Short & Sweet: Taking it One Chapter at a Time

March 6, 2017

The basic formula.

It’s so easy to fall into a routine, especially when it seems to work well. Many authors swear by the “write X number of words per day” methodology. To treat writing as you would any other job. That by applying self-discipline, you can crank out those books and be a success.

It’s easy, they say. Sit down in quiet space. Avoid distractions and put your full focus on your writing. Get two, three, or even five thousand words down every day, and BOOM, baby! Before you know it, you’ve got a book.

Except… it’s not that easy. Not for me. First, there’s no such thing as quiet, uninterrupted time in my “work space” (a.k.a., my home). Second, I have a very short attention span. And lastly, my characters do a lot of their talking when I’m not in front of my laptop screen. Add in the fact that those same characters are a lot like my teenagers – sometimes they vie for my attention and sometimes they give me the silent treatment – and I wind up with a few dozen current WIPs (Works in Progress), all at various stages of completion.

That makes completing a 60K-90K novel a daunting task, and something I cannot overcome by simply sitting down and forcing myself to pay attention. That “nose to the grindstone” didn’t work for me in school, it didn’t work in my corporate job, and it’s not going to cut it now.

A different approach.

What I’ve found does work for me quite well is changing things up often. Changing project genres is something I do a lot. So is incorporating real-life challenges – such as health concerns, phobias, and social issues. But through it all, no matter what I wrote, one thing remained the same: I didn’t allow anyone to look at the manuscript until it was finished.

Another author, one I’ve gotten to know pretty well over the last couple of years, got me thinking outside that “box of completion”. She was writing a new story, and rather than ask me to beta read when it was finished, asked me to do so chapter by chapter. She used my daily input to influence not only what she’d already written, but what happened next as well. And I thought, ‘hey, this is pretty cool‘.

So I asked her if she’d do the same for me. It was an experiment. A creative exercise, if you will. A short story, the idea of which was based on one of those memes you see floating around social media. She readily agreed.

A chapter a day.

So that’s how I started writing Just For Me. It was to be a short story, so no long range pressure to produce a certain length, number of words, or complex subplots. Each day, I sat down and wrote a single chapter, with no plan beyond that day. I had to keep it to that one chapter, too, even if I wanted to continue. Every afternoon, I would send her the chapter I wrote that day. I couldn’t begin the next chapter until I read her feedback and thought overnight about where the story would go next. As new ideas, twists, and possibilities developed, I found myself looking forward to sitting down every morning and crafting the next piece instead of worrying about the big picture.

I ended up with a 13 chapter short story and a whole new family of characters I absolutely love. More importantly, I broke out of my creative slump and had fun.

I offered my street team, the Zanders Clan, a chance to read it as I wrote it: a chapter a day. More than a hundred people took me up on the challenge. And while many of them found creative ways to try to wheedle the next installments ahead of schedule (there may have been frequent instances of name calling and occasional threats), we had a great time.

Looking forward.

I’d say the experiment was a rousing success, and I’d definitely like to do it again. It was a great opportunity to shake things up and have some fun, and I made sure to include several secondary characters that would like short stories of their own.

I’ve since opened up the Chapter-A-Day option to my newsletter subscribers, so they too can experience that daily anticipation of waiting for the next chapter. If it sounds like something you’d be interested in, you can sign up for the daily emails HERE. Each new chapter installment email will include links to the previous chapters. It’s a limited time offer, though, so don’t wait too long.

If the chapter-a-day thing doesn’t work for you, I will be publishing Just For Me as a short (15K) novella. For now, though, I think I’m going to take advantage of the recharge and make some more progress on those current WIPs…

Nose to the grindstone,
? Abbie