Twenty years ago, I wrote my first short story. Even then, at the age of twelve, I had a thirst for bringing stories to life on a page.
The story was about a teenager possessed by the murderous spirit of his dead uncle. I’m pretty sure the plot was influenced by several dozen horror films coming out in the early 1990s, but hey, it was a kid’s first effort at building suspense. I can’t say it was the most original, but I gave it a go. I wrote two sequels over the next year, and as I matured into a teenager, my judgmental inner critic took over and I never wrote a story again.
Five years ago, I got the writing bug again and started drafting a book. I didn’t know the first thing about writing a book, but I had a new story I was compelled to tell, so I started anyway. The words poured out of me at first, but eventually that same inner critic chipped away at me until I surrendered.
Our inner critic is a terrible monster, far crueler than any bad review could ever be. The inner critic knows your weaknesses, your insecurities, and he goes for the jugular every time. Suffice it to say, I never finished that book, and the story has become so diluted over time, I don’t know if I ever will finish it.
Last month I learned about a book called No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty. It’s a mind-boggling test of your sanity that pushes you to write your first draft of a novel in 50,000 words and 30 days. I have trouble with 30 day programs and usually either give up or lose interest in the first week. I knew it was really going to be a test of my will power and creativity.
On day one, I started with a blank slate, as the book recommends. I had no concept of the characters, plot, or locations. I just took an idea that popped into my head and ran with it, diligently writing each day and letting the fictitious characters hold my hand and lead me into their world. These characters told me how they feel, how they react in certain situations, and they told me their story as I listened to them. It felt like an out-of-body experience.
It’s been 20 days and I reached 25,000 words, which is only half of the goal I was supposed to meet. But the story is complete and I won’t be writing during the remaining 10 days (unless I get a sudden burst of inspiration).
By the standards of the No Plot? No Problem! book, I didn’t complete the assignment. But I feel that the story was successfully told in 25,000 words and I’m satisfied with the results. It has a clear beginning, middle, and end with multiple conflicts and resolutions.
Could the story be extended to 50k or 100k words? Absolutely. I think there is a lot of room to grow with this story, but it will require a visit from my inner critic in order to work out all the little details with character development and extended plot points. Now is not the time for the inner critic. It’s not the point of the first draft. My goal was to get a cohesive book written at break-neck speed, and I’ve succeeded.
The current status is novella, which 25k words is acceptable for. I’ve written my first novella and now I can go confidently into the future, knowing a lot more about the process of writing a book.
If you’ve ever wanted to write a book, I highly, HIGHLY encourage you to test out the principles of No Plot? No Problem! sometime very soon, before you talk yourself out of the idea. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication, but the rewarding feeling is worth every sleepless night and it’s over in the blink of an eye. A month later, you’ll have your first draft of a story done.
Who’s up for the challenge? Leave a comment and let me know!