René Penn

Author wannabe. Blogger. Follow me.


Leave a comment

10 Reasons I May Write a Novella Instead of a Novel

Don’t know whether to write a novel or novella? Me neither. And I’m still not sure where this train is headed.

my_tweet-12I’ve been diligently working on a novel for the last six months, and it’s been tough. No surprise there—that’s part of the writing journey. But while digging up writing tips, I stumbled upon various articles about writing novellas, like this really good one. Something about the concept speaks to me.

What is a novella?

A novella is typically a work of fiction between 10,000 – 50,000 words. It’s longer than a short story and shorter than a novel.

Here are some reasons why I’m interested in writing a novella instead of a novel—and reasons that the devil’s advocate whispers against it.

  • My novel manuscript is too short. This isn’t the first time I’ve struggled to get a manuscript to an ideal 80,000 word count. I abandoned a previous project because of that issue. When I come against this problem, I create subplots just to beef up my story to a novel-length. Many times I think it’s to the detriment of the story.

Devil’s advocate: Perhaps I need to pick better subplots.

  • I tend to write fast-paced scenes. I like to get in and out without a lot of languishing. This could be a fault to work on, or it could just be my style. I’m still trying to figure that out.

Devil’s advocate: If I work on my technique, the scene can be expanded without feeling like fluff. Should I consider writing a suspense or thriller where fast-paced scenes are expected?

  • A novella still uses the three-act structure. I like the format of a novel. It provides good guidance for the writer and leaves a reader feeling fulfilled. A novella adheres to that same structure, which still gives me plenty of room to play around and have fun.

Devil’s advocate: If I like the novel structure, then I should just write a novel!

  • I have a lot of story ideas. Like many aspiring authors, I have a lot of ideas swarming around in my head—nine at the current moment. I have a list of them so I don’t forget. But there is something to be said for striking while that iron is hot. When the iron cools, I lose the creative boost that got me excited to begin with. This leads me to my next point.

Devil’s advocate: There will always be ideas. Just stick with one idea at a time until it’s done. Improve my “writer-stick-to-it-ness.”

  • I want to start working on the next idea. If I write shorter manuscripts, I wonder if I can crank through them faster, which will allow me to get to my next idea quicker. It’s all about feeding the creative beast.

Devil’s advocate: That’s an excuse. I’m a writer—which means, as long as I’m alive, that writing beast will be hungry.

  • Novellas are series-friendly. My current WIP is about one character, but I envision writing separate books with points-of-view of two other characters. Series are hot and hook readers. They can follow the continued life of a character, provide a spinoff for other characters, develop more opportunities for world-building, or link a connected, interesting theme.

Devil’s advocate: I can use these ideas as subplots to increase the length of my manuscript to the size of novel.

  • I want to finish. I’m impatient. I want the satisfaction of completing the novel, having it proofread and completed. I love writing, but there’s something to be said for finishing a project. The sense of accomplishment is satisfying, and it could happen more often with novellas.

Devil’s advocate: Patience is a virtue. With practice and perseverance, I’ll finish novel-length projects faster.

  • I could self-publish. Novellas are getting more and more popular, especially within the digital space. The shorter length works well for readers who like snack-size books, as well as meal-size novels. This market is perfect for the self-publishing industry, giving authors the chance to have total control of their creativity and marketing.

Devil’s advocate: When writing novellas, there really isn’t much choice but to self-publish anyway, for the most part.

  • Novellas can be bundled into a novel. If I decide to follow the same character through two or three novellas, for instance, they could be bundled together to create a novel. That book could then be sold separately to satisfy the needs of readers and agents interested in a conventional, novel-length work.

Devil’s advocate: If the end result is to get to a novel-length book, then why go through the trouble of working on shorter ones?

  • I can test the waters. Releasing a novella allows for faster feedback from readers, especially with a series in mind. If the feedback is good, it will provide incentive to keep going, all while building a reader base.

