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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Feed Your (Novel) Beast Every Day: A 100-Day Challenge by Tana Essary

After a year of saying I was turning my award-winning short story into a full-length novel, I found myself still floundering. I said I was working on my book, and I was at least opening my laptop and looking at the beast every day, but was not sustaining enough daily effort to keep us both happy and moving in the right direction. I would take it out and play with it a little, proudly tell all my friends about it, think about it constantly, but I was just keeping it barely alive. I was not feeding it generously enough with a steady diet of nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. Every. Single. Day. In that year, my poor novel shivered with emaciation, having grown by only 30,000 words or so. Not at all close to where I wanted the two of us to be by now.

About three weeks ago, I listened to an RWA conference download called The Do-Over: Five Authors Dish on Lessons Learned, available on the RWA website. One of the authors shared something that helped her develop a consistent writing habit and made the biggest impact on her now healthy career. Her RWA chapter started a 100-day challenge to write at least 100 words per day, every day. It worked like a champ for her, and became a life-changer.
When I heard this, I knew I had to suggest the challenge to my group, the Inland Empire Chapter of Romance Writers of America. As it turns out many of us needed a kick in the pants like this, and we’ve seen a huge spike in our productivity in the past three weeks because of it.
We check into our loop every day with a subject line that might say something like, “Day 3: 100+ Words. I finished chapter 3”. The body of the email can say more, but having the subject line with the pertinent information is considerate to those who may not want to read every email. We keep it simple with 100 or 100+. Although we occasionally share milestones or particularly exciting daily accomplishments, we don’t want to discourage anyone else with a feeling of “I did 3,000 today—what is wrong with the rest of you people?” The accountability factor has been really inspiring for all of us. We want to be able to check in each day with good news.

It’s a funny little phenomenon, this mind game of “just one bite” of 100 words. I can write 100 words in about five minutes, even if I have to hold my nose and close my eyes to take that first bite. If I literally have no time to write on any given day, I know I can take just five minutes to write 100 words before I sleep at night.

At this point my beast is a hamster—but it’s coming along just fine now.
Hamster photo credit: cuteanimalimages.com
But getting that first bite into the beast, makes it want another bite and then another. I have found my average daily output to be in the 500-700 word range since starting the challenge. Some days have been as high as 1300. My lowest, a particularly challenging day, was 124 words exactly. For a writer with a day job, I can live with that, and the book-beast is looking healthier than it’s been in a very long time. It grew by about 10k in 19 days.

If you extrapolate my output rate, a full-length, 80,000-word novel’s first draft could be achieved, from beginning to end, in about 5½ months. That’s a pretty respectable pace, especially for those of us who don’t have the luxury of writing full time. And that’s most of us, right?

If you are having trouble establishing a consistent writing habit, maybe you should give the 100 Word A Day Challenge a try. You and your beast novel will be happy with the results.
Almost three years ago, Tana Essary decided to take her writing to the next level by joining a writers’ group, and is now an active member in both Idaho Writers League and RWA. She has found she does well (so far, knock wood) in writing competitions. Her current project, As Long As There Is Chocolate, is emerging from an award-winning short story. It is a contemporary romance, with a just hint of paranormal. Her often neglected blog can be found at tanaessary.com. Her confusing twitter account is @nessessary. Her Facebook page is Tana Essary dot com .


Shelley Martin said...

I absolutely love this idea! Great post!

AGannaway said...

I didn't know there were classes on RWA website you could listen to! This had a lot of great information, this challenge really is a game changer. I average about the same when I make time, and I guess that's what it's really about: making time.

Great post!!

Www.debraelise.com said...

Awesome blog. Feed the Beast!

Isabella Norse said...

Great idea! I'm usually fairly productive, but I need to make it a point to put down at least 100 words even on those days when life isn't cooperating. Thanks for the kick in the pants!

Asa Maria Bradley said...

I'm not feeding the beast everyday, but it is supposed to get at least 100 words per day. Thanks to your challenge, Tana, I'm writing more than I have in a long time--and more regularly.

Brooklyn Ann said...

Excellent insight!