Monday, January 25, 2010

VanderMeer on How To Write A Novel In Two Months

Jeff VanderMeer, author of the hardboiled fantasy Finch, lists what he learned from writing a novel in two months at his blog Ecstatic Days. Excerpts:
As someone who has never thought of himself as a fast writer, I had certain trepidations about this Predator novel gig, exacerbated by being sick for a couple of weeks when I'd planned to work on it and unexpected but lovely distractions (like Utopiales in France). The result is that I basically wrote Predator: South China Sea in two months. I had more than six months to work on it, but only spent about eight weeks at the computer and writing longhand. I'm almost hesitant to mention this because I think some readers and writers equate length of time spent on a project with quality. And it's certainly true that some ideas, some novels, require a long gestation period and an equally long time in which to revise, revisit, re-envision.

For example, long-time readers of this blog might recall that it took a decade to put together the stories that comprise City of Saints & Madmen and eight years to work on Shriek: An Afterword on-and-off. In my twenties, I was known to spend six months on a single short story or novella. ...

So, here's what I've learned.
Read the whole thing. What strikes me most about VanderMeer's concrete and very helpful advice is not so much the speed with which he wrote the novel in question, but the structure and preparation he put into composing it. Ask the average man on the street how big-name writers write, and you'll probably get a nebulous answer referencing "muses" or "inspiration" or "tapping life experience" or "just being born with it." And, yes, writing isn't exactly the same as accounting or plumbing. But it requires the same sort of skill, a dogged determination to apprehend arcane knowledge and master specific tools. It isn't some divine touch that teaches you how to construct plots or create characters. It's old-fashioned effort. First and foremost, writing is a craft, one we master with ink-spotted hands and wastebaskets full of crumpled drafts.

(Picture: CC 2010 by


Scattercat said...

To write a novel in two months you also need motivation. Given the general reaction to my short fiction, I find it very difficult to put in the time and effort of finishing my novel. This, unfortunately, is a self-fulfilling prophecy, since if I don't finish it, it will DEFINITELY never be published. Nonetheless, while I can get through a short story just on the basis of being able to see the finish line, I've got a good month or two of work left on the novel, at minimum, and every time I sit to try and peck away at it, I just look at the expanse of work ahead and go, "Why bother?"

I'm fairly certain this is a massive character flaw, but any time I try to talk about it I just end up fishing for compliments, which isn't really my goal.

Loren Eaton said...

If it's a character flaw, it's one I share. I told myself that I wouldn't start a novel until I was able to place a couple short stories in print. Part of that is wanting to hone the craft before tackling a big project; VanderMeer had a couple of collections under his belt before he wrote the Predator novel. Another part is fear of that debilitating discouragement. It's always crouching in some dreary corner of my mind; I beat it back with short projects.

Since you aren't fishing for compliments, I won't nibble -- but I could quite easily!

B. Nagel said...

That's why I'm trying to cheat by doing a thematic collection of shorts. That way I get length and achievability. Right?

We'll see. Nice write up, though. I clicked through and read the thing. I think I'll show it around as well. Unfortunately, it's a little long to print out and post on the bulletin board. I could do bullet points!

Loren Eaton said...

That's not cheating at all. If Bradbury did it, so can you!

Actually, I think bullet points of the whole thing would be a capital idea. The article is rather lengthy, and a synopsis could prove rather valuable for those pressed for time.