I did my first day of NaNoWriMo yesterday, writing the first 1696 words of a new novel – basically one full scene from start to finish. It took an hour with a 10-min break in the middle, so it was 50 minutes of writing time.
And oh it’s bad – so hideously bad – but it’s a start. It introduces a couple of characters, including the protagonist, sets up the theme, and has a bunch of dialog, but as far as fiction writing goes, it needs a lot of work.
I made some editing notes too, just to jot down some changes and improvements that popped into my mind along the way. I put those in a different section of the doc, so Scrivener didn’t count them as part of the word count. I like that Scrivener will just count the words in the Manuscript section, and it plays a sound and pops up a message when I hit my daily word count goal, which is 1667 words.
I was curious about how much I could leverage my nonfiction writing experience to get into fiction. I do think it helps a little but not as much as you might think. Writing fiction feels very different because I have to think about characters and plot and scene flow. It’s not just about communicating ideas and actions steps. I think it’s going to take me a while to get into a fiction-writing mindset. There’s definitely going to be a learning curve there.
I’m investing in the learning curve directly by listening to audiobooks on fiction writing every morning. I’ve also been reading articles and watching YouTube videos from experienced writers to learn more about storycraft. I want to continue investing in the learning side while I’m also doing the writing, so I can connect the dots between what I’m learning from others and what I’m actually encountering as I write.
I’m sure that given enough time, I can learn the craft of writing decent fiction too, even if it takes years. It isn’t easy though because there’s a lot to think about and pay attention to, and I’m just beginning to learn the basics.
Honestly I think what helps me way more than my previous writing experience is my personal development know-how, mindsets, and frameworks.
One thing that helps is to think about the purpose for getting into this. Why bother? Is it just to write one novel? I find it more motivating to learn the craft of fiction as another medium of self-expression. It’s a whole new world of self-development to explore. I feel that it would add something precious to my character if I could learn how to do this.
I was surprised to see that a lot of people do NaNoWriMo, create a draft of a new book, and then never finish it up and publish it. And they may do NaNoWriMo year after year without publishing anything, not even self-publishing. I don’t want to write a story just for myself. Part of my motivation is to write something to share. I’m already imagining people reading it someday. To me that raises the stakes and makes me feel more invested in learning how to write good fiction. I don’t just want to crank out some drivel to sit in cloud storage indefinitely. It doesn’t cost anything to set more ambitious goals, and thinking bigger tends to be more motivating than thinking small.
I also love to adopt frames that let me enjoy and embrace the beginner phase when my skills are weakest and there’s a lot road of learning and mistakes ahead. I have lots of different frames that have helped me there, such as:
- If you want to win, you’ve got to begin.
- Everyone falls the first time.
- It’s better than being in jail.
- It can only get better from here.
- Embrace the suck.
- Laugh at yourself.
- It’s called learning.
- If I can learn ____, I can learn this.
- Even writing a bad scene feels like an accomplishment.
- Every step is a step forward.
- Stop whining and just go.
- Everyone’s got a plan… till they get hit.
- Do you want to do this – or watch other people do it?
- Do you want the memory?
- It’s just typing.
- I’ll fix it in editing.
- I can at least write better than most monkeys.
- This will be a growth experience.
- Whatever it takes!
- So it’s to be torture then. I can cope with torture.
It’s important to separate ego from results, especially when you’re first starting out. It’s unreasonable to expect yourself to do well at something new. It takes time to build experience.
When I start something new, I give myself permission to be bad at it, and I don’t beat myself up for that. It’s just my starting point. That makes me feel optimistic since I know I’ll get better with more practice. The 50th scene I write will surely be better than the first one I wrote yesterday.
This morning while listening to an audiobook on writing, the author shared that many writers seem to hit a wall at around 30,000 words, where it seems like a real slog to get to the end. Maybe that will happen, and maybe it won’t, but it’s good to know that there may be walls ahead and that one solution is to just keep writing more scenes. Walls are normal with different learning experiences. If you have a good purpose though, you just keep going. Your purpose must be larger than the obstacles you’ll encounter. An obstacle is a lesson and an invitation to further growth, not an excuse to quit.
If you’re only writing for yourself, I think it’s easier to stop and quit when things get tough. Or you can just let the project fade away. If I just want to write for myself, I can do that in my journal. But a novel is for other people. So I’m thinking about – and designing it for – the eventual readers.
This elevates the experience in my mind. It’s not just a solo pursuit. I imagine one day chatting at a coffee shop with someone who’s read the book, as we both enjoy discussing the characters and themes together.
When I enjoy a nice work of fiction like a book, movie, video game, or TV series, I sometimes think: How cool it is that someone created this! What a nice gift.
Have you ever thought this way? Have you ever at least internally felt some appreciation for the massive creative and cultural abundance you’ve been able to enjoy? Or do you take it for granted?
I was really into movie culture while growing up in L.A. On many weekend nights, my high school friends and I would drive to Hollywood or Westwood to see movies there, often on opening night. Then afterwards we’d hang out, maybe grab a late night bite to eat, and discuss the movie we just saw or quote various lines back to each other. I found so much enjoyment and connection – and sometimes solace – in the fictional works that other people created. I think that always made me want to gift something back to that space.
There’s something about fiction that plugs into culture in a way that nonfiction really doesn’t. I feel like I’m already plugged into so many expressions of culture as someone who appreciates other people’s fictional worlds and characters. Now I’d like to learn how to connect with that world with some creative energy as well.