In the course of one’s life, I believe that everyone should write an original novel. Not fan fiction and not a novella or short story, but a wholly unique full-length novel entirely of your own imagination and creation. If you consider a standard-issue novel to be 70,000-80,000 words, writing 400 words a day will yield a full-length, bonafide novel in 175-200 days, or basically about six months. Six months and you could have the next Da Vinci Code on your hands!
Now, to be fair, not all of us are going to be writing Stephen King or Dan Brown bestsellers. But that’s not the point. I encourage everyone to write a longform work of fiction because doing so is valuable and healthy training for your mind. Specifically, it disciplines you to keep to a daily habit that exercises your mental faculties. In composing a long-form fiction story that runs hundreds of pages, you need to be able to stay focused and logically connect every day’s events in your story in a sensible and competent way to the events that will happen tomorrow. This may sound trivial and banal but it’s honestly a skill. When I first began writing, I found I had a tendency of lurching and careening all over the map. I’d write neat standalone vignettes or scenes but they’d be entirely isolated and not connect to a greater overarching story. It really took focus on my end to calm down and not only “write the fun parts.” As a storyteller, you’re responsible for the whole shebang.
Additionally, you need to learn to give your characters distinct voices and personalities which is a proxy of you also developing a well-honed sense of empathy in your own mind. After all, all of the voices in a novel ultimately originate from one source: You. You are responsible for writing a believable hero and villain. You need to always stay vigilant that everyone’s perspectives and motivations stay consistent and believable.
Finally, writing long-form fiction will also train you in the way of pacing a story. Events in a story always need to be moving; the reader needs a reason to stay engaged. Keeping a reader hooked and on the wagon for hundreds of pages is no easy task. I’m certainly no expert but I follow one single axiom to guide my writing: Is this something that I would personally read and enjoy? In every day’s installment, I try to always include a passage, sequence, or turn of phrase that I personally chuckle at. Generally, I hope what amuses me will also amuse others. But honestly, I have no idea.
Next month, November, is the annual National Novel Writing Month and so I strongly suggest you start writing. The world may or may not be eagerly awaiting your Next Great American Novel but if you commit and follow through with the endeavor, you will personally get a lot out of it. I guarantee it.