Because there's nothing like a deadline.
As I can attest myself. It's this past Saturday, noon-ish: I've cooked American pancakes with Canadian maple syrup for my English household. I'm feeling lazy and sleepy, but I have made a pledge to revise 3,000 words. I'm the tutor. I cannot walk into class not having met my side of the bargain.
And so, I worked that day and Sunday evening to finish revising about 4,200 words. I've made real changes, had probitive thoughts about the novel in the big picture.
Now, in addition to having completed the next draft of this chapter, I also feel virtuous.
And you? Our online community has grown to include English and Creative Writing BA students at Winchester, one of whom has already sent me an email, and a former student from Washington, D.C. I've encouraged them, and you, to share your thoughts about novel writing on this blog. A person I do not know has already posted wise words -- who is Rich Rowe?
I do know this. In Winchester, Sharon wrote 6,000 words; Tim came in with 17,000 but fessed up to having 13,500 done before the module started; Ian penned 2,600 for Chapter 1 and another 600 in notes; Michelle did her 3,000 or thereabouts. They've all written what might be a beginning.
In class, we looked at beginnings. Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None (look at the simple, effective structure, each character introduced in Chapter 1 before they all come together in Chapter 2); Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient (so different, with his careful pace and language some found too beautiful, and yet, look, he is also establishing characters who will come together as the book progresses); John Casey's Spartina (his blunt sentences a welcome change, and how succinctly he tells us how much trouble his protagonist Dick Pierce is in when Casey writes, as an aside: "That was when Dick still had his phone.")
What is established in these beginnings? A world. We are submerged in a world.
Perhaps that is what we must do at the beginning of a novel. Create a world.
Even if we aren't really writing the beginning, yet.