Clarion West Write-a-Thon Midterm Report

I’ve gotten through twenty-one days of the Clarion West Write-a-thon– precisely halfway. It’s been mostly successful: after 21 days, I’m sitting at 21,199 words, which means that so far I’ve hit my goal of 1,000 words a day. I’ve dropped below 1,000 on a few individual days (see the Write-a-thon tab for daily progress), but as long as I can maintain that 1,000 word average I’ll call it a win.

Unfortunately, I didn’t make my secondary goal, which was to submit a fantasy short story to the Writers of the Future contest. I think that particular story needs more time to simmer in my head. I false-started writing it about six times, mainly because I wasn’t sure how to get from the beginning to the really cool ending I had envisioned. I like the setting, but the characters and the plot were a little threadbare, and I could never make everything mesh the way I wanted to. The setting is complex enough that I think it could support a novel, so that story may yet become my NaNoWriMo novel this year.

Maybe it’s for the best. The short story needed to take a back seat to the novel anyway. I’m still hoping to have the whole first draft of the novel complete by WorldCon, and those 21,199 words (with at least another 21,000 to be added during the rest of the Write-a-Thon) are an important step.

In the course of these 1,000-word-a-day spurts, I’m coming to terms with an important fact: the first draft of this novel is a long, long way from finished. In fact, it’s closer to an outline than a finished novel.

When writing passages for a novel (or any story), there’s a lot to keep in mind: realistic and consistent voice and motivation for each character; a fully-realized, consistent, and deep setting; a plot that’s interesting and complex without being convoluted. You need good dialogue, good descriptions, prose that reflects the pace of the story, among many other things, and it’s easy to get bogged down or overwhelmed.

As I near the end of the first draft, I’ve basically shelved all concerns except for two: (1)figuring out how to progress the plot toward where I want it to go, and (2)examining character motivations. Often this takes the form of long, introspective sequences that have no place in, say, an action scene, but which I need in order to get a grip on what the characters would be thinking and doing in the situation. If I can get the characters feeling right in my head, and ensure that I know what’s going to happen next, then in the next draft I can excise a lot of the rambling, and put in better description, and ensure that all the little setting details are consistent, and make sure that everything I’ve put into the ending is foreshadowed in the beginning, and…

Man, who knew that writing a novel was this hard?

In all seriousness, though, I’m really enjoying the write-a-thon, and I’m hopeful that in addition to bringing me much closer to finishing my first novel, it’ll help me establish a more consistent daily writing routine. If you’d like to sponsor me, for any amount (all funds go to the Clarion West Writers’ Workshop), I’d really appreciate it. Just click on the Paypal link on my Clarion West Writers Page, located here. Or, if you look at the directory of Write-a-thon writers and see any other writers you’d like to sponsor, you can make one donation and split it among multiple writers.


The Clarion West Write-a-Thon

Update: The Write-a-thon has started! Click the “Write-a-thon” tab at the top of the page to see my day-to-day progress.

A few days ago I signed up for the Clarion West Write-a-Thon. For those unfamiliar with Clarion West, it’s an intensive six-week workshop during which participants basically eat, live, and breathe writing. During those six weeks, they attend classes taught by well-known professional authors of science fiction and fantasy: in the past, instructors have included Greg Bear, Orson Scott Card, Harlan Ellison, Ursula K. LeGuin, Cory Doctorow, and China Mieville, among many others.

I won’t be attending the actual workshop. Not this year, anyway (hopefully I’ll be able to attend sometime in the next few years). Instead I’m doing the Write a Thon, which anyone can sign up for, and during which participants set a writing goal and sort of “shadow” the workshop during the six weeks in which in takes place.

This year, Clarion West (and hence the Write-a-Thon) takes place from June 19-July 29. During those six weeks, my goal is to write 1,000 words a day toward the first draft of my novel. Hopefully this will enough for me to actually finish the first draft– if I finish before the six weeks is up, I will consider that a success. Or if I don’t finish, but still manage to add 40,000 words to the novel, that’ll be a success, too.

I have a secondary goal as well, which is to finish the short story that I’ve been poking at for a few weeks and submit it to the Writers of the Future contest by the end of June. That means my writing plate is going to be really full until the end of the month, although things will get easier in July. 1,000 words a day is the pace I set during May, when I was attempting a personal NaNoWriMo, so this is pretty much going to be six weeks of the same thing. If you’re interested in showing your support, and also supporting Clarion West (which is one of a few workshops that helps develop serious talent in the genre), go to my Clarion West Writer’s Page and make a donation via the PayPal link. If you’re a sci-fi/fantasy fan, then the money’s definitely going to a good cause.

I’ll post to the blog with regular updates on how things are going. And hopefully by the end of it, I’ll have the finished first draft of a novel to show for it.