Devil’s advocate: I can also receive feedback from beta-readers—on a book of any length—without having to release a novella.

As you can see, I’m still deciding what to do. And there are some good cases made here by my Devil’s advocate.

Are you writing novellas instead of novels, or have you written both? Please share why have you decided to write, or not write, novellas.


Leave a comment

…And Then I Saw ‘Lady Bird’

charles-deluvio-466054-unsplash.jpgI’ve been behind the writing schedule I set for my novel-in-progress. I should have already sent out my third draft to two beta readers. They may have even provided feedback by now, if they were completely riveted by the story. (Or not.)

As the dates slid, I decided not to wag the finger at myself anymore for being off-schedule. It was my own schedule, not one set by Random House (or any house, for that matter). It was okay to be “late.” To think otherwise would have been silly, counter-productive, and, in a way, self-destructive to the process.

I shook it off, plugged away, kept going. I said to myself, in the New Jersey accent I wish I still had: “Finish the freakin’ thing, already!”

Finally, I got the first half of the book over to two beta readers last week. I was revising the rest. I had only 20 pages left to the end, and two more new scenes to add.

…And then I saw Lady Bird.

It’s a fresh, coming-of-age story about a non-Catholic, Catholic high-schooler who has cool hair, likes snacks, falls in love, carries unrealistic expectations about a myriad of things, feels too big for her little-big city, and has Mommy issues. The script has a scrappy feel to it. And the actors deliver the snappy lines perfectly.

I loved it. And I couldn’t stop thinking about it afterward.

Creative ideas were crowding my writer-brain: I should write a script again; maybe a coming-of-age film. Dare I?

But wait, I still have those 20 pages to revise and the two scenes to write with my WIP.

I was getting ahead of myself, ready to follow the next shiny-penny-writing idea, when the finish line was right there, so close. Thankfully, yesterday, I finished that third draft. The beta readers have the whole book now. I can start working on my Lady-Bird-inspired screenplay-that-will-be-only-a-fraction-as-good.

Yet, I still need to research agents that I’ll want to contact when the book is finally ready to shop around. I have to write a query letter. The WIP is still a work-in-progress.

What is a lady to do? What would Lady Bird do? She would be inspired. She would have a snack. I’ll start there, and will keep you posted on what follows.

Photo by Charles Deluvio 🇵🇭🇨🇦 on Unsplash


Leave a comment

Relationship status with my second draft: It’s complicated.

my_tweetWhy does working on the second draft of my book remind me of a relationship? And I don’t mean that in a Beyonce-Single-Ladies-carefree-dating-kind-of way. I’m talking about the awkward stage. Where you’ve been dating someone for a while, and it’s starting to feel like “work.”

It wasn’t always this way. When we were in the first draft stage of our relationship, it was organic and stress-free. Things seemed to click. Sure, there were a few hiccups. But nothing that we couldn’t get over. The more time I spent with it, the more I liked it—especially because it made me laugh.

I’d lose track of time when I was writing it. There were late nights and early mornings. I daydreamed of what the cover would look like when it was published. I even made a mock-up of it in Microsoft Word. I know, I know I was gettin’ all carried away. Silly me. But what can I say? I was excited about it. Vested. Committed.

Now that we’ve passed the first draft phase, and we’re now into the second draft, things are more complicated. I’m really starting to notice the quirks. Like, I’m not sure if it’s as funny as I thought. We don’t spend as much time together as we used to, either. Sometimes, I’ll go a whole day without being in contact. And when I do spend time with it, I’m picking it apart, examining the flaws, trying to fix them, make it better.

I compare it to published books, and I wonder if it’ll measure up. Worse yet, my mind has started to wander. I think about other story ideas, and how much easier it would be to start from scratch, a blank page. That’s where the thrill is, when you’re still trying to figure it out, the plot’s turning points, the characters’ motivations. Discovery is exciting. After that, it starts to feel like…work.

