5 Lessons From Writing a Novella in Two Weeks
How to invoke the blessings of the word gods
I’m writing this while sitting on top of a finished novella — a shiny stack of 21,300ish words that I’m curling around and protecting as viciously as Smaug the dragon guards his gold. And yet when I last watched a Disney movie, none of these words existed. Hell, even the concept of this story didn’t exist. I plotted it on the 12th of December and started writing; on the 27th, I typed the final word.
How did I do this? I’m honestly a little shocked myself. A common piece of writing advice is that this industry is equal parts luck and hard work, and I think the luck-lightning hit me with a surging, 1.21Gw bolt this Christmas. The plotting happened in a day, I didn’t write myself into any corners, and the character and place names sprung out of the ground as if they’d been waiting for me all along, tapping their feet and asking where I’d been.
But I also learned a couple of things about hard work — which is, I’ve always been told, the best way to make yourself lucky — and now I’m gonna tell you some of them.
Have a Plan
Maybe you’re a puritanical pantser and refuse to do any planning at all. Fine. Good luck. I assume that works for you. For the rest of us plebeians though, taking time to plan beforehand can actually make the drafting itself go faster.
I’ve tried lots of different angles when approaching long fiction, and nearly all of them have been disastrous (I pantsed a ‘novella’ almost three years ago and I’m still cleaning up the damned mess), but one has worked pretty well for me: a scene-by-scene plan. I open a Word doc and I write a bullet point summary — one bullet point per scene — until I reach the end. If I decide in a later scene that I need an object, character, or event, I go back and add that in to an earlier scene. Blam! Easy. Ish.
My plan for this novella was written in about five hours and came out at 17 scenes and 1,500 words. This method works best for me because I find if I have to think about the prose — what’s actually happening on the page — and the macro-scale plot at the same time, my writing is weakened. If, however, I can read a summary of what my writing needs to achieve today and then…