Reflections from completing a novel

As some of you know, I’ve been working on a novel-length project since October 2018, and I finally finished it in October 2019! It’s a paranormal romance, heavy on the smut. Here are some reflections on finishing my first* novel-length work!

  1. Writing while working with a part time v. full time job
  2. Writing in 15 minute increments
  3. It took me a year!
  4. I used writing prompts
  5. Octavia E. Butler’s wisdom
  6. bonus lesson: people are surprisingly chill with fanfic

The long version under the cut.

Writing while working with a part time v. full time day job

When I began my novel-length project, I was working part-time. I learned just how much output I could do with this amount of leisure time! I guesstimate ~40k (40,000 words) in 3 months, which for me is large given 12k was my previous best while a college student.

Mid-way in, I began working full-time. Unsurprisingly, my word count tanked once I began working full-time.

I don’t regret taking the full-time job (yay savings and health care!), but it has been a lesson in divorcing my writer chops from productivity as I learned by…

Writing in 15 minute increments

In college, a favorite professor advised spending just a tiny bit of time every day on a project. Even just 5 minutes! This advice came back to me multiple times, and I blew it off time and time again in favor of working on a project in one long chunk of time. This time, though, I finally understood it.

I probably wrote the bulk of this fic in many small increments. Word Wars on Discord servers were really helpful when I didn’t feel motivated to write. Funnily enough, just like yoga, when I budget the time, I often spend much longer than the “5” minutes I promise myself once I get going!

I also learned it’s okay for me to have my first 15 minutes of writing being internet surfing. Sometimes it just takes me that long to shift mindsets and settle in for writing.

It took me a year!

Some people do well in NaNoWriMo, cranking out 50k in 1 month. I am not that person, lol. Especially while working in such small time increments, it did take me a whole year to write a novel. There were unexpected discoveries of writing this way though! For example, when writing sex scenes, I couldn’t remember where people’s hands were, or if I’d had a character remove their pants three times already! Similarly, by month 9 it was hard to remember the stuff I wrote back in month 1. Fortunately, I had left brief notes about what I wanted to put in future chapters, which was immensely helpful.

Using writing prompts

I’m still working on having a good guesstimate of my final word count while writing the story. Usually I write key scenes non-linearly, and the last time I had the skeleton of a story at ~5k it grew to 12k at the finish line. But since I wrote this story via writing prompts it proved difficult to guesstimate. Although I should’ve known it’d be at least 31k (there were 31 prompts, and I was averaging ~1k per prompt in the beginning), not the “quick” series I’d planned.

By doing one chapter per prompt, my chapter lengths wound up varying wildly, from 800 words to 7000. It depended on how much I needed to fit into each chapter.

Circling back, when I write non-linearly, there’re a lot of questions about when I’ve written enough key scenes to go and fill in the blanks. With the prompts, this was less of an issue. From the jump, I knew the general plot I wanted to do (sometimes prompts just hit me that way!). The prompts were their own sort of sign posts on how to proceed.

So, going forward, I might do more prompt challenges. Part of me thinks using prompts to write a novel makes me a “bad” writer, but hey, if it helps it helps!

Octavia E. Butler’s wisdom:

“First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.”

–from “Furor Scribendi” in Bloodchild I think

While my initial reaction to this quote was “No! I love inspiration!” lo and beheld when my inspiration dried up, I stopped writing. With my muse returned, this project taught me the value of persistence. Yes, inspiration flowed freely, giving me the broad plot points of my book. But there were still chapters that proved difficult to write. Particularly, the sex scenes which I thought would be easy, proved some of the hardest parts to write. And the only way to get through it was to sit down and write, no matter how much it felt like pulling a sword out a stone. But I did, and that’s how I got to the end.

It was a blend of both inspiration and long, hard work.

Bonus lesson: people are surprisingly chill with fanfic

Because this project is fanfic, I’ve been calling it a “novel-length work” instead of a “novel” in hopes people wouldn’t ask if I was going to publish it. Because when they ask, I have to tell them “I can’t publish it” and then they ask why, and then I must reveal the torrid secret that it’s really fanfic. While in bios, I freely admit I participate in fandom, IRL it’s intimidating to say I write fanfic. I came up in the generation where it was a secret hobby. But maybe I should just own it and say I wrote a novel. Maybe my reticence to call writing ~70k words “not a novel” because it’s fanfic, is some kind of internalized low v. high art nonsense? Because no one whipped out pitchforks when I told them it was fic.

I know some people advise against pouring your energy into writing fanfic because it’s time and effort better spent on original works, but I don’t regret my time or effort. I wrote this out of passion/love and holy smokes am I grateful to even be writing again, to be in love with writing again. So no, I don’t regret writing this.

Plus the concept my work’s needs to gain me monetary gain is capitalist af, so GDIAF capitalism.

*When I was ~12, I wrote a 49k self-insert mecha multiple-world story. (Despite being a self-insert, this piece was not fanfic and was in fact entirely original!) Since then, I hadn’t written anything that even approached that length. It feels like a breakthrough to regain this magic as an adult. Much like Lyra relearning the alethiometer as an adult perhaps.

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