I’ve not posted often in the past month. I spent the time writing the first draft of a novel.
It was NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) — when several hundred thousand wannabe novelists around the world each set the goal of producing a 50,000 word first draft in the month of November.
I’m happy to say that I met my goal. It was really fun, even if it was exhausting. I learned a lot about myself as a writer. And I learned some entry-level lessons about writing fiction.
I do know that I’m only at the beginning of learning to write fiction. One of the Sayings of the Desert Fathers provides a cautionary tale:
Another brother spoke with the same Theodore, and he began to talk about matters of which he had no experience. Theodore said to him, ‘You’ve not yet found a ship to sail in, nor put your luggage aboard, nor put out to sea, and you’re already acting as if you were in the city which you mean to reach. If you make some attempt to do the things you are discussing, then you can talk about them with understanding.’
I wanted to make some progress as a fiction writer by writing, rather than pretending I’ve become an expert by reading about it. If I’ve never written a novel, what do I have to say to a novelist?
I’ve always found the idea of writing fiction tantalizing. I’ve written a lot of non-fiction in a variety of contexts. But I’ve only taken small forays into writing out stories of my own invention.
Until now. Writing fiction is something I’m convinced is worth doing for me. It is worth doing whether I ever even try to publish what I write or not. It is hard work, but strangely life-giving.
I had a number of goals for the project:
I wanted to grow in the discipline of writing more productively. 50,000 words in 30 days would be a higher daily word count than I’ve ever reached before. That’s 1,667 words per day if you write every day. I take Sunday as a day of rest — and between school closures, international travel, and Thanksgiving there were other days I could not write. A month of reaching 2000 words every day I wrote would “win” NaNoWriMo. And it might leave me well on the way to a habit. That kind of productivity will help with every kind of writing.
2. Story telling
I wanted to become a better story teller. I know my non-fiction writing will be stronger if I tell more stories and tell them better. Too much exposition and description and telling of things makes for dull reading. Stories bring readers in and carry them along. What better way to hone the skill than to practice writing fiction? One long story made up of a whole lot of shorter stories gave me a month to work on it.
3. Marking a change
I’m in a season of vocational change. I had seventeen years as a seminary professor. Now I’m a professor gone rogue. I’m learning to work entrepreneurially at the parts of my vocation I love most. That is fun, but change is hard. I thought taking a full month to do something completely new would be a great way of marking the change of seasons within myself.
4. Breaking new ground
I thought the whole process would bring growth — growth in skills but also growth in health. How right I was. There was something healing about the whole thing. I took a daily journey through the imagined struggles of people in a made up situation. Somehow this shone light into some sad darkened corners, even though the novel had nothing explicit to do with the life I’ve recently left behind.
Learning to write by writing fiction
So to those of you who prayed for me during NaNoWriMo, many thanks.
In Abba Theodore’s terms, I’ve only found a ship. I know I have not yet arrived at the city. But the journey so far has been great. I look forward to the many miles still to come.
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