I’m too far into this manuscript to give up now, though. As I rewrite the first few chapters, I’m realizing that the foundation is there. The dialogue still makes me laugh, and I find that I still enjoy reading it. Sure, some things are being fine-tuned, but that’s part of the process. I’m too far along to turn back now. I think I’ve got a good thing going, and I’m not going to give it up.


Leave a comment

Bird by Bird, Word by Word

my_tweet-6

The phrase “bird by bird” has been running through my mind a lot lately.

If you recall—or if you don’t, or if you’re unaware—the phrase came to be 50-something years ago while a boy was overwhelmed with the task of writing a report about birds. The boy was author Anne Lamott’s younger brother.

“We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott

It’s funny how the brain recalls things. I haven’t read Bird by Bird in years. Yet, that short scene of father and son is so powerful, and its’ resonance has rippled throughout the writer community, that it’s no surprise that it came back to me—especially now.

I’m at that place, at the kitchen table, “immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead.” But instead of “unopened books on birds” before me, I’ve got a file of my sh*tty first draft open. On my computer, I also have a growing list of edits to review when I proof the draft later, and a running list of things to research for historical accuracy. And there’s that deadline I gave myself, because I don’t want to meander around the pasture too long.

“Bird by bird.”

I have been saying it out loud to myself on those days where I feel sluggish, those days that I feel overwhelmed, the days that I feel less-than, the days where I go from, “Yes, my end goal is to find an agent and become a published author” to “perhaps I should just self-publish something just for my friends and family to read,” those days of self-doubt, of nitpicking, of not feeling good enough.

There’s something cathartic about the term “bird by bird,” when you give it all the power of its’ intention. It can become cathartic, hopeful, empowering, and even whimsical. And there’s more force behind it when the phrase is said aloud. You start to claim it and own it.

The last time I said “bird by bird,” I added on “word by word” to it. Yes, I’ll admit that I probably said it haphazardly at first, because of the rhythm. But when I thought about it a little more, I realized that there was depth to it. That little add-on reminds me how far I’ve come. To get to the place I’m at, to get to this sh*tty first draft, I had to write word by word.

If I keep doing what I’m doing, bird by bird, then I’ll get to the second draft, and so on and so forth…

I decided to revisit the book that made the phrase so famous. I pulled the copy from my bookshelf. The copyright date is 1994. I seem to remember buying it within a few years of publication. I had underlined some sentences, dog-eared some pages. This was around the time that I started to take this whole writing thing more seriously. I wanted to study the craft of it, understand it better, understand why I felt the way that I did about the process–immobilized, afraid, enthused, excited. The book helped with all of that, and then some.

Twenty years later, it’s still helping.

 

Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash


1 Comment

It’s Just a First Draft, Right?

drew-hays-26241.jpgI know, it’s just a first draft. Just get it out! Just go crazy! Just brain dump! Who cares how many times you just wrote “just?” Or that you used too many exclamation points? Don’t worry about commas or split infinitives or run-on sentences or bad grammar. In some cases, you may not even be able to read what you wrote, but later you’ll know what you meant. It’s okay for now, because it’s just a first draft.

Description is important, but not right now. It will just slow you down. Do people even want to know what pain smells like, what color the weather is, or if perfume has a taste? You could spend 30 minutes thinking of the right way to describe the mildew in your antagonist’s shower. Close the thesaurus.com browser. You’re wasting valuable writing time. You can add your descriptions later. This is just a first draft, right?

Don’t think about whether your scenes are out of order. That can be fixed during your next draft, which you won’t get to until after 300 pages of word-vomit are typed or handwritten, and chunks of it will have to be rewritten anyway, because it won’t make logical sense. But it’ll make sense to you later, because the scenes are in the right order in your head. For now, it’s just a first draft.

Eyes and hearts. You’ll want to avoid them in your next draft. But in this one, you can write about eyes and hearts all you want. Everyone can stare into each other’s eyes, even if you don’t know what color the characters’ eyes are yet. So yes, by all means, let your heroine’s heart burst with happy-ever-after love, and all of the cliche things that come to mind. You can fix that later. It’s just a first draft, right?

