Writing a Short Novel, 8 1/2 FAQs
January 1, 1970
Issue #1 of A Novel in One Semester Newsletter
by Mary Kay Zuravleff, copyright 2006
The grand experiment starts on August 30, when a group of George Mason graduate students and I endeavor to write a novel in one semester. We don't need to argue the fine points of what a novel is or whether craft can be attended to in such an atmosphere. Just follow along if you're interested or, better yet, pick up a laptop and join in.
1. What the hell are we doing?
We're writing a 40,000-word novel in one semester.
We’re doing it to write a novel, a whole novel with a beginning, middle, and end.
We’re doing it to learn how to write a novel. (As Roethke's poem goes, “I learn by going where I have to go.”)
4. Why do we have to start from scratch?
We’re hoping to write ourselves into a mystical frenzy, where connections are made and we begin speaking in tongues heretofore unknown to ourselves.
5. What's the hurry?
We’re doing it in one semester because that’s the increment of time allotted for one course.
6. Who do we think we are?
We’re writers. And soon, novelists. (To quote Chris Baty, “Literature is not a spectator sport.”)
7. What if our minds go blank?
We'll remember the stories, jokes, and songs we tell each other every day: You'll never guess what happened last night; A man walks into a bar; I loved him and he left me, he left me, he left me, right after the dog died.
8. What do we have that others don’t?
We have a deadline. We have a willing suspension of disbelief. We have a group of people who are counting on us.
8 1/2. What are our standards?
What standards? We accept that our output will be flawed, maybe even abhorrent, and yet we recognize the potential of this grand experiment. Namely, in writing a tremendous amount of words, we will get into shape as writers. And more writing produces more and better writing, more and better ideas.