Arson and Tchaikovsky

Last July, I wrote a novel.

I called it “A Little Arson Goes a Long Way” at first, but now I’ve just shortened it to “Arson”.  I wrote it for Camp NaNoWriMo, but it only took 13 days to write, which is a new record for NaNoWriMo (Wise was written in 16 days).  It was 64k words long.

I wrote it in a peculiar style for me.  I tried to outline it, but I didn’t know quite where I was going, so I stopped after the first few chapters.  I discovery wrote, mostly, but I kept in mind the structure I wanted– mainly the Hollywood Formula.  It worked pretty well, in fact– I’m happy with the results.

The pitch is this: “A boy finds a village of people trapped in the forest in his backyard, but is freeing them the right thing to do?”  I had a lot of fun with the idea, and the characters were great.

The story was good, but I filled it with a lot of fluff.  This was not an action-packed novel.  I stuck to the structure perfectly, however.  I knew I wanted to give the main character a choice about the story approximately 1/8 through the story, so at the very beginning I was calculating all the words I had written to figure out the right length for the story.  At 8k, I let it happen and mathematically prophesied a 64k-word, 350-page novel.

From there, I wrote from milestone to milestone.  I knew I had to introduce all the main characters by 16k words, so I did.  I knew what had to happen at the midpoint– I was itching for it to happen– but I held off on that until 32k words, like I had figured out.  Then things started going downhill in a whirlwind of delicious complications, leading to a low point at precisely 48k.  I had a blast writing the low point– these characters had never been so low.  I was on the verge of turning it into a tragedy then and there, but I managed to pull it together and save the people who needed to be saved.

I finished the novel at 64,589 words, 369 pages.

I didn’t know one could write a reasonably-structured story merely by wordcount, but it happened for me.  I’m very pleased with it.

But that’s not the half of it.

I wrote 3/4 of the story in 5 days.

I was about 10k into the novel halfway through the month, and it didn’t look like it was going to finish up on time.  I had started a little late, having written Phil Phorce episode six in the first half of the month.  Things didn’t look good, but I got a few friends and began word warring.

Things got going soon after that.  On the 16th, I wrote 7k.  On the 17th, I wrote 8k.  18th, 10k.  (Never broken 10k before in a single day.)  19th, 15k.  (My mind was blown after that.)  20th, 8k.  Total: 48k in five days.

It was really fun to write so much in such a short time, but it was mentally exhausting.  I spent about 7 hours writing several days in a row, and recovery wasn’t fun.  But the way I wrote all those words was amazing.

I don’t usually write with music.  I like music too much; it distracts me when I start singing along instead of thinking of what I’m trying to write first.  It’s especially distracting when I have to mess with the tracks I’m listening to.  But during one of the word wars, my little sister turned on a TV show– and my productivity goes way down when anything is on TV.

So I got some soundproof earphones and put on some music; Mozart, in particular.  Before, my word war scores were averaging just under 600 words per 15 minutes.  With Mozart, they shot up to just under 800.

Beethoven got an even better result, breaking 800 several times.  Then I got into my new collection of Tchaikovsky symphonies.

I broke 1000 words on almost every 15-minute sprint.

My only explanation is that music makes me think faster.  Usually I’m sitting there, tapping my fingers on the keyboard, trying to figure out what to write, but with music, my fingers are almost slower than my thoughts.  I find myself sentences ahead of myself, or editing the sentence I just thought up before my fingers had even written it.

I’ve heard studies about classical music making people smarter.  Perhaps it works, perhaps it doesn’t– there’s no perfect way to test it on the creative process.  All I know is I wrote 48k in 5 days– I could feasibly win NaNoWriMo in less than a week.

When I wrote 5k in a single day, I rewarded myself with a new deck of cards and an iTunes giftcard.  The deck of cards occupies my hands, leaving my mind free to understand Writing Excuses podcasts.  The giftcard went to that album of Tchaikovsky, which helped me write this novel.  Both things were helpful.  Now I’ve written… this.  How do I reward myself now?

Perhaps it is time for world domination!

Or not.  Suggestions?


21 thoughts on “Arson and Tchaikovsky

  1. You are awesome. But…
    No, you can’t have world domination, yet. That’s for after you’re published. Besides, I have plans to beat you to it.
    What is in your music library besides classical and film soundtracks?

  2. No, hold off with the world domination for a squick. I like to reward myself with the purchase of a book sometimes, or with a few minutes of surfing the Internet and looking at random things that have no relevance whatsoever.

  3. You, sir, are a writing machine.

    Between this post and Behind the Phil Phorce, you’ve got me thinking about story structure. I thank you for that.

    I actually just held this comment as ransom/reward for spending some time editing. Worked quite nicely. Another reward I’ve recently come up with is video chats with other writers. My connection is terrible, and a good portion of the chat is spent making fun of it, but it’s really fun.

    Let me think… other rewards….going somewhere fun, making something cool (not sure if you’re the crafty type), extra reading time… that’s what I have off the top of my head.

  4. 64K in 13 days? How is that even possible?
    My respect for you just got boosted. By a lot.
    Hmm, I’ll have to try listening to classical music while I write. I once wrote for hours listening to Taylor Swift, so who knows what Tchaicovsky will do for me.

      1. Heheh, I’ll bet. 15k? Wow. 7k is a good amount for me, and I’m happy with it, though I still often try to see how much I can write in one day and if I can break my record.

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