Mathematician Writes First Novel: A Guest Blog

perspectiveDavid Woolbright is a Professor of Computer Science at Columbus State University in Columbus, Georgia.  A mathematician by training, he’s taken a couple of writing classes over the years at Davidson College and Oxford University. Last year, he wrote a novel. I’ve read the first couple of chapters, and it’s really good. Here’s what it was like to accomplish this:


I didn’t expect to write a novel.   And I only had a couple of vague ideas in the back of my head about possible novel topics when I signed up for Elizabeth’s first writing course at the suggestion of a friend.  I did have some free time, and I thought her course might help me learn how to build a plot for a short story, or perhaps a first novel that I might write sometime in the future.

I really had no idea that the first course was preparatory to writing a novel in the 2008 NaNoWriMo write-fest.  So when Elizabeth suggested we decide on a topic for the novel that we would write in November, I complied, but I never seriously believed there would be enough time to complete such an ambitious project.  I would enjoy the first, preparatory course and bow out.

Somewhere during that first course I changed my mind.  I found the writing exercises that Elizabeth prescribed were just what I needed to free a creative urge which I had long ignored and suppressed.  Amazingly, I learned to build a plot – and not simply the plot of a short story, but the plot of a full-length novel.

The online community of fellow writers who were enrolled in the course was especially encouraging.  We cheered each other on in our virtual classroom.  By the end of the month I decided to take the NaNoWriMo plunge and write a novel.  It was now or never.  Stopping at that point would have meant letting down my classmates and myself.

November was grueling.  Writing sixteen hundred words a day is not easy to do.  But I did it.   And in doing it, I learned that the most important thing is to keep writing and never look back.  Send your inner editor on vacation until the task is done.  Edit later.  I wrote so many words in November!  When I reread the novel it was like reading something that another person had written.  I didn’t remember much of it.  The interesting thing is that I liked what I was reading.  It was far from perfect, but I wasn’t embarrassed by it.  In fact, I was proud of it.

I can highly recommend Elizabeth’s courses as a way to get moving, no matter what  your level of expertise as a writer.  She has an amazing literary sensibility that you can leverage for your own work.  Her courses are crafted with just the right number of exercises, phone calls, and encouraging words.  The sequence of courses flow seamlessly to help lead you to a finished work.

I wrote a novel last November – looking back I find it hard to believe, but I did it.

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