The story, which I started in early March, has grown longer and longer, and by mid-April, I realized that for the first time in my life, I was actually writing a novel1. I did not plan this. I’m not working from an outline. I’m having a lot of fun. I’ve heard other writers talk about the struggle through the middle part of a novel, and I think I went through that as well. But recently, I’ve made it passed the middle. As of last night, the story stands at 65,000 words, on its way to about 90,000. I’ve turned some corner and passed through the “middle muddle” and made it to the other side. I think that happened sometime at the end of July and early August. Here is how I can tell:
The chart above shows my 7-day rolling average word count. The data was collected from my Google Writing Tracker scripts. I started writing the story back in early March, indicated by the Day 1 arrow. I liked my idea for the story, and just decided to go with it, to write each day as best I could, knowing that is was all first draft. Those eager beginnings peaked in early April when I was averaging close to 1,500 words/day for a day or two. (I aim for 500 words each day).
For the next two months, things leveled off, to where I was averaging about 800 words a day, making good progress day-to-day, and not really struggling.
Then, through June and most of July, there is a drop-off. I was making my daily goal, but just barely, writing about 600 words/day on average. I think this was the “middle muddle” that I’ve heard so many other writers talk about. I did feel like I was struggling a bit, and it was a bit of an effort to get the words down each day. But I pushed on through. I really just wanted to write every day, and if I could manage, I wanted to get 500 words.
Then, toward the end of July, I came to a part of the story that I’d really wanted to write. I felt I was through the tough part and eager to get started. Things began to pick up. The writing seemed to become easier. It also seemed easier to write more each day. I’m not sure if this was because I was writing faster as I got closer to the end of the story, or because I was having more fun. But I did write more each day. In fact, for the first 20 days of August, I’ve written 33,000 words, averaging over 1,700 words/day. And in the last week, the numbers are closer to 1,900 words/day.
Once I realized I was working on a novel–and it was a realization, an accident, the result of someone who is still, as a professional writer, not so in control of my writing that I can know how long a piece of fiction will be when I start out and keep it to that length–I decided to aim for 90,000 words because that is what I’ve been told is a good length for publishers. As of today, that puts me 25,000 words away from finishing. And if I maintain my current pace, that means I’ll be finished in two weeks–or right around Labor Day.
I no longer believe the story will be 90,000 words, although that is the ultimate target. I think the first draft will likely come in at 100,000 – 110,000 words, which adds an additional week or two. In either case, I expect to complete the first draft of my first complete novel sometime in September.
The key words in that last sentence are “first draft.” I did not plot out this story. There is no outline. I would occasionally leave myself some notes from one day to the next, and I kept a list of character names so that I did have to jump back and forth in the manuscript if I forgot a name. I knew roughly what the story was about, and I had a pretty good idea of how it is supposed to end. That’s it. I have been surprised my than once along the way by the turns to the story has taken. But it is a first draft, and when it is done, I will have the complete story in rough terms.
So what’ the plan when I finish? I’m not going to look at the manuscript for 2 months. I have been working on 2 or 3 short stories at the same time I’ve been working on the mammoth story. Little bits here and there. I plan on using the two months of October and November to write drafts of as many of those stories as my pace will allow. I plan to continue writing every day. I plan to continue to aim for 500 words each day and more when I can. Maybe I’ll even manage to complete a couple of stories and send them out before the year is over.
On December first, I’ll begin reading the entire first draft and making detailed notes. Given how I read my own work, I expect that will take a week or two. Perfect timing really. We head down to Florida for vacation each holiday season, and down in Florida, I will begin writing the second draft. Once again, if I can maintain the same pace I did with the first draft, I expect to be finished with the second draft in the spring of 2014.
But that is really looking too far ahead. The fact is, all I have right now is a very long unfinished story. Part of my success in being able to write every day for the 172 out of 174 days is that I only worry about the writing I have to do today. I still have to do my writing on the story today. And when today’s writing is done, I can rest easy knowing that I’m that much closer to finishing.
Mostly, I felt I owed this confession to the people who keep asking me about what I am writing. It’s not that I was trying to be secretive or coy. I just didn’t really know what I had my hands on, and when I did, I was a little scared. But the truth is, the story has turned into a novel and time will tell if it will be any good. Regardless, the experience itself has been invaluable.
- I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo several times and won on 2 occasions, but in no case was what I wrote a complete novel. At best it was 50,000 words of a story that died the day after NaNoWriMo was over. ↩