In last month’s Blog in Progress column, I suggested that we writers should be less hard on ourselves, and recognize that sometimes, life events make it impossible to get our writing done. I talked about creating writing schedules tailored to the individual writer – not to the standard advice many of us have been taught – and advised that rather than beating ourselves up for not getting work done one week, we should try to figure out what got in the way, and avoid that pitfall for the next writing session.
This advice came not just from working with students, but from my own struggles to balance work, family and other challenges with getting my novels written. The truth is, I’ve been in a low-writing cycle for more than a year now. My second novel, The Fifty-First State, came out in October last year, but I’ve been busy since the previous January with final edits and pre-publicity work: procuring blurbs, setting up readings, writing guest blog posts, answering interview questions. And the past six months since the book came out have been even busier: a DIY book tour with my friend and fellow author, Ron MacLean; book club appearances; and more blog posts, with some health issues thrown in just to keep things lively.
The issue of my not getting much writing done came to the fore recently when my wonderful agent said to me: “I see you on Facebook all the time, but I haven’t heard a word about your next book. Are you writing?” I felt simultaneously exposed as a slacker and pleased that someone was actually waiting to read my next book. (I didn’t have an agent when I was writing either of my first two books.)
I’ve decided that I need to take my own advice: I must set up a writing schedule, stick to it as much as I can, and not flagellate myself if I have a challenging week. I’m sure many Grub Daily readers are in the same boat, so I’ve decided to issue a challenge for us all.
Many writers swear by National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November, but I’ve always had some concerns about that approach. It’s inconceivable to me – and to many of the authors I know – that anyone could write a first draft of a novel in a month. It took me four years to write the first draft of my first novel; three years to write the first draft of the second book. And even if it were possible to accomplish a draft in a month, why on earth would one choose November, a short month with a major holiday to boot? Still, I like the idea of a unifying event that makes the solitary act of writing feel more like a group undertaking, so I’ve come up with my own spin on the concept.
I’m declaring the month of May Boston Novel in Progress Month, or BoNoProMo – but residence in Boston is certainly not required to participate. Should you, dear reader, decide to join me in this challenge, it will be a far different experience from NaNoWriMo. Not only do I not expect you – or myself – to write a draft in a month, I would actually discourage you from trying to do so. Novels of any depth require thought and reflection, and there’s no shortcut to the work of turning the characters and plot over and over in one’s mind. All I expect for BoNoProMo is this: that you schedule a minimum of ten hours of writing time a week; that you stick to that schedule unless it’s truly impossible; and that, if you don’t get your work done, you analyze what went wrong and do your best to create a more workable schedule the following week.
May seems to me like a great month for BoNoProMo. It has 31 days, including a holiday weekend that’s much easier to beg off than Thanksgiving, and therefore might yield an extra day of writing time; and many of us feel renewed in the spring, ready to tackle those long-dormant projects. For those involved with GrubStreet, it’s also good timing as the Muse and the Marketplace conference takes place the first weekend in May. If you’re attending the Muse, consider the weekend’s events a kickoff for BoNoProMo.
My hope is that the schedule you set up for BoNoProMo will carry over into June, July, and beyond, until your draft is finished. There won’t be any certificates at the end of the month, as NaNoWriMo offers, but I will be tweeting my own progress (@lisaborders) with the hashtag #BoNoProMo, and I’d love to read tweets from anyone else who decides to take up the challenge. Let’s use the month of May to establish the good habits that will get us through the long haul of finishing a draft – which, for most writers, will take at least a year, if not several years.
Lisa Borders’ second novel, The Fifty-First State, was published by Engine Books in 2013. Her first novel, Cloud Cuckoo Land, was chosen by Pat Conroy as the winner of River City Publishing’s Fred Bonnie Award and received fiction honors in the 2003 Massachusetts Book Awards. Lisa has published humor in McSweeney’s, essays in The Rumpus and several anthologies, and short stories in Washington Square, Black Warrior Review, Painted Bride Quarterly and other journals. She has taught creative writing since 1997, shifting her focus to the novel when she developed GrubStreet’s Novel in Progress courses in 2005. She also co-developed and co-taught GrubStreet’s Novel Incubator from 2011 – 2013, and developed and led the Novel Generator from 2014-2017. She now teaches in the University of Arkansas at Monticello’s online MFA program. For more information on Lisa and her work, visit lisaborders.com.See other articles by Lisa Borders