April 30, 2010 by Sarah D.
When I tell people I meet that I wrote a book called The 90-Day novel, due out this fall, the first question they ask is this: Can a novel really be written in 90 days?
The short answer: Yes.
The longer answer: Of course it can. I’ve always been a fan of self-taught fiction writer Octavia Butler, who once noted, “Forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.” These words have served as my mantra in my own writing life and in the college classroom where I teach writing courses. Inspiration sparks the initial idea or compulsion to write, but habit gets the work done. Inspiration resides in your heart, but habit resides in your fingers. Art equals inspiration plus habit. Pretty simple.
The 90-Day Novel was born out of my own tendency to make excuses about why I couldn’t find the time to write on any given day: I have too many student essays to grade; I feel groggy on rainy days; I’m taking a few days to let my plot marinate; I have to meet so-and-so for lunch; my allergies are acting up again; I don’t have the time, and, well, I’m not really working on a deadline anyway.
Then one day, I saw an infomercial for one of those cheesy workout videos that promise you buns of steel, or abs that can cut glass, in only eight minutes a day. This infomercial prompted me to reminisce about my undergraduate days, when my roommates would work out to Billy Blanks’s Tae Bo videos (all the rage in the late 90′s) in the living room of our small apartment, while on the other side of the wall I sat at my desk writing stories for my weekly fiction workshop. What my roommates and I were doing back then were not totally dissimilar activities. They were dedicating daily time to strengthening their bodies—thanks to one enthusiastic Billy Blanks—while I was spending time each day hoping to strengthen my stories. (Thankfully, the stories I wrote during my undergraduate years have since “disappeared.”)
Our minds are muscles, too, and writing, much like exercising, requires daily diligence and practice in order to make any progress. To write a novel in 90 days, which is certainly not the fastest a novel has ever been penned, but is, to be fair, a relatively brisk pace, one has to write habitually. Every day.
This post is my official writing contract with myself. In about a month, starting June 1st, I’m going to write a novel in 90 days, following my own advice. In order to accomplish this feat, I’m promising myself that I’ll write every day, for at least 2-3 hours a day, no excuses. I’m taking on this task not only to prove that following the schedule laid out in my book will work to produce a solid working draft in a short span of time, but, mostly because I am a writer. And a writer, after all, writes.
I’ve asked some of my writing friends to join me. Some may, and some may not. Writing a novel is work, after all. And we are coming upon the lazy summer months, meant to be spent outdoors. I hope they do join me, though, mostly because writing is such a solitary act, and it’s always good to find a community of writers to make your necessary seclusion a bit more tolerable.
But either way, this contract is with myself and is officially, electronically signed as soon as I hit the “Publish” button.
Gulp. Here goes nothing.