Writing My Novel: What to Write?

writing 2 I’m not teaching this summer.  With my break, I intend to do two things: develop myself professionally by attending/presenting at conferences and write.

The conferences are already scheduled.  I’m presenting a paper at Slayage in June, and I will be attending the NCLCA Institute in July.

Writing, however, is significantly more up in the air.  I see two directions I could go with my dedicated writing time.

On one hand, I very much want to finish a novel manuscript and prepare at least one short story for submission to publications.

On the other, I have quite a few ideas for academic books that I could easily see myself putting some effort into and working toward publishing them.


I have eleven thousand words written on a novel sitting in Google Docs.  I have a whole list of ideas in Evernote on my iPhone just waiting to be realized.

Unfortunately, I have low self-esteem combined with a bad case of  the “don’t even try its.”

writing 5 I go through phases where I think my fiction ideas are either the best things in the world or the worst.  I need to be able to settle on them being the best if I really want to make a go at selling fiction.  My main concern is figuring out how to not be wishy-washy like this.

It’s not as though I don’t have the gumption to do it, either.  I read on John Scalzi’s “Whatever” blog that he has a 2000-word per day quota.  While I’m not saying that is easy to maintain (in fact, 2000 quality words are not easy to write), I can do that.

Figuring in travel days, weekends, and even a few breaks, I will have approximately 100 days free to write. 100 days x 2000 words per day = 200,000 words (over double the length I am shooting for).

Provided I settle on writing fiction, if I can’t get even a few drafts churned out over the summer, I need to just let this dream die.

Academic Scholarship

At heart, I analyze literature.  I can’t help it.  I watch TV, and I see ways to dissect it.  I read a book, and my entertainment is slightly diminished because I am thinking about what makes it tick.

In my heart, I am an academic.  And as an academic, I want to share my analysis with others.  I want to, as one of my graduate professors put it, enter the conversation with other minds out there.

And I have a wife who is simply brilliant.  Our interests, both personal and scholastic, line up almost exactly.  One goal I’ve had in mind since we first became a serious couple was to co-author/co-edit a book with her.

writing 4 With our interest in both LOST and the Whedonverses, we could put together one hell of a book of essays and ideas analyzing our favorite series.  That’s quite a lot of work, even with someone with whom we know we work well.

And then on top of that, I have ideas for books of scholarship that would not include her solely because she has never seen any of the series.  As far as I know, there are no academic books dealing with the Stargate franchise whatsoever.  And I don’t have to tell you, dear readers, how much I love me some Stargate.

And as much as I would love to play a part in helping get Stargate scholarship to become a reality, I cannot help but feel bad about going in a direction that would also not include Jennifer.  As much as we’ve talked about co-writing books, I feel a bit selfish in pursuing a book idea she would be excluded from by default.

A Lot to Think About

My semester ends with graduation ceremonies on May 1.  And I really have until then to make up my mind where I prefer to focus my creative energies.  Because I have promised myself that this summer will be professionally developmental regarding my writing in addition to my conference attendance.

Of course, all this could be a moot point entirely.  I could write until I get a first draft done (set a goal for halfway through the summer, maybe?) and then begin focusing my energies on figuring out where my scholastic research could take me.  I don’t know where I got the impression that my writing had to be hyperfocused, but I seem to think that’s off-base a little.

By B.J. Keeton

B.J. KEETON is a writer, teacher, and runner. When he isn't trying to think of a way to trick Fox into putting Firefly back on the air, he is either writing science fiction, watching an obscene amount of genre television, or looking for new ways to integrate fitness into his geektastic lifestyle. He is also the author of BIRTHRIGHT and co-author of NIMBUS. Both books are available for Amazon Kindle.


  1. Glad to see you contributing here more frequently (something I need to do myself). You also reminded me to transfer what I’ve written in Word to Google Docs. After a bad comp crash I don’t want to put my novel in risk again. That’s 40,000 words I would hate to have to rewrite.

    You probably know better than I do how easily it is to fall off track of something after planning it out. When I’m focused I tend to knock out 15-20k words a week, but that focus tends to dwindle. When writing as much as is required, it’s easy to go back and edit and fine tune stuff. I try not to, as I’m positive I will just edit it again. But I can’t help myself most of the time. Hence I haven’t made much real progress in a while now.

    Another problem is I always tend to think 50 scenes ahead when writing. I’ll be working on the middle and have the ending stuck in my head. I know there’s no “right way” to write, but there’s definitely a more successful way to do it. Still trying to figure out the best way for me.
    .-= Brian´s last blog ..How To Write When You’re Sick =-.

