Welcome to The Slow Novel Lab! I'm so glad to have you here. Thank you for trusting me to play a part in your journey. Whether you are brand new to writing fiction or have written many novels already, I hope you will find this course to be useful and inspiring. My intention is not necessarily that you complete every single lesson exactly as I’ve written it—though, of course, you are welcome to! Rather, it’s that you approach each one with a belief in your own artistic expression and an open mind. Maybe a lesson will spark something entirely unexpected in you. Maybe you’ll end up doing the opposite of what I’ve asked of you. The creative process is a mystery, and this course is a celebration of it.
A few things to note before you get started:
1. You might be beginning this course with only the vague idea of a novel; you might be beginning with many thousands of words already written; and you might have a complete draft already. You’ll need to tailor the lessons to where you are at your specific place in the process.
If you don’t have anything written yet, you’ll do a lot of conceptualizing. Remember that you can always change your early ideas as your story takes shape and evolves.
If you have a full draft, I encourage you to set it aside for many of these prompts so that you are not constrained by what you’ve already written. Chances are that you signed up for this course because something in your current draft isn’t working. It can be difficult to identify what that element is if you have all of those scenes in front of you. I tell you this from a place of personal experience: I have a novel that I’ve been working on for almost fifteen years. For a long time, I tried to force what I had already written into a form that might work. It was only recently that I let go of all of my early pages, salvaged the setting and the characters, and started anew. I realized that I had been writing a story about romantic love when it was meant to be anchored in siblinghood. Did it hurt to throw away all of those pages I wrote? At first, yes. But what came next was so much better, and now I can see my path to a whole novel that makes sense, that tells a story I am ready to tell.
2. Sometimes, there will be various ways of interpreting a lesson. Do your best to let go of the idea of a right and wrong way of approaching a prompt. Instead, ask yourself how you can use the ideas I’ve presented in the way that works best for you. That said, if you are confused by a lesson, feel free to email my wonderful assistant, Fer. She is an alum of my first Slow Novel Lab class and knows the daily lessons very well. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. As you will see in Day 1’s lesson, this course is meant to be as much about process and practice as it is about novel writing. You may choose to work through the lessons in one month or to spread them out across several. The course will work either way. What I do hope is that you’ll be intentional in how you set your pace so that your time in the course helps you to either establish or strengthen a writing practice. I’ve found that the best thing I can do for my work is to not stray from it for too long. That doesn’t mean that I write every day, nor does it mean that I transition seamlessly from one novel to the next. I’ve never done either of those things. But when I’m writing a novel, I find that if I visit it frequently—whether that means writing a scene or just checking in with it by reading over some pages or taking a look at my timeline or jotting some notes in my notebook—it keeps me connected to the world of the story, and that makes all the difference.
4. If you find yourself with craft or process questions, please speak up on the monthly video calls or send your questions in advance to email@example.com. Fer will pass them along to me.
5. You will receive emails with all the information you need for the monthly video calls. If for any reason you don't receive an email, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll get it sorted out.
6. Your access to the daily lessons will not expire. Go at your own pace. You might also wish to return to the prompts during revision and for future projects.
7. If you'd like to engage with Fer, the former and future students of The Slow Novel Lab, and me, you can find us on Twitter and Instagram , where we celebrate and commiserate, set weekly intentions, post short fragments of our works-in-progress, and share resources, encouragement and inspiration. You can also connect with all of us by using the hashtag #slownovellab. I would love to see you on social media!
Finally, before you dive in, I want to share a quotation from the short story writer and poet Raymond Carver. This comes from an essay called “On Writing,” published in Volume 14 of the Mississippi Review in 1985. I’ve turned to it many times over the years in moments of self-doubt or simply when I’ve needed a reminder that my stories matter.
Every great or even every good writer makes the world over according to his own specifications. It’s akin to style, what I’m talking about, but it isn’t style alone. It is the writer’s particular and unmistakable signature on everything he writes. It is his world and no other. This is one of the things that distinguishes one writer from another. Not talent. There’s plenty of that around. But a writer who has some special way of looking at things and who gives artistic expression to that way of looking: that writer may be around for a long time.
As you work on your novels, I hope you fully embrace your way of looking. Only you can tell your story. I’ll be cheering you on.
All my best,