Purpose: I wanted to write a fun, easy-reading novella for quick publication.
I have already written a full-length novel, Alice in Sinland, and that took me nearly one and a half years. I must admit, I wrote it slowly, some days not even filling the blank pages. Maybe it was writer’s block or procrastination, or because it was my first novel written as an adult.
This time, though, I wanted to have my novella completed quickly, and speed was important. I had to write fast while still crafting well-expressed ideas and scenes. The reasons for my rush? I wanted to be finally a published author, to experience the publishing landscape and to gain experience (not only to read about it). And besides, it’s not really hard to write a novella of 14k words. Not at all.
In fiction, everything comes down to one point: the story. What is the hook, the theme, the most appealing thing in the plot? The hook is powerful — it is why many readers buy books mostly based on the book description and the cover.
Ever since I was seven years old, whenever I have written any story it has always started the same way: I receive an inspiration that helps me through the more difficult process of actually writing the scenes. If I don’t have that inspiration, I am nowhere. Whether we are writing a vampire romance, BDSM erotica or dystopian fiction, we must be inspired by our stories. Readers feel the energy behind our words, and are ruthless if our stories lack heart.
Anatomy of Inspiration
The inspirational moment is like a flash of creative impulse. For a few seconds, I see the story unrolling in front of my eyes like scenes in a movie. It grabs all my attention and my mind is one-pointed.
A long time ago , I overheard someone ask my Guru: “Are artists yogis?”
He answered that artists must have been yogis in their previous lives, because the ideas they receive come to them as revelations. He added that though it’s not always the case, quite often this is how the works of many great artists were revealed to them.
The novella The Wishing Coin came alive in a similar way. It was early in the morning and I was heading to work. Looking out the bus window, I saw a female TV reporter and two cameramen waiting to begin a live broadcast. The TV reporter was discussing something with the cameramen.
The revelation hit me: “I will write a short story about a TV reporter. She will work at Good Morning America and will struggle to find more screen time.”
As the day went on, I came up with more: She’ll fail to be promoted to have her own TV show, and her ex would start dating the TV rival who stole her slot. I started with the first tragedy, like in the famous three-act tragedy structure. I didn’t have the whole story outlined yet, but I had something better — the energy that would let me to write and finish the story.
Long ago, I realized that whatever happens in our lives is because of the energy. If you are a good athlete, it is because you have that energy; if you are a good musician, again it’s because of the energy. Anything, be it good or bad, manifests in the energy in each one of us. And that energy is very creative.
Later that night I came up with more scenes. The TV reporter would meet a strange vendor who sells wishing coins on the street. The protagonist will buy the most powerful one, the one that fulfills all wishes no matter what they are. My idea was to present three different pictures: in the first, the protagonist is unhappy; in the second, she has everything she wishes for — the dream job, the wonderful boyfriend; and in the last, her desire for control and power corrupts her. The character’s wishes have a harmful effect on the people around her and she regrets that she bought the coin.
Write the first draft fast and let the words spill out. Don’t edit them!
Once I knew the basic storyline, I started writing. And here is an important piece of advice: Produce the first draft quickly, even if it’s terrible. Anne Lammott calls it the “shitty first draft”.
Veronica Roth, the author of Divergent, describes the process even more figuratively: “word vomiting”. She urges not to edit, though we may be tempted. I absolutely agree with her. Whenever I go back and edit, I lose time without producing much new material. Writing is like polishing diamonds: first you have the raw material, then you start editing it. In the same way, we have to create a complete first draft.
Research, Writing and Time Management
While writing my first draft, I like doing research in the same way as Joana Penn. For this novella, I dove into researching the different New York broadcasting companies and the whole Manhattan area. I am already familiar with New York City because of the research I did for Alice in Sinland, yet each new story takes time.
I’ve learned that doing research is important, and I love it, but it also takes time and energy away from actually creating new stuff. That’s why I advise doing the preliminary research before starting with the first draft, and the additional research after finishing the first draft.
When the first draft is done, it’s time to edit. This also includes cutting whole parts when necessary. In The Wishing Coin, I had to cut an entire page because it was out of line. Stephen King has said: “Good copy equals draft minus 10 percent.”
Bob Cooper goes even further with: “Look at every word in a sentence and decide if they are really needed. If not, kill them. Be ruthless.” I would add also a phrase by George Orwell: “Never use a long word when a short one will do.” The strategy that works for me the best in editing is reading aloud. You’ll be surprised to see how easily the wrong words/phrases pop up when you pronounce them.
I like plotting my fiction, and I would label myself as a plotter (someone who plans out their novel before they write it) rather than a pantser (someone who, “flies by the seat of their pants,” meaning they don’t plan out anything, or plan very little). Though I have always used Word as my writing software, I have been curious about Scrivener. Writing my current novella, I realized Scrivener is ideal for plotters, especially those using the Snowflake Method as developed by Randy Ingermanson.
I feel I would have written this novella even faster if it weren’t for the requirements of my day job, but it was still a good exercise. The main thing to do is to keep writing and reading — a lot. I hear a lot of traditionally published authors complain about self-publishing because of its huge quantity of low quality work, but let’s face it — quality will grow from quantity. Recently I found out that quote from Ray Bradbury:
Unless one is born a literary prodigy, it takes a lot of practice to craft a story. But even then, such exceptions occur because of hard work done in previous lifetimes. There is no escape from hard work!
I was seven years old when I started writing fiction for the first time, and I wrote terribly. It wasn’t until I was a bit older that my writing significantly improved. So don’t be afraid to put your words and ideas out there. The worst thing is not being criticized or disliked; the worst is not sharing your stories. And now we are all given that opportunity, so enjoy the journey!
Happy writing and reading!