy to crank out." Here's a quote from one of his letters: "I decided that this [writing for Black Mask] might be a good way to try to learn to write fiction and get paid a small amount of money at the same time. I spent five months over an 18,000 word novelette and sold it for $180. After that I never looked back, although I had a good many uneasy periods looking forward. I wrote The Big Sleep in three months, but a lot of the material in it was revamped from a couple of novelettes. This gave it body but didn't make it any easier to write. I was always a slow worker. In the best month I ever had, I wrote two 18,000 word novelettes and a short story which was sold to the Post. For [Earle Stanley] Gardner this would be the work of a couple of days, but for me it was a terrific production and I have never approached it since."