It’s okay if you don’t have concise, snappy dialogue. You’ll develop the character’s voices as you go. Let them ramble away for now. It’s better to understand the dynamic. You can cut what doesn’t work later.

Speaking of “cut,” don’t cut anything as you write. Pretend your keyboard doesn’t have the delete or backspace buttons. Your pencil doesn’t have an eraser. Your pen can’t draw a heavy dark line through the written gobbledygook. And don’t analyze how all of the extra words will effect your word count.

Oh yeah, word count. That can be a stickler. But don’t let it be. Just write what you want to write. Tell your story. Don’t worry how long or short your book is going to be. It doesn’t matter if you over-write or under-write. Unless your protagonist is actually an underwriter. And if they are, you can change them to a law-firm partner later.

This is just the first draft. The only one who is going to see—and is only ever meant to see—this crappy, ill-written, mental-mush first draft is you, right?

Right!

Good. I’m glad that’s settled. Now, about that second draft…

 

Photo by Drew Hays on Unsplash


Leave a comment

Establishing a Daily Routine to Help My Writing

It’s time that I start working on a writing routine, because yesterday morning I spent about 90 minutes looking at YouTube videos from the Graham Norton Show. By the end of it, I had tears streaming down my face and an ab workout from laughing so much. Then, writer’s guilt slapped me in the face. The time on the clock set me straight, and I dove into my WIP. I managed to write 1,800 words, but it was a bit frazzling. I don’t want to repeat yesterday’s action of going down the Internet rabbit hole, so here’s the daily routine I want to establish for myself. nick-morrison-325805

Morning:

  • Check and engage in social media and blog

Since my instinct in the morning is to pick up my phone and start web-surfing, it may be better not to fight it. Here’s my chance to check my WordPress and Twitter stats, view other people’s posts and spend some time engaging with others. I also spend this time catching up on regular news.

  • Work on blog post

While I was working full-time, I was able to write one blog post per week. Now, I’m going to try to increase it to two, and see how that goes. I don’t want to overcommit myself, because if I don’t do it, writer’s guilt sets in. (I’m noticing a pattern about writer’s guilt. Definitely a future blog post idea.)

  • Spend time creating

I’m convinced that my novel writing is better and more focused when I have another creative outlet. That’s one of the reasons I started making jewelry a few years ago, blogging is, too. Novel writing, for me, has been a slog-through-the-mud experience that may or may not lead to a completed manuscript. When I make jewelry or work on my blog, it satisfies that need for an immediate sense of accomplishment. I don’t do this every day, but I’m aiming for twice a week.

  • Go to the “office”

I can work on my blog at home, no issues there. But when it’s time to push out hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of words, I need to be in a space where I’m less distracted—where no dishes, laundry, TV or nap-friendly couch are calling for my attention. My office is the library. The book stacks are inspiring. And I don’t have to feel obligated to buy a cup of tea, like I would at a cafe, when I really just need to park my bum for 4 hours and write.

  • Write

Yes, blogging is writing, but the bulk of my writing time is spent on my novel-in-progress. My goal is 1,800 words per day. If I can commit to that, I’ll feel like I’ve truly earned my imaginary paycheck that day. How did I come up with the 1,800 word count? If I’m working on an 80,000-word manuscript at a clip of 1,800 words per day between Monday – Friday, then it would take about 2 1/2 months to finish. Give myself a 2-week grace period for any below-average productivity, and that allows for a 3-month timeframe. I think that’s respectable.

Afternoon:

  • Exercise

I know, I know. Exercise isn’t part of the writing process, but it makes me more energetic, which makes me a better writer. When I commit to three days of exercise a week, I’m not as lethargic. Depending on the weather, I alternate between aerobics, yoga, dance (I have fun trying to follow dance-tutorial videos, and I fail, epically), walking, jogging, and biking.

