And away we go….
Hello, Stephen here.
Like a lot of people, I’ve always wanted to write a novel.
Also like a lot of people, I’ve never quite got around to doing it.
Now, with my 50th birthday approaching at an alarming rate (and an acute awareness of that ever-ticking clock), I’ve conceived a Bold Literary Experiment…. something to give me the shove that I need in order to achieve that goal; to get that novel written.
Rather than sitting down, thinking “Where do I even start?”, and getting overwhelmed, I thought “what if I just wrote it in bite-sized chunks?” Say, one 2000 word chapter each week?
That would have to make the whole thing less daunting. That’d make it much easier.
Almost too easy…
Perhaps not quite the shove I need.
So what if, on top of that, I were to make myself accountable to the novel’s readership, as I wrote it? In real time? What if I promised to publish – to the WORLD – a new chapter every week? If I had to keep that promise to the novel’s readers each and every week, that would be a powerful motivator. THAT is something that would keep driving me on.
Of course, blogging makes that possible.
I’ve decided that I’m going to write a serialised novel, releasing it in instalments, from May 17th 2019 to May 17th 2020. The novel will have 52 chapters, each of roughly 2000 words… So, at the end of 52 weeks, I will have written a 104,000 word novel.
Every Friday at 12 noon (Melbourne time), I will post a new chapter of it right here on this site.
I invite you to join me in this experiment.
I also plan to accompany the posting of each new chapter with a video diary entry, on a dedicated YouTube channel. To receive reminder emails, please consider signing up to the firstname.lastname@example.org mailing list.
As I say, this is an experiment. I have absolutely no idea if it’s going to work. I could run out of time, I could run out of ideas, I could run out of steam… it could all go horribly wrong.
Or it might just work a treat! After all, writing novels in serialised form worked out alright for Charles Dickens. And he didn’t even have WordPress.
How will it work out? Let’s you and I find out together!
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Seven thoughts on reaching the half way point….
(Chapter 26 / November 8th, 2019)
I ain’t that hot.
When I started this, my confidence was very high; ‘I’m a good writer’, I thought. I’ve been a professional TV writer for years, I enjoy writing, I have a good vocabulary, a decent faculty with words, I can paint vivid word pictures, I can write believable dialogue… and I can craft an engaging, exciting story. Turns out I really overestimated my talent. Not that any of the statements above are untrue; it’s just that I’m often finding my output here to be less clever than I’d hoped, less funny than I’d hoped… and the character portraits and descriptions of locations and technology aren’t anywhere near as evocative as I’d like them to be. I’ve fully accepted now that what I’m doing here is very much a first draft, get-it-all-down-now,-come-back-and-fix-it-all-later exercise. When I started, I think I honestly believed that I was releasing an instalment of the finished product each week! Ah, the arrogance of ignorance.
This is hard.
There are some days when it just feels like I’ll never meet my word count target. I stare at the page, and filling in the gaps between the main beats in the chapter – “putting the meat on the bones”- seems like the most torturous, painstaking process. And then there are all the nagging questions; am I telling enough story in this chapter? Is this entertaining? Involving? Amusing where it’s meant to be? Is it imaginative enough? Clever enough? And then, if I’m not careful, those nagging questions can balloon out to encompass the novel as a whole – is the whole thing as worthwhile as I desperately want it to be? Am I a talented enough writer to pull this off? Or am I fooling myself? Kicking all those self-doubting questions out of my head and just getting the frick ON with it is also hard sometimes.
… But it’s stimulating; it’s fun!
I love the constant problem solving that writing an adventure novel requires. I keep painting my characters – and myself – into corners, and I do enjoy figuring out how to get them – and myself – out of these sticky situations. When I’m writing, I often find myself thinking of this, from The 22 Rules of Storytelling, According to Pixar:
#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
Crafting the whole whodunnit story strand, too, was challenging and rewarding. Although it’s far from perfect, and I’ll no doubt change it drastically in The Great Big Edit, I really relished creating that puzzle, and trying to get the balance just right of exactly what to reveal.
And exactly how much to reveal.
And exactly when to reveal it,
and to whom…
Playing god with all my characters – and what happens to them – is great fun. I have the diagram of the ship, I have all the paper cutouts with the characters’ names on them. Moving them around like pieces on a chess board, and deciding who lives and who dies is quite the ego trip!
I love the fact that every chapter in this, every paragraph, every sentence, every word is the product of a thousand decisions.
And every one of those decisions was mine. And they all got through – no one else challenged them, no one else rejected them, no one else disparaged them. What a liberating feeling! (Of course, I know that all those decisions will be scrutinised and examined in the Great Big Edit, but for now I’m consciously and mindfully enjoying the freedom.)
