alisa alering

Writer of fantasy and other fictions

90 Days of Writing Bliss


The Fountain of Love, by François Boucher [1748]

What my life is like now that I’ve discovered The 90-Day-Novel
(The Fountain of Love, François Boucher, 1748)

WARNING: This post contains little to no objectivity.

I am in love. With The 90-Day-Novel by Alan Watt.

Because The 90-Day-Novel loves me just the way I am.

After I came home from Clarion West in 2011, I have been hunched over my desk with a gimlet eye, struggling to improve my writing. I critique my peers, I read the pros, and I work hard to identify my weaknesses, correct or patch them, and produce good stories.

Structure and plot are repeat performers in the parade of Things I Do Wrong. I’m a woolly thinker, the sort of person who has to say something (two or three times, usually) in order to find out what I want to say. That makes crisp plot turns tough.

I’ve tried LOTS of writing books and instructive internet articles. I’ve read about The Snowflake MethodGMC, and 7-point Story Structure. I’ve checked out the examples from popular books and movies and noted how they match the analysis perfectly. It all makes sense. My head nods in understanding. Got it, I think. This time I won’t go down one of those weird rabbit holes my brain is always finding. I’m going to keep it simple, stick to the structure, and just do this.

Cute but dangerous

Cute but dangerous

But what seems so simple when I’m reading about it becomes so impossible, so ineffable, when I try to carry it out. I go back and forth from the examples to my story and don’t understand how I could possibly mess up something so obvious and clear. Am I really this stupid? I think.

I’m forced to conclude that I probably am. And then I don’t feel so good. Because I’m me and pigheaded, I keep writing anyways. Spend days hammering at things that made me feel sick and sinking.

A few weeks back, I started writing a new novel. I wasn’t prepared, but I needed to get started, so I jumped in without a plan. I had a genre, two characters, a setting, and a situation. I figured I would just pants my way through an 80,000 word zero draft and worry about it later. I told myself it was a learning experience–though what I would be learning was unclear.

Someone (sorry, I can’t remember who) mentioned The 90-Day-Novel to me because they liked the questions for pre-writing. I put in a request at the library, but I wasn’t too excited. By now I had learned that anything promising 5 Easy Steps or 7 Essential Rules—basically, anything with a number in the title—was bad news.

My precious

My precious

But it wasn’t. The 90-Day-Novel is the how-to book written Just For Me.

I was two weeks into my draft when I finally got my copy. I read the introduction and did the exercises. Just as, you know, an experiment. When I came out the other side, I had tons of new material. And a realization that I needed more of this. It was an incredibly hard decision to throw away the 10,000 words I had already written and start over. It put my schedule for finishing back by almost a month. And it was the best writing decision I’ve ever made.

I can’t tell you what a relief it is to be working from a plan that works with the way my mind already works instead of against it. Here are some of my favorite themes from the process that I find most restorative:

  • Story isn’t logical.
  • Our idea of the story is not the whole story.
  • The moment we force it, or fear that we’re getting it wrong, we’re out of our story.
  • It is not your job to figure it out. Trust that your subconscious will find a way to resolve it.
  • The story already lives fully and completely within us.

Honestly, working with the 90-Day process, I feel like I could write a novel about anything. Any topic, any structure, no matter how complex or challenging. I can’t wait to finish the current novel and get started finding out what Novel #3 is going to hold. Because with a process like this, it’s going to be good stuff!

Author: Alisa Alering

I write stories. I read stories.

6 thoughts on “90 Days of Writing Bliss

  1. I’m so excited to hear that this book resonated with you, Alisa. I will be checking it out now that I have finished my story collection and am returning to work on “Space Baby.” I remember the last writing book that gave me this feeling was Jeff Vandermeer’s Booklife. What a relief (and a rush)!

    • Yay, Space Baby! By the end of the workshop, I thought it was looking like a real book. So glad that you’re going to go ahead with it. We will be the best workshop year ever. You already have a lot of material worked out, so I’ll be curious to see how the pre-writing stage goes for you if you use it. Please report.

      Vandermeer’s ‘Wonderbook’ gave me the same uplifted feeling–more play, less drudgery–but without the practical plan. Congrats on the story collection (Brooke gave me all the news at Wiscon)!

  2. I found this book, too, and was wary for the same reasons you mentioned. But…I trusted the people mentioning it, so…I gave it a shot. Yes, it is lovely, and affirming, and butt-kicking, all in the right measures for me. I’m glad you’re feeling the love here, too! Good luck.

    • M.E. –Have you been through a complete process with it yet and finished a first draft?

      • Not the complete process. For me, just the simple, ease-in to plotting and structure was just the thing I needed. I was getting overwhelmed with, AACK I need characterization, and character arcs, and plot arcs, and sub plots, and with 2 POVs that doubles it all, and… /Muppet flail/. You know? So I followed the process for the first part, before writing the book begins, to find the plot. Then I followed the steps for plotting. And other world fantasy needs way more time for world building, so I took a month for that, then revisited plot in light of new info…and now am 20,000 words in and right on track! Weee!

      • Thanks for good news from the path ahead! I start drafting tomorrow. I’m not nervous, not nervous at all 🙂

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