    1. I have that problem, too, Brian. I have what I call “kicks” where I’m gung-ho about a project and hyperfocus on it and then lose interest in it. My novel was that way for a while last year. And then the holidays came and so did the new semester, and my motivation dropped. I could easily pull 20k words a week if I were hardcore about it, but I figure 10k a week goal is not a terrible one to make myself.

      I’m with you: I think big. I have a whole overarching story outlined in my head, but it’s the minutae that make a novel. I need to get better at those.

  2. I’ve been reading your back catalog recently Beej and it kinda seems like you’ve lost the motivation to finish your novel. You talked about procrastination, you expanded that to considering re-writing old short stories and now you’re considering writing an academic text? Write the novel mate, it’s obvious that you’ve had it knocking around upstairs for quite a while so why not take the plunge and put the thing to rest? The worst thing that can happen is rejection and, well, you’ve already got what seems to be an immensely fulfilling job, a new marriage and myriad prospects.

    For what it’s worth, a pharmacist’s (yeah, I sold out on the dream) advice to you is – finish your Slayage paper, and by all means, please post it here, I’d love to rekindle that flame, and then get back to work on your brainchild. I don’t think you’ll be comfortable until you hit that word limit, be it 50k, 75k or whatever you like. You’re obviously immensely creative, academic writing literature is an old man’s game; why not go for gold now?

    Hope I haven’t been offensive, but you should know that if and when you ever hit that magical word count, I’ll buy a copy.

    1. First off: no, you haven’t been offensive. One of the things that gets me fueled up again in all segments of my life is a swift kick in the tail. And I think you just gave me that. So thank you.

      I really did, Prenden. I lost motivation. And I have a fear that what I write isn’t going to be good enough. I know that rejection is a way of life for a writer, and I know I’ll have my file of rejection letters when I really make a go at this, but it’s hard for me to think of spending so much time and pouring so much of myself into a novel and wondering if anyone will ever read it.

      But I guess that’s why they say that the first novel is practice for the second one you can sell, huh?

      This summer: it’s done.

      Though I do disagree with you: academics are becoming younger and younger these days, and my main draw to entering into that conversation is that I’m not an old fogey and that my ideas are just as valid as a tenured 70-year-old professor emeritus.

  3. Your posts are always insightful on this blog. It would be great to great some academic essays of yours. Please post them if you end up going the academic route this summer.

    I haven’t read any of your fiction. Have you posted any on the site? If your general writing is any indication then you have no reason to worry about writing fiction. Just get to work!
    .-= Void´s last blog ..How Do I Get My Girlfriend to Play Video Games? =-.

    1. I have, actually. I posted a short story up around Halloween. You can find it here: http://www.bjkeeton.com/2009/10/foggy-memories.html

      One reason I haven’t posted academic essays here is because I will likely get around to polishing many of my already-written papers and trying to publish them in journals of some kind. If that ever happens, believe me, I’ll provide information on how to find them. 😀

  4. Hi, remember me? Sorry for not posting here in a while. I am glad you actually started with your writing and planning. I made the same goal for 2010 (to finish the manuscript) but I am stuck and I practically do nothing. I am glad you are moving, at least a bit.

    I found this very inetersting:

    “I go through phases where I think my fiction ideas are either the best things in the world or the worst.”

    This is exactly how I feel, and trust me, I understand you. Completely. That is exactly what I thought when I started reading this article, and when I reached the line above, I thought: well, it looks like I’m not alone with this problem.

    I am in my “worst thing in the world” phase right now, which is a shame, because I really want to write this novel, I really want to present this idea to the world. It’s almost 7 years in my mind and I just have to release it.

    Sorry for talking about myself and my problems here. It’s not about me, it’s about you and your struggles. All I wanted to say is that I understand your feelings, but hey, at least you’re moving. It is great to hear your wife supports you, it is always a great thing. I don’t really have an advice here, because I don’t know what is the best thing to do. However, I know one thing: you just need to push it. Don’t stop, even if it sounds lame. It is the only way to go.

    (Of course, I was talking about your fiction only here).

    1. Of course!

      And hey, I like hearing about others here. Part of the best things about blogging to me is the number of people I get to interact with. I’m glad to see that I’m not alone in my being wishy-washy regarding my fiction.

      Probably the best thing you can do is just power through hating what you’re writing and get to something you love. I had to do that this time. I recently broke 20k and don’t particularly like some of the scenes, but I can always go back and work on them later. For now, it’s enough that I’m writing regularly. So keep on trudging through, and eventually we’ll both have something we can be proud of.

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