At the start of the year, I set myself a challenge. I would only work on my novel. No fanfiction, no side-projects (except for this blog) just powering through the first draft.
I think I made it to March.
Some people can laser focus in on a single project, but that’s not how I work. I like to have something I can dip into every now and then, for when I want to create to unwind, or because I’ve got an idea that can’t wait.
I’ve written 50000 words of things other than my novel this year, and at times I’ve been frustrated with myself. I could have finished my first draft by now if I had stayed on track.
Not too frustrated though. Just because the words aren’t bolstering my first draft doesn’t mean they’re pointless.
Let’s just look at the numbers first of all. 50000 words. Give or take. Say I work at 1000 words an hour. I have good days and bad days, but that’s not an unreasonable estimate. That’s 50 hours of work then. Not too bad. More once you add in all the editing I’ve done, but I haven’t the slightest idea how to calculate that. Besides, that’s a whole other skill.
I bring it up because of the ‘ten thousand hours rule.’ Most people have heard of it before, but if you haven’t, it’s essentially the idea that it takes at least ten thousand hours of practice to master a skill, popularised by the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s not as simple as saying ‘if you do ten thousand hours you’ll be amazing.’ More it’s the amount of time the top people in their fields tend to have done over ten years. Fifty hours might not be much compared to ten thousand, but it’s still progress.
And then there’s what I actually wrote. I count nine complete fanfics with another two incomplete, one complete short story and another that’s half a first draft. A range of styles and topics and forms. These stories are unlikely to ever come to anything, but they were never intended to. That’s the beauty of it – they’re just experimentation, a chance to grow by doing something different. Some of the skills I’ve picked up along the way include:
- using cliffhangers to build tension
- resisting the urge to tie everything up neatly when an ambiguous ending has more meaning
- pacing a shorter work
- writing sensual scenes
- worldbuilding with extremely limited space
- designing a magic system to suit the plot
- writing a story that spans years
- writing a story that spans minutes
- linking multiple POV using repeated phrases
- knowing when my humour works and when it falls flat
And those lessons are just to do with the contents. I’ve learnt more about my natural rhythm of writing, which music works well, what times work best, that actually limited time is my friend.
I never would have gotten all of that from solely working on my novel, because I would have only been ‘writing’ for a year, not researching and editing and plotting and every other skill that goes alongside a completed piece. I’d be working in the same genre, with the same characters, not getting any feedback or time to truly examine and think about what I wrote. I’d be making progress with my words, but less with my skills.
I still work on my novel. I will keep doing so until it is done. And sometimes I have to buckle down and concentrate on it for a few weeks without other distractions. Sometimes that’s necessary to get things done. But if I want to unwind by writing something else, or if I have a burning idea, or a friend dared me to, I don’t feel guilty for dabbling in other things for a while. It never goes to waste.