Or do I? This question has been nagging me lately, as writing time has been limited and I’ve been experimenting with different forms. I’ve been able to write a number of short stories (pretty good ones, too, if I may say so myself), but my novel-writing has left much to be desired. What gives?
With short stories, I can sometimes complete them in one sitting. An idea will come, I’ll hold on to it until I have a good chunk of time to write, and then I let it flow. Even if I don’t finish in that one sitting, I have a good chunk of the story done, a developed main character, and a clear vision of where everything will end up. And if for some reason I have to let the story sit and don’t come back to it for a prolonged period of time, it is easy to read all I have done and quickly get back into the mindset needed for this particular narrative.
Novels…now those are different stories.
One novel, I wrote the first draft in about 8 weeks, writing at 10 pages per day, three hours per day. It was a great experience, and I felt truly connected to the characters. Another one I wrote over a span of three days (which hundreds of people are doing right at this moment with the 3-Day Novel Contest). While I don’t think sleep deprivation and 72-hour writing marathons is the best formula for cranking out masterpieces, it was the closest I’ve come to being fully immersed in a story. Afterwards I felt like I had just watched a long-ass movie with only minimal involvement from me.
Now, however, I’m struggling a little bit. I recently started taking classes with the goal of applying to medical school next year. Organic Chemistry, Physics, and Cell Biology are currently on my plate. I’m getting married in December and currently write children’s stories for a website launching in a short few months. On top of this, I’m working on a novel that I’m fairly excited about. The only problem is: time. More specifically, frequency.
Now, let’s get this straight. I’ve made the decision to try and pursue medicine fully knowing that it will considerably slow down my writing progress. That said, it was a compromise I was willing to make. Being able to write a novel in two years instead of a few months: okay, I can live with that. What I’m starting to figure out, however, is that while someone writing full time might be able to finish a rough draft in 3-6 months, it’s not automatic to say that someone who is writing one-sixth that amount could be done in 1.5-3 years. And even if you do, the quality may be greatly compromised.
Here’s how I think of it. When you sit down to write everyday, the characters, themes, plot, etc, etc, are fresh in your mind. You’re closer to what I experienced during my writing marathon: letting the story come out of you so fluidly it’s as if someone else is writing it. If you can only write once per week, you may lose some of that. Every time you sit down to write, you may find yourself spending more time trying to play catch-up with the story. Or, even worse, you will try to immediately pick up where you left off and in the end your story will lack a certain degree of continuity, as your mindset could have drastically fluctuated during those breaks.
It would be nice to think of writing a long piece of work as analogous to building something. No matter how long of a break you take while building a house, when you come back you might only need to do a quick look-through to remember exactly what you have to do to continue. If you are one-hundred pages into your novel, however, are you going to read over the whole thing every time you’ve been away for too long?
To mitigate some of the worries I have, I am keeping a summary (almost like a concurrent synopsis) to help me come up to speed. Still, I can’t help but think that I am losing out on being in tune with the nuances of my characters and the plot by not writing daily. It makes me think that maybe, for now, I should stick to short stories.
So, what are your thoughts? Do longer pieces of work require a more frequent writing schedule? Or could a first draft worked on one per week over 3 years have the same potential as something built upon daily for three months? And, more importantly, should the amount of time a writer has available dictate the type of projects he or she takes on?
Or am I the only one?