Chunk-style! How to write a novel — part 11

ArnoldForgive me, please, for a moment of wool-gathering. Whenever I think of “chunks,” I can’t help but conjure an image of Arnold Stang gazing, drooling, lusting, or in deep contemplation of a hefty cube of chocolate known as a “Chunky.”

Given the option, I’d probably unwrap one of those magnificent blobs of dark brown goodness and gobble it down before the start of every writing session. And if I did, I’d likely be the size of a Martian moon. In a healthier context, I believe the “chunk to ultimate mass” idea could rise to meme status among writers. (Hot damn–I’ve invented a meme!)

When one finally knocks down all the barriers we encounter just to be able to sit down and write, we’re often faced with the enormity of creating an entire work, be it a short story, a novella, or part N in a series of books which seemingly has no end. The key to getting over this last hurdle is thinking in smaller terms: chunks. You don’t have to write the entire epic in one sitting. You don’t even need to finish a whole scene.

Qing_Dynasty_FlagYou only need to produce a chunk of it. That’s easy enough. It could be just a beginning, wherein the heroine wakes up and smells something awful and peers up into the pearly eyes of a ferocious beast lately escaped from a nightmare of the Qing Dynasty (or her mother-in-law’s cooking).

Or it could be a middle, wherein said damsel stabs the dragon with the leg bone of a partially eaten unicorn. Or it could be the last bit of the action, where the mortally wounded dragon wheezes its last and lands squarely atop the hapless warrior babe. Not only does this knock the wind out of the girl, but it leaves readers breathless as well, and hopefully panting to get to the next scene to find out if she survives.

Chunks can be any size. The concept applies to time as well as word volume. If you only have ten or fifteen minutes to work on your opus, then write a 10- or 15-minute chunk. Sistine_chapelWrite half the opening. Write the start of the middle. Write one line. Just one! Go ahead, and spend the entire ten or fifteen minutes on it, and then save your work. Read it again the following day to get fired up about the next chunk, or if need be, the next single line.

Consider the Sistine Chapel ceiling. It took Michelangelo four years to paint, and while he managed to be insanely productive, his genius didn’t allow him to produce more than a chunk at a time. At some point, he had to focus on the most obscure details–things which a writer might ignore if under a tight deadline. But it’s the detail, more often than not, that brings a story or a painting to life.

Hands_of_God_and_AdamYou can get by writing just a tiny chunk, the equivalent of a fingernail on the hand of Adam in the middle of that grand chapel ceiling. It’s a piece of the whole, and it’s just as worthy as any other chunk.

Whatever you do, don’t wait for the muse to put in an appearance. She won’t, because she has other plans. And while you may not be happy to hear this, those plans don’t include you. Sorry.

But take heart! The chunk meme can work for you. Just keep at it. Pile one chunk atop another, whether you grind out a sentence a day or seven chapters a week — or more. Eventually, you’ll get to the end.

Just don’t stop. Don’t give up. Ever.

You can get it done, a chunk at a time.

Next up: shades and variations.

–Josh

 

About joshlangston

Grateful and well-loved husband, happy grandparent, novelist, editor, and teacher. My life plate is full, and I couldn't be happier. Anything else I might add would be anticlimactic. Cheers!
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2 Responses to Chunk-style! How to write a novel — part 11

  1. Karen Boyce says:

    Good advice as always – especially for novice writers! Love your series!

  2. joshlangston says:

    It’s nice to know *somebody* is readin’ this stuff! Glad to hear it’s helpful.

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