Author Max Barry gave an interview over on Aerogramme Writers’ Studio a few weeks ago on how to write a novel, and I found his 15 different suggestions comforting (full-disclosure: I’ve tried more than 10 of them!) and funny (“Method #7: You consume alcohol, narcotic, or caffeine before writing. Dude, those words just gush.”) The truth is, there is no one way to write a novel, and Barry himself admits as much, saying, “If there were a single method of writing great books, we’d all be doing it.” Instead, his 15 suggestions are all tried and true methods writers have employed, with pros and cons for each. Some of my personal favorites, both in terms of his advice and my own chosen methods:
1. The Word Target
What: You don’t let yourself leave the keyboard each day until you’ve hit 2,000 words.
Why: It gets you started. You stop fretting over whether your words are perfect, which you shouldn’t be doing in a first draft. It captures your initial burst of creative energy. It gets you to the end of a first draft in only two or three months. If you can consistently hit your daily target, you feel awesome and motivated.
Why Not: It can leave you too exhausted to spend any non-writing time thinking about your story. It encourages you to pounce on adequate ideas rather than give them time to turn into great ones. It encourages you to use many words instead of few. If you take a wrong turn, you can go a long way before you realize it. It can make you feel like a failure as a writer when the problem is that you’re trying to animate a corpse. It can make you dread writing.
6. The Immersion
What: You pull out the network cord, turn off the phone, and write in blocks of four hours.
Why: It eliminates distractions. You can relax knowing that you have plenty of time to write. It encourages thoughtful writing.
Why Not: You can wind up grinding. You can feel reluctant to start writing, knowing that such a huge block of time awaits.
11. The Jigsaw
What: You start writing the scenes (or pieces of scenes) that interest you the most, and don’t worry about connecting them until later.
Why: You capture the initial energy of ideas. You can avoid becoming derailed by detail. You make sure your novel revolves around your big ideas.
Why Not: It can be difficult to figure out how to connect the scenes after the fact. You need to rewrite heavily in order to incorporate ideas you had later for earlier sections. Your characters can be shakier because you wrote scenes for them before you knew the journey they’d make to get there.
If I’ve learned anything in this two+ year-long process, it’s that here are a thousand ways to write a novel, as evidenced by the list above. But there is only one way to not write a novel, and that is to just not write. As long as I’m writing, I’ll write this novel. In single sentences squeezed out of my early-morning brain on the bus, or in immersions, in jigsaws, or with word targets. The little milestones count just as much as the big ones.
Some exciting news to start your week (or maybe just mine): new in the Print Shop today are sets of 4×6 prints, which I’m aptly calling Petite Pairs. There are four sets of these little photographs, and all but one duo are brand new to the shop, meaning there are six never-before offered photographs for sale. The Petite Pairs are just $10 per set, and ship for $2. Featured above, in order, are Les Voitures, Rue du Pré aux Clercs, and Petit Oiseau et Cartes Postales. All of these photos have made appearances somewhere or another on my blog, and most were a natural, obvious pairing.
To celebrate this new, petite venture, one lucky reader will receive a Petite Pair of their choice for free! To enter, simply leave a comment here by Friday, January 16th, telling me which of the four sets of Petite Pairs you’d like. A winner will be chosen at random over the weekend. This giveaway is open to international readers, too. Good luck!
Thank you for your continued support for the Paris Print Shop!
UPDATE: Congratulations, Samantha! I’ll be in touch soon to mail you your new prints!
What a devastating, awful few days it has been. My heart breaks for the journalists at Charlie Hebdo, their families, the people of Paris, and Paris itself. Paris, light of my life. Seeing the Eiffel Tower go dark in honor of the victims was a somber, sobering sight. It brought tears to my eyes. But I’ve been so impressed with the resilience of the people of France, rallying together for peaceful, reflective demonstrations, holding pens in the air in solidarity, in defense of freedom of expression. The gatherings could easily have been tinged with anti-Mulsim sentiment (would have, had the attack been carried out in the states), but they have instead stood together to say, “I am Charlie.” A sign at the demonstration at Place de la Republique declared, “Je me exprimé avec des mots parce qu’ils sont encore la plus belle arme.” I express myself with words, because they are still the most beautiful weapon. That is what I choose to do. It’s so easy to take the freedom of expression for granted, to not think of it at all because of how intrinsic a value it is. But an attack like this proves there are those who would silence any opposition, are in fact whole groups devoted to ensuring that silence at any cost. And that terrifying fact has only served to strengthen the resolve of those who fight with the pen, with words, with wit, with drawings, with expression. And that will always be the most beautiful weapon.
Charlie Hebdo will recover, will continue to publish not solely in defiance of the threats and attacks, but in celebration of their right to deliver whatever message they want, in whatever medium. We should truly all be so brave. Paris will recover, has shown it is capable of overcoming the darkness in the days since the attack. For a city so filled with light, how could it not?
Bon weekend, mes chéris.
Somebody had a birthday yesterday! Fitz, you’re four! He was totally unfazed by all the high-pitched squealing I was doing in celebration, though he rightly interpreted it as a sign to be extra demanding of belly rubs. It even snowed yesterday, and as snow is one of his favorite things (to eat, to play in, to pee on) I kept telling him it snowed just for his birthday. I can’t believe he’s four! When did this happen? I’d like to say that his age now ensures he’s outgrown all of his, um, insanity, but I’d be lying. Fitz will always be a crazy (wonderful! loveable!) puppy, no matter how old he is. (In fact, I refilled his Prozac prescription yesterday.)
Happy birthday, Fitzy! May you never outgrow your silliness, your darling sense of curiosity at any and all fridge-related sounds, or your willingness to give big sloppy kisses. Though may you please, please stop screaming at everything outside. I love you so much.
On New Years Day 2013 I woke up and decided, “I’m moving to Paris next year.” It would take a while for all the details to fall into place, of course, but, unsurprisingly, I now place a high value on even the most random and fleeting thoughts that manifest on January 1. What will 2015 look like for me? A stream of consciousness from the first day of the new year:
I’m going to finish my novel this year. I’m absolutely going to finish it. I just need some undisturbed time to devote to writing. I might get my real estate license, wouldn’t that be cool? I love real estate, it takes up a lot of my time as it is, just looking at houses and studying the market. I could sell houses, right? I could sell houses and then write part-time! I could work for Sotheby’s Real Estate. But then wasn’t there a real estate agent who was killed while showing a listing to someone? I mean, if you think about it, the logistics of sending single females to empty houses with random strangers has, like, all of the elements necessary for a Law and Order: SVU episode. I’m Erin, I’m Real Estate Agent. Or, yes yes yes, I could get an MFA in Creative Writing. Oh, I’m going to do that. Where does Paul La Farge teach? Bard! I could go to Bard. We could move to upstate New York for two years. We wouldn’t have to worry about Fitz because we could drive up with him. We’d need a car. I looked at Bard with my dad back in high school. What was my objection to it ultimately? It’s not in a city. But still! Paul La Farge could be my teacher. Wait, it’s $60k? For a creative writing masters degree? That is not a sound investment. I could apply to Hunter College! I was going to apply there for my undergrad degree all those years ago! They have a really good program! Hmm, this looks financially more feasible. $24k? I could swing that. All the classes start after 5:30pm, so I could work and still commute. It’s just two hours each way on the bus. Jamal says I will get burned out on that quickly. I need two letters of recommendation. I need to apply by February 1st. I want some cake. Cake! Why can’t I just eat cake for a living? I need a nap. I’m definitely going to finish my novel this year.