From January 5th through April 14, 2023, I was enrolled in "an advanced workshop course in the writing and editing of the longer forms of fiction" at Vancouver Island University. One of the tasks assigned was to "gather and keep things that have/will inspire [a] novel". What follows here are those things.
Every morning I set all alerts to do not disturb for four hours and sit, in silence, and work with the above: an open notebook with pen in hand. I've been writing all of my first drafts this way for a while now. I used to listen to music, make Pinterest boards, study and practice methods of process... but after decades of experimentation I've found that this is what's worked best for me.
The thing about re-discovering the act of writing on paper with a pen (I hope new writers start this way, though I have to wonder with how technology has turned so many of us in the developed world into cyborgs from the moment we pop out the womb) is that I can do this anywhere there's a reasonable amount of light. That's what's become most important to me.
For the story that I'm working on for the first submission I took a character from a dream I recently had. Whenever possible I record my dreams. It's become an important part of my process.
I honestly despise talking about process. I find it either masturbatory or pretentious, but I think that's only because I've managed to work out my own. This nest and the other process-related portions of this course are going to be a challenge for me.
And before you think me a complete anachronism: once the entire first draft is written by hand I transcribe it into Microsoft Word. I'm not a complete lunatic. But I still do all my edits on printouts, with a bloody red pen.
I posted this in response to feedback during workshop where a student said they had never seen two holding cells facing each other. -Ed.
"It is bad enough for an editor to prune provocative phrases or ideas from a writer’s work out of fear they will offend; when writers do this to themselves, one might wonder why they write at all." –Susan Bell
Susan Bell's The Artful Edit is an excellent reference. My preferred style of drafting manuscripts includes several rounds of substantive self-edits, as I do not like submitting for critical consideration what I deem as "unfinished" work. It also seems that a traditional publisher is more likely to consider a polished manuscript over the dearth of rough drafts that float in a given slush pile.
I watched Alexander Mackendrick's 1957 film Sweet Smell of Success (and you can, too, for free on Tubi) and noticed in the opening credits that it was based on a novelette by Ernest Lehman. This was the first time in my long life of consuming media that I had ever seen the term "novelette", which Dictionary.com defines simply as "a brief novel or long short story".
I dug a little deeper and found a couple of sources that gave a word count of between 7,500 and 19,000 words. As for content, and why even target a manuscript in this range, this line from This is Writing captured it:
Where a novelette is an exercise in concise, succinct writing for a novelist, it is the completion of a short story. It is the background, the history, and the completion that compliments the scene.
I know this course is about novel writing. Hell, it's in the course name. But whenever I find myself discouraged about filling out word counts and working overtime to breathlessly expand on my own work, I think about these shorter forms and it gives me some reassurance. In many ways a novel is an end game for a writer, and it is one that usually comes after many fits and starts and finished works of far shorter lengths. I often return to this chat with Ray Bradbury as a sort of writer's soul food:
As I have progressed in my writing career, there has been a profound change in why I write. I used to do it in the hopes of writing something that would make me noteworthy, give me a name that other people would recognize; a striving for fame.
I think now that abandoning that hope has done wonders for my writing. It is truer, more real, more grounded--even when doing works of fantastic fiction.
Louis C.K.—regardless of what you think of him—expressed the exact same thought here:
It took me almost fifty years to find and read George Orwell's Politics and the English Language. I hope it doesn't take that long for others.
I posted this in response to some of the deeper (and, in my opinion, misguided) discourse that happened in-class over the "requirements" of fiction. -Ed.
I posted this without comment, because the discourse around it (both virtual and physical) was far to limited and was mostly perpetuated by people who were on the side of hate and vitriol rather than acceptance and understanding. -Ed.
The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling.
Hugh Howey has been an important inspiration and mentor to me. We corresponded in the early days of his Wool releases, where he was finding enormous success in digital-only self publishing on Amazon. I could not be happier for him now that Apple has produced a series based on his work.
More dirt on the series via Hugh's blog.
I asked ChatGPT 4.0 (yes, I'm paying a premium to help enable our so-called future overlords, because to heck with it) if there was any value to writing longhand in 2023. This was the response:
Yes, there is still value in writing longhand in 2023, even with the widespread use of digital tools and technology. Here are some potential benefits of writing longhand:
- Improved focus and concentration: Writing longhand can help you concentrate more effectively on the task at hand, as it involves a slower, more deliberate process than typing on a digital device.
- Better retention and understanding: Studies have shown that taking notes longhand can lead to better retention of information and deeper understanding of the material, as the process of writing down information forces you to process and organize the content more thoroughly.
- Enhanced creativity: Writing longhand can help boost creativity by encouraging a more fluid and intuitive thought process, which can lead to the generation of new ideas and connections.
- Reduced distractions: Writing longhand can minimize distractions from digital devices, such as notifications and the temptation to multitask, allowing you to focus more effectively on your thoughts and ideas.
- Improved handwriting and fine motor skills: Regularly practicing longhand writing can help maintain and improve your handwriting, as well as maintain fine motor skills, which can be beneficial for overall cognitive function.
- Personal connection: Writing longhand can create a more personal connection to your thoughts and ideas, making your writing feel more authentic and meaningful.
- Mindfulness and relaxation: The slower pace of longhand writing can help foster mindfulness and relaxation, providing a break from the fast-paced digital world.
While digital tools offer convenience and efficiency, longhand writing still has its unique benefits, making it a valuable practice for those who enjoy or benefit from it.
I hope you have a fantastic summer, and spend the bulk of it reading and writing.