100-Day Novel Writing Challenge: Lessons Learned

In the end, there wasn’t much suspense:  the 100th day of my 100-day novel writing challenge came and went on April 25, even though I managed to finish the project on April 15 — on day 90.  I want to thank all of you for your support and encouragement.  Best of all, I’m excited about the new story — the characters, the plot, the premise, everything — and I look forward to sharing it with you (but not yet, I’m afraid).

So what did I learn by writing a 102,000-word novel draft in 90 days?

4:50 In The Morning Was Easy .. Because I Couldn’t Sleep:  I suppose the worry of actually donating money to an anti-gay marriage charity would have been enough to keep me up a night.  But as the weeks went by, and I got more confident I could complete the project, what kept me awake was not so much the bet but the story itself.  What would happen next?  What would the characters say and do?  And yet I never wrote fewer than 1,000 words a day.  As a friend told me a long time ago, “The opposite of fear is faith.”  Unfortunately, my body couldn’t quite seem to absorb that lesson at three in the morning.

Weekends Are Harder Than Weekdays:  As difficult as it was to get up at 4:50 a.m. every weekday, at least I had a schedule.  I’d be finished by a quarter to seven and then breeze through the rest of the day with the confidence that I had the important work behind me.  With so much more free time on the weekends I thought it would be easier, but no:  I had errands, I had yoga, I had stupid computer games to distract me.  (I officially removed Words With Friends from my Facebook profile this week.)  On the plus side, by writing in the late afternoons most weekends, I had the advantage of being tolerably awake as I wrote.

Winter Is Better Than Summer:  Or at least this is what I suspect.  The weather’s lousy; you’re stuck in the house anyway.  If nothing else, pounding out two or three pages a day gave me something to do.

Take A Hike, Internal Critic:  In writing my first two novels, I could feel my internal critic hovering over me, telling me the sentence I just wrote wasn’t good enough.  I could spend an hour working and re-working a single page, or even a single paragraph.  But for this draft I didn’t have that luxury.  I stopped worrying about whether or not I was writing Literature, or whether the grammar hung together, or even if what I wrote made sense.  Heck, I chastised myself even if I backed up my cursor to fix a typo.  All I did was write.  For the first two books my single one-day writing records was probably between 800 and 1,000 words; for this project, I averaged between 1,500 and 2,000 words, topping out one day at 2,500.   Why didn’t I learn this discipline sooner?

I Shouldn’t Have Had To Make The Bet:  In February I went to the San Francisco Writers Conference, where I had the pleasure of listening to author Lisa See.  In her keynote speech she told us that if there was one piece of advice she wanted us to take home with us, it was that writers should write a thousand words a day.  Editor Alan Rinzler put it more bluntly in his own speech:  If you don’t write, he told us, then you’re not a writer.  In other words, I shouldn’t have had to play chicken with the anti-gay marriage crowd to write the first draft of my latest novel.  I should’ve been able to make the commitment no matter what.  And so this is the promise I make to my readers today — no more bets, no more gimmicks, just writing.  I’m going to work on this project every day until the damned thing is done.  My hope — my dream — is to have a final draft ready to go through the editorial process by the end of 2014, for a summer 2015 publication.  And by then, maybe, the anti-gay marriage crowd will be out of business.

In The Meantime, What’s Next?:  I have temporarily invited my internal critic back into the house to go over what I’ve written and decide what I want to keep for Draft Number Two.  (The critic has already weighed in on one point:  “Dude, your handwriting sucks.”)  In the meantime, the manuscript for my 2012 book, “You Are Here,” is undergoing some spit and polish with the very nice, very knowledgeable, and very thorough editors at iUniverse; the process should be over by end of May or early June.   I’ll let you know when I have a firm publication date.

One Last Thing:  I had earlier promised that if I succeeded in writing a novel draft in 100 days, I would donate the $100 that would have gone to the anti-gay marriage crowd to Planned Parenthood.  I am now happy to report that I did not renege on that promise.

Thanks, everybody!  You are all so fabulous!


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