[updated October 20]

The Baby Platypus Prize for Just "Writting" a Goddamn Novel. I hope to win this prize!

Writing a novel is challenging. A novel is long. It's easy to give up. To become discouraged. To think the whole project is misguided, to not trust the admitedly long and slow trainwreck in slow motion process. 

Writing my first novel, I realized that I'd need to find a way to keep going, to mark the progress of the work rather than the quality. Who can tell the quality while in the middle of writing something? And that assessment can change a hundred times a day. Sometimes you're spinning gold and sometimes it's a bucket of slop. And not in a good way. 

So, thinking back to motivational dieting charts that my wife created where she meticulously notated pounds lost over months: she'd write both her projected "ideal" weight loss and then mark the "actual" in a different colour. Ignoring the whole issue of body positivity for the moment, I was impressed by the system. I'd make such a chart for my novel, except my lines would rise to a projected final word count. I decided on 80,000 because that seemed like a good novelish length. I looked up some stats on average novel lengths -- I knew I wouldn't be Tolstoy or Tolkien or Proust -- but I wasn't writing something as short as Heart of Darkness or By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. So 80,000 seemed a good number to aim for. Of course who knew how many words I'd actually write. And of course, there'd be edits and rewriting. But it was important to have a goal.

There are writers I know who can write thousands of words a day. Some churn out words and then revise like crazy. Or they write the scenes very sketchily and then fill in details. Like the characters or their names. They add adjectives. Good lines.

But for me, the novel IS the words. What word comes next determines the world I'm in. The texture of the language is integral to the world building. I have to write the surface of the novel (of course, I polish and smooth, cut and shape many times after initital drafts.) Also, I don't usually have a plot beforehand. I prefer to wade into the world and then consider where to go and what to do. I find that the writing suggests better ideas than I would. It's about listening to what is unfolding before me. 

Given all of this, I wanted to have an attainable daily word goal. For me, 500 words a day is a realistic goal. Sometimes it goes quite quickly, sometimes painfully slow and I stagger to the finishline 498 499 500 only by suppertime and with a feeling of great exhaustion. But 500 seems a good number for me. 

And if I write 5 days out of 7, I will write 2500 words. That's 10,000 a month. 80,000 in eight months. Of course, there are times when I can't write because of other commitments or I'm just not feeling it or whatever, but it is possible that I can write 80,000 in a year, considering things that come up.

The idea is that I can assess if I've had a good writing day by whether I made my 500 word goal. I can walk around saying, "I'm a writer who made his 500 words," and be proud of myself without subjecting myself to the "yeah, but was it good writing that you did?" I do hope so, but I feel it is important to separate myself from an assessment of quality at this stage and just get the writing done. My feelings swing wildly back and forth, as I said. If I remain true to my plan and just trust myself, I can have confidence that something will emerge. I can trust the process (and myself.) We'll figure something out, It all happens so slowly that there's plenty of time to shape what I'm writing, to change, to consider and reconsider. 

Above is the beginning chart of my new novel. For the moment I'm calling it "The Last Laugh" though that certainly isn't the last title. It's a placeholder for now. I only began writing this week and have 3,500 words written. (I cheated a bit because I had a couple pages written before that I adapted--that's why it is more than 500 per day.) I don't expect to be above my projections very often. 

If I'm brave, I'll post my progress throughout the term--maybe every few weeks--and talk about the process of writing this novel, what I hope to be my third full-length novel for adults. 

* * *

Ok, today I'm brave. Here's my words for the week. I didn't write as much as I'd hoped -- I had some grant applications to write, some tax stuff, I had a MS rejected and so I reworked it. I made a couple videos and somehow I was just too tired to focus, but I did do some great kayaking with my wife which was revivifying. Also, I feel that I came up with some really useful questions and ideas for the novel which is very necessary work and isn't reflected in my word count. (The word count is only to keep me going, to keep me motivated. It's really an arbitrary goal. I don't want it to seem like it's the only important work to do with a long work. I just find it keeps me focussed and keeps the work around the novel centred around a concrete goal.)


So here is where I am at as of October 20th. I'm really quite happy that I've been able to keep the novel moving forward despite the pandemic and everything else. I'm not sure at all about HOW it is going but it IS going. I think, at least, that there is quite a bit of good stuff in my draft, certainly lots to work with when editing and the story is opening up, unfolding nicely and I'm discovered interesting things and things that might allow the story to have some depth as well as many terrible terrible jokes. So, all good.

You can see from my chart that I've made an adjustment to the blue line -- that was my projected number of words. I was quite ill for about ten days and wasn't able to keep up to my writing goal. So, rather than spending the rest of novel feeling like I was behind—I knew I wouldn't be able to make up for the days that I missed, and why do that anyway?—I just changed the goal. Sure, it's, "guaranteeing success by lowering the bar," but it's my bar, and it only exists to motivate me and if it doesn't, then it isn't working. So, I changed the goal and now I'm meeting my projected goal. In fact, I'm finding it quite easy to make my minimum words each day, so easy that I'm beginning to worry that I'm being too glib in my writing, or that I should aim for more words. Of course! It's that thing when if one begings to "succeed" then the goal couldn't have been that difficult or important. But that's tricky toxic thinking. It's going well. I should just enjoy that. And so, I'm now going to go for a walk since the sun is out and the leaves are red.


  1. Thank you for the insight, Gary. Enjoy the process. All the best to you.

  2. This is very insightful, helpful and encouraging but a bit incomplete. . . how do I sign up to win the baby platypus prize?!

  3. It's the best prize. All you have to do is print out the medal once you're done your novel. I've found using safety scissors and then pinning onto my shirt with a safety pin, just like when I was at JK, works well.