I’m slowly getting better at managing my time on this…
While I’m not yet up to Ian Fleming’s word rate of 2000 a day, I’m generally confident that I can get 500 words (which I’m happy with, and that’s an important point, I think) in a day. Sometimes more. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to get two chapters done each week, instead of one. If I were able to keep that up, in ten weeks, I’d get to my dreamed-of state of affairs; that of being ten chapters ahead. Being ten chapters ahead was where I wanted to be before I put Chapter 1 up online, but due to my vastly underestimating the time commitment required, that most certainly did not happen. Now, however, I’m finally pulling out ahead of those pesky weekly deadlines, and giving myself a little buffer zone. And that feels great.
… Although this is really just the beginning.
The 52-chapter… thing… that I’ll have at the end of this process will be by no means a finished product. I gots me a Great Big Edit to do. I’ve no doubt I’ll make lots of cuts, lots of additions and lots of changes in the order of things. I’m actually quite looking forward to that part of the process – changing something that’s already there is always easier and more fun than creating the thing that’s there in the first place. I’ve already been putting ideas for this in a separate folder in my Scrivener project; the folder titled ‘FOR THE GREAT BIG EDIT’.
If I build it, they won’t necessarily come.
This is a lesson I’ve learned over and over again with many creative endeavours of mine (our show on Channel 31, the iPhone app, HowToWinGameShows.com, the How To Win Game Shows ebook, etc., etc); you can create the most brilliant thing in the world, but people will not just happen to find it. You have to take it to them, and let them know again and again and again why it’s great and why they need it. You have to get up and you have to get in their face; you HAVE to self-promote, assertively and repeatedly. I haven’t done that with this – quite apart from it not being a fun, natural or easy thing for me to do, I’m having trouble finding the time, what with the actual writing of the thing, and the rest of my life as well. I tell myself that the time for assertive self-promotion is after it’s finished. The finished product will be the product to promote. I’ll leave the blog up online, though, for anyone who may be interested in seeing the differences between the first draft and the finished product.
When all’s said and done, I am proud of this, and it was a good idea for me.
I am really happy and keen to tell people about project. Everyone. Anyone. Well, anyone who’ll listen…
I’m proud that – in my own small way – I’m pushing myself outside my middle-aged man’s comfort zone, week in, week out. I’m proud that – for better or worse – I’m putting a creative work out into the world. Much better than destroying, or criticising or running things down. And the benefits of this far outweigh the costs. In an absolute worst case scenario, I miss a week, or more, or even abandon the project altogether. But even if I do that, no one’s gonna die, or get hurt, or not get paid, or lose their jobs. The downside’s so small, and the upside is so big.
Yes, this Bold Literary Experiment is well worth doing.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
… And Five Thoughts On Reaching THE END.
(Chapter 52 / May 8th, 2020.)
Well, here I am, having written those all-important words THE END. And the Bold Literary Experiment (which now has a title: Symphony Under Siege) worked! It bloody worked!
And as I look back over what I’ve done here, five thoughts occur to me:
- What I have here is NOT the finished product.
Nowhere near it, in fact. It’s just a first draft. Once I fully accepted that, during the writing process (and it did take a while), it really freed me up from trying to make it “perfect”, and I was able to really enjoy the process, and find the fun each week.
2. There’s a very powerful and uplifting sense of achievement that comes with completing a project such as this.
My mood has been GREAT, for days! I think I’m just really pleased and proud. I know that this feeling won’t last forever (just wait until I sit down to edit the thing, and find myself wading through all its flaws) so I’m enjoying it while I can.
3. Now that I’ve done this for the first time, I know how to do it again.
This is a really powerful idea. I know it sounds trite, but you only ever do something for the first time once. And doing it for the first time is the hard part – it’s always easier the second time around. And at this stage, I am feeling positive enough about this whole thing to consider writing a second story in this universe. Though this may change of course, once I launch into the Great Big Edit…
4. I learned (re-learned?) that I can be persistent and stick to a goal that I really believe in.
That realisation is empowering. I’m proud that I was able to keep up with the schedule; that I was able to keep those 52 promises, not just to myself, but to the outside world, and to my family.
5. Playing God is fun.
In this universe that I’ve created, pretty much anything I can dream up, I can put in! And so I’m happy that the framework I’ve set it in (500 years in the future, on this expansive luxurious ship) gave me such a broad canvas – such a good and expansive playground – to do it all in. For me, writing this story has been a really fun recreational pursuit – and it’s free!
I’d like to thank you so much for your support, and for reading this far. Now I move on to the next stage – The Great Big Edit. If you’d like to keep updated with the next developments, please consider signing up to the mailing list at author@TheStephenHall.com.
Thanks again, and I’ll see you around!