Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Little Engine That Could

By Mark W. Danielson


Everyone knows this inspirational story by Watty Piper. It’s one of determination; mind over matter. It applies to virtually everything in life, and especially to creative writing.

I dare say that every author has been approached by someone claiming they want to write, but can’t. Their excuse is they don’t have a creative bone in their body. As I’ve said before, all you need to do is recall how many stories you made up when you were trying to get out of trouble and you’ll realize that isn’t true. Yes, they were lies, but they were creative lies usually made up on the spot, and if that’s not fiction, what is?

The problem with most would-be authors is they view writing a novel as an insurmountable task. My goal today is to break that notion into an understandable equation. One you can take to the bank. (You may as well take something – your money’s not there anymore.)

Most publishers consider the ideal length for manuscripts is between eighty five and one hundred thousand words. Why? Because of production cost and retail pricing. A one hundred thousand word manuscript using a twelve pitch font, double-spaced, usually equates to about 350 pages. “Three hundred fifty pages!” you say. “I couldn’t write a three page book report in school!” Well, I’m sure you’re right, but that book report was something you were required to write; not something you wanted to write. Therein lies the difference.

So pick a topic and let it flow. It doesn’t matter what you write; only that you do write. By my calculations, if you write one page a day for a year, you will have exceeded the word limit by two weeks. If you write more than one page a day, your time table will be reduced accordingly. The key to writing is discipline and determination, just like the little engine in the story. “You can because you think you can” was a slogan painted on one of my flying squadron’s walls. Like the little engine, it applies equally to everything in life. When considering this timetable, you realize there is nothing magic about writing a short story, or even a novel. It’s just a matter of setting time aside to set your mind free, and record your thoughts in a computer. So go on and give it a try. You have nothing to lose.

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Beth Terrell said...

So true! Thank you, Mark, for this inspiring post.