I. You call this a challenge?
Broken down to 1,000 words a day, the 12-in-12 (12 novellas and/or novels in 12 months) doesn’t seem like much of a challenge. Writers are inundated with advice along the lines of, “Write every day.” One thousand words, ultimately, translates to about four pages. That’s not a lot.
But there’s more to writing than putting the words on paper. There’s gestational periods for every story. Some happen instantaneously. Some spend years knocking around the back of the brain waiting for just the right moment. So to create twelve fully formed, cohesive, intelligent, interesting stories–not just stories, but tales of length and depth–requires a lot more brain juice than mere finger dancing.
And real life is guaranteed to interfere. Illness. Loss of the day job. Loss of a loved one. Failed relationships. Moving house. Power outages. Computer crashes. Uninvited relations overstaying their welcome. Vacations of your own. Some days, no matter how much you try, you find yourself staring at a page filled with the words, “All work and no play…”
You have to accept that the idea that writing every day does not actually mean writing every day. There will be days where you achieve no words, but have instead given your brain a sorely needed (and sometimes well deserved) break from the story. This allows the subconscious to work out details you haven’t figured out. This allows influences from the outside world, influences which didn’t exist yesterday, to help flesh out the sketchy bits.
Some days, you make great progress, type a furious four or five thousand words, burn out the keys of your laptop and erase the prints from your fingers.
Ultimately, most writers, myself included, have a day job that requires a large chunk of time, often forty hours or more, every week. You could’ve spent that time writing. And maybe, if you don’t have a day job, you can spend that time writing, and a 12-in-12 suddenly feels like something quite natural. I don’t think that’s the case, though. It’s still twelve long stories. How many people do you know have been working on a single novel for more than a year?
There are other aspects of this writing game that simply aren’t included in this calculation. Revisions. You can spend as much time making something right as you did making it the first time. That’s okay. That’s normal. That’s necessary. (And for my purposes, while it will happen as I go, ultimately I need only twelve first drafts to succeed.) There’s the submission process, which may include other pieces you’ve done before. Maybe something you’ve already sold will come back for a final galley check before release. Maybe you’ll be invited to write a short story for an anthology. Maybe you’re researching markets one day and find yourself hitting midnight earlier than expected.
I cannot fool myself into thinking this 12-in-12 will be easily accomplished. I know it won’t be easy. I know I’ll face hurdles and obstacles and unforeseeable crises. That’s how writing works. I’ll deal with them as they come. It’s an ambitious goal, so maybe it’s time I explore, in part, why I think I should do this.
I blame my last novel.
For the record, it still needs a title. It resulted out of a previous writing challenge, a month of short stories in April 2010. One of those stories, “Armand Luis Salazar”, begged for more, so that October I started writing the novel. After a month or two, I had one-quarter of the novel written. Then nothing. Nothing for days, weeks, months. I did other things, yes, involving other novels needing revision before publication and short story requests for anthologies, but I’d lost steam on the novel. It required thinking I hadn’t done. It required knowledge I didn’t have. Summer of 2011, I found myself in New England, where I explored Boston for a few days before being locked (I’m trying to make this sound like a burden) in a studio (on the Maine shore) for two weeks (they provided three meals a day and wine). Here, I was meant to write. I was also free to wander, explore, and photograph, which I did. I wrote half a novel–half of that novel–there in Maine, giving me three-quarters of a novel and a very clear direction as to where it would end. But I came back, started a new role at my day job, and moved house. Other stressors popped up. And I couldn’t figure out how to get the book finished. In the end, in a few weeks in December, I wrote the last quarter of the novel. I looked at this stack of papers, and handed it over to a trusted friend. I asked, “Is this really a novel?”
He hasn’t answered me yet.
The point is, I know it shouldn’t take me more than a year to write a single story. Now I aim to prove it.
I have two novellas already planned and started. I’ll get to them. I have one novel partially planned, and contracted; I’ll get to that, too. This past week, I started with a blank screen and a few unconnected ideas, thoughts, and memories, and started something entirely different. In two days, I had almost 10,000 words. Are you impressed? Don’t be. I still don’t know where it will finish. But I’m very happy with where it started, and where it’s been going; and I’m seriously hoping I won’t have to cut a huge chunk of what I’ve already done to re-direct the story to a different place. I can tell you it takes place, or at least starts, in upstate New York, not far from where I went to college. There are snow leopards. Yes, I know, there are no snow leopards in upstate New York. So what? There’s a guy who drinks too much who stops at a motel off Route 9. There’s a diner, a bar, and a circus, and there will be a contest at an inn before it ends. That’s all I’ll tell you now. It’s a start. It’s the first of twelve. And right now, like the novel I finished in December, it needs a title.
I’ll get there.