Training for a Novel (Writing Update)

Recently, I’ve been putting in 5 to 7 hours of reading and writing a day. I’m in training. Like any athlete, I need to condition, to push myself, to master the skills of the game.

This may seem excessive, but Stephen King recommends at least 4 to 6 hours daily and Dean Koontz is known to write 12 hours every day—not including reading. I’ve been doing this for a couple weeks now and have yet to burn out. Fortunately, I understand my limits and know when I’m pushing myself too hard.

My goal (as I mentioned last month) is to start a new novel this winter, and while I’ve written 7 novels/novellas over the years, I have learned so much in this past year that I’m completely changing how I write, starting from scratch.

Below is my training regimen.

Short Stories

Via Wikimedia Commons

I recently learned that an author I know through Twitter has published 50 stories. Another author Tim Waggoner (see below) has published over 200. “Never compare yourself to other writers” is advice you’ll find everywhere. And I’m not. Instead, I’m using their accomplishments to encourage me.

Right now, I’m writing a short story every week. Some have promise. These I set aside to edit later. Others just don’t turn out right for whatever reason. They are not wasted, but rather part of the training process—a scrimmage rather than a championship game. Every word I write helps.

In A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway talks about his preparation for writing his first novel. To do so, he started writing longer stories, pushing past his normal length to experiment and practice. I’ve been doing the same. When I started out with my weekly stories, I wrote around 1500 words. Now, many of my stories extend past 5000 words, entering novelette length.

While I won’t publish 50 stories any time soon, I can actively start the process. It will mean a lot of rejection, which is something I can handle. My goal for the rest of the year is to submit as much as possible.

So far, I have 2 stories out in the world. Let’s see if I can fatten that bibliography.

Writing in the Dark

I am working my way through Tim Waggoner’s indispensable horror textbook Writing in the Dark. I have learned so much from it, more than any writing how-to book I’ve ever read. His immensely informative chapters end with a series of exercises. As someone who loves homework, I’m having a blast and learning a ton.

I’ve spent several months (with a break halfway through) studying the textbook, about a chapter a week. I only have 2 chapters left. Originally, I told myself that I would start my novel when I finished. Instead, I’m going to keep at it with the short stories. Like I said, I really need to hone the craft if I want this novel to succeed.


Next week I’ll share the books that I read this month. But in the meantime, here’s my game plan. As any author will tell you, reading is one of the most important things you can do to improve your writing. I’m trying to read as much horror as I can, focusing mainly on cosmic horror. I put in 3 hours of reading most nights. This may sound like a lot of books, but I’m a slow reader.

When I read, I study the craft at the same time. I see what the masters of the genre do and how they achieve it. Whenever I learn a new technique in Writing in the Dark, I pay careful attention to how each author uses it. As such, reading has helped me immensely—more than it ever has.

Plotting Vs. Pantsing

In last month’s writing update, I proclaimed that I was now a pantser, shunning all outlines in favor of a seat-of-the-pants approach. While I don’t think I’ll ever plot a short story again, I think that with a novel, an outline is necessary. It was a chapter of Writing in the Dark that convinced me of that.

Via Wikimedia Commons

I recently read an interview with author Blake Crouch, in which he describes his method that isn’t quite pantsing, isn’t quite plotting. Or rather, both at the same time.

He starts with notetaking and journaling, helping him to discover the plot and characters, before beginning an outline. This outline only extends to the midpoint, from there he pantses the rest of the story.

This method seems perfect for me. The first two-thirds of a novel need as much as help as you can give them. So many characters and details of plot need to be woven together that pantsing just doesn’t make sense. At least for me.

But the last third of a novel needs untethered inspiration—something hard to capture with an outline. As shown in the stories I’ve written recently, my best endings come from pantsing.

Though I’m waiting until December to start the novel, I plan to take Blake’s advice and begin the journaling/notetaking process now. In my experience, I’ll scribble down the occasional note here and there, and suddenly, a deluge of ideas will hit. If that happens, I may start the novel even sooner to capture that magic.

I’ll leave you with a paradox. Whenever I feel confident with the quality of my prose, it always suffers. But when I’m doubting myself, feeling like a failure, my writing is at its best. It just shows that it’s good to be a pessimist.


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