One of the aspects of being an author who writes on spec is that it plays to one of my weaknesses, perhaps to my greatest weakness—self-discipline. I can set writing goals, and I do, but the internal motivations to reach and, more importantly, maintain them is sometimes lacking, though not always.
Being a daily journalist for years before I officially retired three years ago meant a lot of the goal-setting was done for me. The slogan at United Press International in the 1980s and early 90s was that there is a deadline every minute. And while the print publications I worked for from the mid-1990s onward didn’t have deadlines like at UPI or the Associated Press, the deadlines they did have still generally had to be met. And, as a whole, those decisions weren’t mine.
The first novel I wrote took me more than two decades to complete, though the last half of it only took three weeks. What completing that novel showed me was that, much like in journalism, I had the capacity to write fiction quickly and coherently in a short time span. I just needed the motivation to do it.
Enter National Novel Writing Month.
I first heard of NaNoWriMo in 2008 and decided to accept the challenge of writing a novel of 50,000 words in the 30 days of November. That’s within the range of the average young adult novel, and while doable, it’s still a bit of a reach.
However, a friend talked me out of attempting it in 2008. Big mistake.
The goal of writing the first draft of a novel in 30 days provided me with the sort of deadline I was accustomed to from a career in journalism. So in the spring of 2009, I decided to do NaNoWriMo that November regardless of what other people said. And I picked a subject – a novel about a race car driver facing demons real and imagined as he fought to stay on top – and started doing some research. But then a health issue delayed my preparations leaving up to November and, with only a week before I was to start writing, I was forced to switch gears (no pun intended).
In the last week of October, I decided to write a murder mystery, which was a natural fit. I read lots of mysteries and thrillers, and had already started writing short story mysteries. But with less than seven days to prepare, I had to figure out a crime, discover who did it, and determine who would solve it. And so, shortly after midnight on Nov. 1, I started writing An Untidy Affair.
I knew that an average pace of 1,667 words a day would yield 50,000 words in 30 days. (Well, 50,010, actually.) And that was the goal.
However, after only three days, by which time I had more than 10,000 words, I realized I was comfortably writing twice as much as needed to reach the goal by the end of the month. I continued with that overall pace and, on the evening of Nov. 15, I reached 50,000 words. I was tired and the novel wasn’t finished but I was close. Over the next three days I only added about 5,000 words to finish Affair in only 18 days.
That, of course, was only the first draft and more re-writing and editing occurred. The final draft published this summer is nearly 75,000 words, but the basics of the novel that you see today is what I wrote during those 18 days.
I haven’t attempted NaNoWriMo every year since 2009 and twice when I did I failed to reach my goal during the month. But now, November is the only time I write a complete novel. The goal is set for me to reach.
I am currently working on re-writing and editing a prequel to Affair that I need to hand in to my editor by the end of the year. And if I’ve made sufficient progress by mid-October, which I suspect I will, this November I will finally write that race car driver novel I planned to do in 2009.
A David Blaise Mystery: Book 1
Publication Date: June 25, 2021
Struggling Philadelphia private eye David Blaise gets two routine but unrelated cases on the same day in May 1985 – the day city police firebombed the MOVE house, which killed 11 people and destroyed an entire neighborhood. When Blaise starts following a cheating husband and searching for a missing person who may not actually be missing, he also discovers his cases may be related, and that he is being followed. When his tail is murdered, implicating the P-I, Blaise must find the true killer before he is literally buried alive.
MB Dabney is an award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in numerous local and national publications, such as Indianapolis Monthly, NUVO, Ebony magazine, Black Enterprise.com, the Indianapolis Recorder, and the Indianapolis Business Journal. A native of Indianapolis, Michael spent decades as a reporter working at Business Week magazine, United Press International and the Associated Press, the Indianapolis Star, and The Philadelphia Tribune, the nation’s oldest continuously published Black newspaper, where he won awards for editorial writing. He has co-edited two anthologies—Decades of Dirt: Murder, Mystery and Mayhem from the Crossroads of Crime; and MURDER 20/20—and has published numerous short mystery stories, including Miss Hattie Mae’s Secret (Decades of Dirt) , Callipygian (The Fine Art of Murder), and Killing Santa Claus (Homicide for the Holidays). An Untidy Affair is his first novel. The father of two adult daughters, Michael lives in Indianapolis with his wife, Angela.
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