Really, A Marathon

The big day’s here! The Sunday Writing Marathon will begin shortly. I’ll be doing occasional updates here. Wish me luck!

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A Marathon

Not a real marathon. Oh god no. For the time being, I’m content that I’ve actually lost enough weight to see my ankles without bending down (much). No, in typical Life of an English Major fashion, I’m talking about a writing marathon. Since I’ve yet to come up with a suitable topic for the Infinite Novel, I had a slightly saner and much stupider idea: why not spend an entire day writing? Because there’s no way banging on a keyboard and staring at a screen for twelve hours could hurt anybody, right?

Here’s the plan: this Sunday, I’ll get up, eat breakfast, and then write all day. From nine in the morning to nine at night. Twelve hours of constant writing, stopping only long enough to pee, guzzle coffee, gorge on premature Halloween candy, and clutch my ruined fingers and weep.

If all goes well, check my Twitter profile on September 27th. In between finger-ruining and frustrated head-banging, I’ll be posting updates.

(I love how I wrote this whole post with a straight face, as though I have, like, actual readers)

The Writings Page is Back Up

As far as this site goes, this was a pretty excellent turnaround time. I’ve removed a few of the stories I thought were crap or at least in need of revision, and added two new ones. Enjoy! (Note: I may very well be posting the first chapter of my novel Sirens as soon as I get it revised, although I don’t know if I’ll post the whole thing).

AdSpace — The Internet had finally become the great electronic universe it was always expected to be, a place where great minds could come together and do great things. Then, in a flash, the evolution of advertising wiped it all out, and Shiva spends his days zealously hunting spam in the ruins of cyberspace.

Bugs — Josh and Sandy Richter were enjoying their generic domestic life together until the old man downstairs killed himself. Rumors spread that a battle with bedbugs drove him to suicide, and soon, the super is ailing, too, and anything that crawls becomes a horrific menace.

Another New Short Story: “The Boat”

As I walked home from class today, I was in the mood for some symbolism. I started thinking about my life, and about the way society sort of “threw me out of the boat” when I was younger. Then, this story wrote itself. Of course, with any allegory, there’s the risk that people aren’t going to be able to figure out what is a symbol for what, or worse, that you’ll seem pretentious, but I hope you enjoy it anyway. Here’s how I summarized it on the Writings page:

A short and semi-autobiographical allegory about society, survival, religion, life, being an outcast, and our incredibly mysterious ability to hold ourselves up, even when nobody else will.

You can read The Boat here.

Advice for Aspiring Novelists

Regular readers will know that I love to write. I’ve written more short stories than I can count, at least a few of which don’t suck, along with two novels (both of which do suck), and two more in progress. None of my stuff has been published yet (here’s hoping, though!), but I like to think that I’ve gained a lot of useful experience these last few years. So, in The Life of a Math Major tradition, I present yet another bulleted list of tips for writers. This time, though, the advice is geared more towards novelists, the marathon-runners of the writing world. Like running a marathon, writing a novel takes a lot of practice, a lot of determination, a good bit of self-delusion, and you’re going to come to the starting line and chicken out a few times before you actually manage to run your first race. So, in order to help other aspiring novelists, here’s a metaphorical cup of Gatorade to keep you from conking out at mile ten (yes, I am sticking by that metaphor. It’s a good metaphor. Don’t give me that look, it is!):

  • Even arbitrary deadlines help. I discovered this the first time I participated in National Novel-Writing Month. NaNoWriMo offers no prizes other than bragging rights and a nice certificate, and there are no measures in place to keep people honest. And yet, that goal of fifty thousand words in thirty days always drives me forward, somehow. Before I discovered NaNoWriMo, I found it impossible to maintain the necessary momentum to finish a whole novel. With the arbitrary deadline hanging over my head, though, suddenly, I could do it.
  • Enter contests. NaNoWriMo is a good one, but any writing contest will do. If you don’t have one available, start one. Once you know that you really can write a whole novel, you won’t have to worry about it, and you can concentrate on writing something good.
  • Never give up. While writing my current novel, something unprecedented happened. About a month ago, I got a nasty case of writer’s block, followed by insomnia and a really busy period at school, so I stopped writing for a month. With every one of my previous novels, that’s been a death sentence. This time, though, even though I knew I’d have trouble getting back into the spirit of the novel, I started writing again. And it worked. The novel is now resurrected. The moral: never give up on a novel. If you want badly enough to write it, you can, no matter what gets in your way.
  • Start with a good idea. This connects to the “if you want badly enough to write it, you can” thing in the previous bullet point. Let’s face it, a novel is really hard work. You have to put a lot of energy into it, so don’t try to write any story idea as a novel unless you really, really (really) like it. If you have an idea you’re not sure of, write it as a short story to test it out.
  • One piece at a time. When you sit down to work, try not to think about the fact that you’re writing a novel. That’s a good way to get overwhelmed. A novel is a daunting project, and until you’re finished, it can be hard to feel like you’ve accomplished anything. So what I’ve done with my current novel is to write it one chapter at a time. Not only does this fit nicely within my limited attention span, but it allows me to feel like I finished something, like I’m going somewhere. As long as you make sure the chapters dovetail nicely with one another, then this method shouldn’t do any damage to your plot.
  • You have to actually write stuff. Every writer who gives advice ends up saying this eventually, but it’s true. To keep a novel alive, you have to write, preferably every day. If you don’t, it can be hard to get back into the right mood. And just as importantly:
  • Don’t be afraid to write rubbish. In all likelihood, it’s not rubbish. In my experience, most writers think the stuff they write is crap. Don’t worry about that. Even if what you’re writing really is rubbish, keep writing it anyway. You can fix it in your revisions. The important thing is not to let it stop you. A novel with a few rough patches is better than a novel that never gets finished. At least the latter can be fixed. If the plot starts to wander away from where you wanted it to go, gently push it back and move on.

I wish I also had some advice for how to revise your novel, but I’m still stuck on that step myself, and don’t even get me started on getting it published. For that, I’d need someone to give me some bullet points. For now, though, I hope you find these tips useful.