Novel challenge: 3 Novels in 3 months

keysSo, I’ll admit it. I’m one of the crazy few who have taken on Dean Wesley Smith’s novel challenge. The challenge? Write a novel a month for June, July and August. There are a few others taking on the challenge too.

I’ve written a novel in a month before. Plenty of people do a novel in a month for NaNoWriMo. This is not a new idea. The estimable Mr Smith does so frequently (which is why he makes a good coach for taking on such a thing). He even writes novels much faster.

There are rules. The novel must be at least 30,000 words. At least half of the novel must be written in the month in question – so there’s a little bit of an escape there (I got 12,500 words done on the first novel by the end of May: that’s a good start, I figure). The third novel must be completed by the last day in August. These are all artificial constraints, of course, but they will challenge me. Challenge is good.

I’ve written a whole lot already this year – averaging around 50,000 words a month (which is a bit shy of my usual novel length – mostly my novels come in around 60,000 words). Part of that has been while traveling, where my daily average was a bit lower (more like 1100 words a day). It’ll still be a push to get through 60,000 in a month.

It should be a blast. I’ll give updates as I go.

On writing “pulp” and tutoring “literature”

This year my writing is progressing a little faster than in previous years. I’m writing with a pulp kind of attitude. Proof-reading, correcting grammar, but very little in the way of revision (I did switch around two clauses in a sentence because they were simply clunky, but that’s about it). My stories seem stronger for it, and I’m learning much more about getting things right as I go, rather than thinking about fixing things later in editing. My stories, I’ll admit, are raw and unwashed, but I’m writing from a creative bent rather than letting my inner critic take over. Are they perfect? Unlikely. Are they fun? Well they’re fun to write, so I hope they’re as much fun to read.

It has taken an effort of will to let spontanaity and energy rise over searching out every little thorn. I guess this is overcoming years of workshops and courses where I’ve critiqued and been critiqued.

If you want a more articulate explanation of this approach, Kristine Kathryn Rusch has an excellent article on perfection on her website. The comments following give a lot of credence to what she has to say.

With this approach to writing, how can I then presume to tutor in a course that espouses “writing is revision”? It sounds a bit two-faced. Well, part of it is that the course is an introductory paper where students are learning elements of the craft such as voice, detail, character, structure and so on. Another part is that students have the option to revise their story or to write a complete new story if they feel they can use the feedback more effectively that way. Overall it’s more about story craft than it is about endless revision.

I remember my early days of writing when I would enthusiastically write a half a story, with nowhere to go. Or have characters who went through the motions, rather than seeming to live beyond the page. I would revise and revise, change and cut, add new sections, remove characters, move commas, change “OK” to “Okay” and what-have-you.

I’m not against revision. I’m a fan of John Irving, who writes his novels from finish to start, and then works through polishing them and working on the language. His books are a delight to read and I can see all the work that has gone into them.

These days I tend to write with the ending in sight. Sometimes in the course of the story it might veer off toward a new ending, but by the time I’m veering, a new ending is well-within sight. In many ways it all suits the kind of adventure fiction I’m interested in writing anyway.

In all likelihood I’ll never truly master all the techniques – lifelong learning and all – but my writing efforts are focused on working on the next story out of what I’ve learned from the last. There is a place for subtle, nuanced literature, and I hope that I come close on some occasions, but for now I’m not heading back to polish the energy out of pieces. I’m not likely to hit perfection, but I will continue to aim for writing good stories that will engage and entertain readers.


I’ve been fortunate through January, with several days with no other commitments – work, family, etc. – where I’ve been able to focus on writing, so my word count goal has been achieved. Actually, more than achieved. Turns out that I’ve written this year’s first novel. I started on January first (after writing the last few scenes from a novella started in late December), and finished the last two chapters and epilogue this morning before heading to work (this morning being February first). 63,000 words – a couple of thousand a day through January. That’s pretty good, but I’d say I’m unlikely to keep that pace up – still, it’s a good start towards the aim of 300,000 words this year.

Being a pulp fiction writer now (from reading Dean Wesley Smith’s blog), it’s now on to proof-reading before I decide what to do with it – publish right away as an ebook and POD, or submit to a publisher.

Given how impatient I’m feeling at the moment, self-publishing is looking more likely. At the moment I have just two novels available as ebooks and it feels like it would be useful to support those with a few more.

I don’t have a title for the novel yet, but I’m sure that will come in my first round of proofing before I get someone else to proof it. It’s an adventure story set on a jungle on a distant planet with a lead character with artificial eyes. It was fun to write, and I hope it will be fun to read. I’ve created a rough for the cover, but we’ll see what I end up doing with it in a couple of weeks anyway.

Now, on to writing a short story (an entry for a New Zealand literary competition), another sci-fi story (Writer’s of the Future entry) and another novella under a pen name. Then I’m going to write another literary novel for the New Zealand market. It’s good to feel the plan outlined and have a feel for the way ahead.

Why write pulp?

Following yesterday’s post, I’ve thought about why I’m writing about writing so much so fast.

Believe me, I do enjoy literary works, well, mainstream literary. Richard Ford, John Irving, Richard Russo, Anne Tyler, Jane Smiley, Annie Proulx are among my favourite writers. I enjoy the nuances they are able to bring to their writing, their skill with language and narrative. I have written, and even published, numerous literary stories, where I’ve polished and honed the words, where I’ve edited out sections or rewritten entirely from scratch, and often I’m proud of those pieces.

That said I’m having fun just writing pulp. Now, I’m not saying my writing is especially good (the reader can judge that), but I’m focusing on the story and trusting that my writing will carry it. What I’m finding currently is that as I go I’m paying more attention to the words where before I would have thought, “Well, I can fix that later in revisions”. Part of this comes from finding over the last year that my stories seemed stronger on their first draft without too much tinkering, part comes from reading about other approaches. Dean Wesley Smith has a good post here about not revising until a story has become just white paste.

Not interested in white paste. Looking for story. That’s why I’ll be writing pulp fiction for a while yet.

Word counts, goals and publishing

Around Christmas, following on from Jeff Ambrose I created a word count goal fro 2012. 300,000 words, from 300 available writing days. Just 1000 words a day. As I wrote rapidly for the first week, I realised that I needed to add a couple of things to keep myself going, focused and effective.

Firstly that 1000 words is a minimum. In the first couple of days – January 1st and 2nd – with no other commitments, family, work or otherwise, I wrote 5500 words each day. It would be simple to think that, well, that’s the first eleven days worth knocked off. Nah. Better to reset the counter each morning. So, it’s been a good first week (close to 20,000 words), but this week I’ll be shooting for 1000 words a day again. Each and every day. BTW, a writer friend did suggest I make sure I don’t burnout on that. Can’t see it, but I will monitor things, definitely.

Secondly (and this is for readers more than writers) that’s got to be 300,000 publishable words. Not just spouting, not just rushing to wear out a keyboard. I saw that writing volume is one thing, publishing is another. So that’s my promise. There will be good stuff coming out. Not to say that it’s going to be perfect and nuanced and highly literary – these days I’m more of a pulp writer (though I do tutor in literary craft, and have written and had published numerous literary stories) – but it will be entertaining and readable and compelling.

I have several stories scheduled for publication in various print and online journals, which amounts to arout 50,000 words (as well as several reprints, but I think I should do this without relying on reprints). I have another 60,000ish out on submission to publishers, with another big story heading out this week. If those get rejections all around then I will indie publish them. I feel in good shape.

I will also have to create time for editing, revision, proofreading, reading other writers, editing anthologies, etc.