  • Write some more

After lunch is when I usually hit my stride. freestocks-org-229658The morning cobwebs are gone. I’ve spent some time thinking about what I want to write that day, and I’ve gotten my distractions out of the way.

Evening:

  • Read a book and maybe write even more

It’s baseball playoff time, and my hubby is all about MLB on TV right now. Me? Not so much. At first, I wanted the remote-control time back. But now I use that game time to catch up on a book or do more writing or blog-post tweaking.

RELATED ARTICLE: Famous authors and their daily routines

For those of you with day jobs, I know what you’re thinking: This is not doable for my schedule. harry-sandhu-209807You’re right. I wasn’t able to do it that way, either. But there are pieces of it that may be applicable to your daily routine. Here’s what I did while I was working my “8-to-5.”

Mornings for day job routine:

  • Check social media and blog

I rode mass transit to work, so I spent my riding time scrolling through my phone. If you have to drive, then I would spend 15 minutes before leaving home or when you get to the office (shh, we won’t tell anyone).

  • Write

During the ride, I would pull out my laptop or notebook and write for 10 – 15 minutes. Again, if you have to put hands on a steering wheel, then take the time during your lunch break to write.

  • Wake up early

Even better, wake up earlier to spend time writing or engaging on social media before you go to work. I spent a year waking up 30 minutes earlier than normal to write, and that’s how I finished my first full manuscript.

Evenings for day job routine:

  • Cut TV time, write instead

If you have what I call passive TV time—where you’re watching TV, but it’s really watching you—then pull out your laptop or notebook for 15 minutes. You may surprise yourself how far you can go. Just 200 words during Wheel of Fortune will add up over time.

  • Exercise while watching TV

You could do some squats, jumping jacks, and jog-in-place movements for 15 minutes while watching TV, to incorporate exercise and get energized.

Travel for work? You could consider writing in the airport or station, on the plane or train, and during any layovers.

RELATED ARTICLE: 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature winner Kazuo Ishiguro describes his “Crash” routine while writing Remains of the Day

What’s your daily writing routine? Is it working? Or do you prefer not to have one?

 

Photos by Harry Sandhu, freestocks.org and Nick Morrison on Unsplash


3 Comments

Yikes, I Just Signed Up for NANO

I just signed up for NANO. What have I done? *faints*

fainting-couch-problems

Many writers know why those seemingly harmless initials can cue thoughts of fainting, cold sweats, and uncontrollable facial twitching—and that’s the reaction for those of us who haven’t even participated in NANO before.

If the term NANO is new to you, it’s a tender little nickname for National Novel Writing Month. But there’s nothing tender about it. When you participate, you’re signing up to write 50,000 words of a novel, preferably a new one, between November 1 and November 30. That equals 1,667 words per day, for you MathWriterMeticians out there. On Friday, I wrote about 1,900 words, and my brain felt like cottage cheese afterwards. How can I sustain that kind of output for a month straight?

Luckily, there are no NANO police officers who will ticket us for not exactly adhering to the rules. I was assured that fact by a couple of regional liaisons for NANO, who lead a writer’s group that I attended. I also learned:

  • It’s okay if I continue working on my novel-in-progress during NANO. I just need to have a clean slate for my NANO word count starting November 1. Example scenario: My novel may already be at 50,000 words on Day 1 of NANO. If I get to 52,000 at the end of the day, I should log in that I’ve written 2,000 words for NANO. But no matter what, you can’t include the word count of anything written before November 1. Editing doesn’t count, either.
  • There are resources available through NANO, like online forums and write-ins. A write-in is basically a meet-up where folks get together to work on their NANO projects. Oh, and you’re allowed to talk while you’re there, too.
  • There are cute badges and certifications if you make the 50,000-word goal.
  • Even if you don’t hit 50,000 words, there’s a sense of accomplishment no matter what. The odds are high that you’ve written more by the end of November than you did in October or September, and so on.

So who else has signed up? What pointers do you have for me to survive the month of November?