I recently read John Scalzi’s Agent to the Stars which, to quickly summarize, is about a Hollywood agent tasked with helping an alien species introduce themselves to Earth. It’s really great, funny and well written, which didn’t really surprise me. What did surprise me is that it’s actually Scalzi’s first novel, despite not being the first he published. He wrote it as a practice novel, posted it on his blog, and told people to donate a dollar if they liked it. I think he make like $4,000 over several years before he stopped accepting donations.
The whole point was to see if he could write an entire novel, which he did, and he did quite well. I think its an excellent exercise, and one which I’d like to engage in eventually. The rest of 2013 has recently gotten very busy for me, so I don’t think I’ll be starting on a practice novel anytime soon, but I certainly want to. I think sitting down to simply write a novel, and not worrying about publishing it, is a pretty good idea. I expect this is something a lot of fan-fiction writers, whether they conceive of it this way or not, end up doing. I don’t really want to talk about fan-fiction here, I’m not real familiar with it, but writing about other people’s characters or in other people’s settings seems like a good way to work on your craft. I don’t really have any interest in doing so, unless I were to write for an established comic or show at some point, but the concept seems useful.
I read once somewhere that Ray Bradbury would start a story on Monday, finish it by Friday, and send it out on Saturday. Now, this is kind of crazy to me, and Bradbury was a champ, but the concept seems like it would work for me with a practice novel. Not that timeline per se, but the idea of just sitting down and writing every day. My advisor for my master’s thesis has given me similar advice, telling me that when he’s getting started on a new project, he sits down and writes at least 500 words a day, before he does anything else. It might lead to writing all day, or it might be like pulling teeth, and it might never see the light of day, but writing is a muscle, and you have to train it.
I’ve been unsuccessful at doing the 500 word thing every day, though I have done it a couple of times in the process of writing my thesis and it has helped. In fact, holding myself to a twice a week blog schedule is kind of the same idea: to keep myself writing regardless of how busy this semester gets.
This post hasn’t really had anything to do with Agent to the Stars, but I don’t want to spoil things and I certainly don’t just want to spend another post rambling about how much I like Scalzi. I think I can say this though: Scalzi is a pretty inspirational writer for me. Reading Fuzzy Nation was the kick in the pants I needed to get back into reading fiction on a regular basis, something that I’d fallen out of due to the constant reading required of grad school. Reading fiction again also really makes me want to try my hand at writing fiction again, something I also haven’t done with any regularity in a while. I might not get back to it until the beginning of 2014, but I damn sure want to get back to it.