Writing a Novel One Hundred Words at a Time
I first heard about the One Hundred Word Challenge at lunch after an RWA chapter meeting in March 2007. The object: kick start a sagging writing schedule. The method: commit to writing at least one hundred new words on one project for one hundred consecutive days. If you miss a day, you start over at Day 1. Emails, journals and grocery lists don’t count.
That sounded doable. It wasn’t a book in a month. It wasn’t even a chapter a month. It wasn’t a large block of time. It was one hundred words a day.
And it didn’t require a lot of planning. I guess I’m a pantser at heart. I usually know the beginning and the ending of a story, a little bit about the characters and the setting, but in the middle? Well, stuff happens.
I’m not good at prewriting. I don’t do character interviews or detailed outlines. I don’t know a heck of a lot about my characters until I’ve written about them for a while. I don’t care about their favorite flavor of gelatin or where they went to junior high school. But somehow I think I’m supposed to do all that work before I start writing. Talk about a roadblock.
When we (about twenty writers, most of us members of one or more of the three Houston RWA chapters) set up a Yahoo group for our challenge, I had a story in mind. I’d had it in mind for a couple of years, and hadn’t done anything with it. I had the opening page, part of the first scene, a few ideas about plot and character, but no ending. I was convinced I had a worthwhile idea, but I had no handle on it.
But what the heck, one hundred words? I could write a hundred words any old time, and worry about the next hundred another day.
Because I work at a computer at my day job and spend at least an hour and a half a day driving, I knew I couldn’t make myself come home and face another computer monitor every night. And although I’m writing this on an AlphaSmart, I’ve never developed a knack for writing fiction on it.
But I’m used to writing longhand in a journal every night, and I had a stack of notebooks I’d picked up at a back-to-school sale.
So I sat down with my stack of spiral bound notebooks (seventy-page, college-ruled) and a supply of pens (I’ve recently become a fan of Pilot G-2 gel pens–they feel like you’re writing with flowing ink, and they don’t bleed through the paper) and started writing.
Writing in notebooks has its drawbacks, of course. There is no FIND function, no REPLACE, no BACK UP. I find it difficult, if not impossible, to edit handwritten pages, even though I write on only one side of the sheet, leaving the back for notes and insertions. Sometimes it’s even hard to read back.
But night after night, sitting on my living room couch, TV playing in the background, I wrote at least one hundred words: about two thirds of a notebook page. Others in the group watched their exact word count on the computer, but I just wrote. If I was really tired, I counted twenty lines. Other nights I wrote several pages.
The ground rules of our group favored slow writers. We weren’t allowed to report more than “100+ words” per day. Some people folks found the method didn’t work for them and dropped out. Some left after finishing a project. A few new members replaced them. The core of the group is still together after sixteen months.
Many of us hit the one-hundred-day mark. Others have started over many times. Some are no longer counting days, and some are editing rather than writing (counting time rather than words). But those who remain have developed a solid habit of working every day.
And me? Well, I won the (non-existent) prize for most determined writer. (Feel free to substitute your own adjective: single-minded, obsessive, anal, and obnoxious come to mind.)
I wrote for 440 consecutive days, filling nine notebooks and a bit of the tenth, 649 pages. I’m still transcribing and editing. What I produced is definitely a first draft. But it’s all there, the whole story, and I did it one day at a time.
Two thirds of the manuscript is safe in my computer now (Note: Jinn & Tonic is now complete and has been a finalist in several contests). I’ve replenished my supply of notebooks, enough for two more novels. I have a drawer full of pens and a few ideas for the next project.
I’m still recording the days on a small calendar, although I don’t feel guilty if I skip one now and then. After more than a year, the daily writing habit is pretty well established.
Whether you gather a group for support or make a commitment to yourself, one hundred words a day might be the way to finish your work-in-progress, start a new one, or just build your writing habit.
Kay Hudson’s search for the perfect writing technology begin in elementary school, when she was required to write with a fountain pen and carry a bottle of ink in her book bag. She has owned numerous typewriters, some of which did not plug into the wall, and bought her first computer in 1984. Technology changes, and she keeps writing.