We’re going to write a novella.
That’s right, I said we.
I know you’ve been telling everyone that you’ve got a book in you, for years. How many times have you told an amazing tale around friends and their eyes flew open in amazement? How many stories have you made up for your children, when they didn’t want to read any of the books on their shelves? How many almost manuscripts and phone notes do you have that could’ve been, and still could be, damn good books?
We’re finally going to do something about that because I’ve been there.
I’ve been to writing workshops like VONA and Callaloo. I’ve sat down with prominent authors who’ve explained the process with me and urged me to scribe without reservation. I’ve been given all the necessary tools to pen a masterpiece.
I sat in a dressing room, with a world-renowned patois-speaking poet, right before my HBO Def Poetry performance and she told me that Walter Mosley said to write two pages of writing a day. Every day. She also said not to let this “sh*t get to my head.” I was told by a Pulitzer Prize winner that I should aim to scribe at the crack of dawn when my mind its most clear.
& still…I couldn’t get it done.
These were all significant pieces of advice, but the most pertinent advice was via a young adult author that I did the poetry scene with as a youngster.
I asked, “How do you defeat writer’s block? Are you one of those “it doesn’t exist” writers?”
He laughed, “I am one of those writers. I don’t mind writing terrible sh*t. Just write badly. Awful is the only way through.”
I tell my students, every day, “The only way to become a better writer is to write.”
I have only recently started to utilize this advice. In the last six months, I’ve written some horrible stuff. However, I’ve also managed to write three novellas, while working on a novel at the same time.
Clearly, there’s an entire editing process and sometimes a complete overhaul that needs to happen afterward. However, you have to write the book.
This is the first step: WRITE THE DAMN BOOK.
We’re going to start small.
A novella is 17,500-40,000 words.
You might need less than that to tell your story—a novelette perhaps.
You might need more—a novel.
But for this week, coming up, I’m going to need you to at least get through a novella. Starting Monday, February 15th, we’re going to be well on our way to hitting the small end of the novella word count: 17, 500 words.
That’s 2,500 words a day.
That’s about two to three hours a day.
But it’s only going to work if you promise to write badly. Yes, I want you to write badly. You need to get the framework out. You need to lay the foundation. There’s more than enough time to mold the work into the perfection that it’ll be later on, but for this next week…you’re going to write with no holds barred, straight from the heart, and into the keyboard (or typewriter/notepad, if that’s your thing).
Every day, starting today, I’ll meet you here with an assignment. You’re going to spend your first three days outlining and planning.
Everyone has his or her way of beginning a book. Tayari Jones says she just lets the book pour out. However, some greats know exactly how the book is going to end before it begins. J.K. Rowling created an entire dictionary of wizarding terms before she wrote Harry Potter.
You can utilize whatever you’re comfortable with, during your next project. But since we’re doing a #novellainaweek, you’re going to need to plan.
You’ll need a few things:
· A notebook, just for this project
· A wall in your house that you’re not afraid to plaster paper all over
· Thumbtacks and/or tape
You can also do this digitally:
· Microsoft Word’s Review Feature
· Microsoft Word’s Notebook Layout
I painted a chalkboard wall in my room so that I could get crazy with the planning process. I want you to do the same thing. Get messy, get crazy. Get all the plotting points, below, out in a place that will haunt you. You need to wake up to those chapters plastered somewhere in your home, every day.
The first thing I’ll need you to do is to tell me, in four sentences or less, what your novella is about.
“Ella is a Brooklyn girl, in love with art and the undiscovered. Evan is a high society Harlemite, with a complicated family: Both convinced that they are from two different worlds. They couldn't be more wrong. "Boroughs Apart" is a story of love defying societal norms and history's habit of repeating itself.”
Now, you’ll need to give me three paragraphs that tell me about the beginning, middle, and end of your story. You’ll need five to seven sentences per paragraph. Each line, of each paragraph, is a pivotal moment that moves the story forward.
Example of a Beginning Paragraph:
“Evan works a nine to five in the corporate word, daydreaming about a non-profit that could preserve his beloved Harlem’s history. Ella is a rising art curator, obsessed with the Harlem Renaissance and its remnants. Ella and Evan bump into one another; one headed home and the other headed to work. Ella hurriedly rushes off to acquire the art pieces she’s sent to garner while Evan goes home to a wealthy family that doesn’t seem to understand him. Both characters are surprised when Ella comes to his house, as a final stop, to retrieve a piece for her gallery.”
Now, you’ll need to know your characters. You’ll need to know them well. Choose two of your protagonists (or antagonists) and spend the next weekend in their shoes. Write short journal entries, that “they’ve written.” Figure out their motivations, goals, conflicts, and resolutions.
Let’s imagine that every 2,500 words of your novel equate to a chapter. That means you’ll have seven chapters, in this novella.
(Note: There’s no allotted page or word count for chapters. It's truly up to the author. You’ll feel it, based on the plots ups and downs.)
Use your beginning, middle, and end descriptions to flesh out outlines for your chapters. You should end your weekend with a one-page summary of your novel, by chapter.
These tasks should be done over the next four days. We’ll meet back here on Sunday, for your Monday task. It’ll be our first day of getting to that first 2,500, and it won’t be easy.
You can do this.
Write like hell.
Just make sure you…write.
If you're doing the challenge with us, be sure to use the hashtag: #novellainaweek. We'll be giving out tips and tricks on all social media platforms. Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.