Writing a Novel

In a Nutshell: I’m writing a novel, live, online, in Obsidian.md … using Obsidian Publish to push out a chapter a day … and sharing all the outlines, character sketches, and author commentary as I go! I have no idea if I can do this or not, but the fun is in trying and learning — and if it works out, in addition to a good story, other writers will have unprecedented insights into how this particular novel was written. Come along for the fun! You can read the novel here.


I always intended to be a novelist.

I have two degrees in creative writing. I’ve taught writing at universities and colleges. I’ve run writing workshops.

I’m a professional writer. Over the past three decades, I’ve made a good living writing articles, blog entries, comic books, creative briefs, more than a dozen commercially-published non-fiction books, a handful of self-published books, corporate documents, user manuals, memos, presentations, sermons, speeches, web sites, and video scripts.

I’ve even written two short novels. The first was a funny little 50,000-word novel written as part of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) back in 2001. Family Thais was the first NaNoWriMo novel to ever be written and published daily in real time online, and by the end of the month, several hundred people were following each daily installment — which ain’t bad, considering how much less crowded the internet was in those days.

The second novel, The Tarot of the Elves, was a companion novella for the collectible Tarot deck of the same name, published by the Italian publisher, Lo Scarabeo. As a novel, it’s just … okay. (And, due to the fact it was work for hire, I don’t own the rights to it, which sucks.)

Along with these two books, more than twenty-five partial novels, in various states of completion, languish on my hard drive. All I can say about these is that each one taught me something about how not to write a novel.

But not one of these projects turned out to be the novel I always dreamed I’d write and publish. And now that more than a half-century of my life has gone by, I’m more aware than ever that if I’m going to start the journey toward being a novelist, I need to start it before my personal runway gets any shorter.

Writing In Public

I’ve also decided that, in addition to writing a novel, I’m going to write it out loud, in public, sharing what I learn along the way.

My goal is to write for an hour a day, drafting between 1000 and 1500 words per session — about a chapter a day. I’m going to publish those raw, unvarnished words — no matter vapid or poorly crafted they are — right here, on MarkMcElroy.com, every day.

In addition, I’m committing to:

  • publish commentary on what I learn, as I’m learning it
  • stay curious, and try to see the inevitable bumps in the road as opportunities to learn, pivot, and make smarter choices going forward
  • share what’s going on behind the scenes, from outlines to brainstorming notes to character sketches and project wikis
  • be transparent about the tools I’m using and how I’m using them … which brings me to:

Using Obsidian

Since adopting Obsidian as my thinking and writing environment, my productivity is through the roof. I’m journaling and blogging and making notes with unprecedented ease, and, as I do, I’m discovering unexpected and delightful connections between the ideas I record there.

Because I’m relatively new to Obsidian, I thought it might be interesting to experiment with it as an environment for writing and creating long-form fiction. And because I like to share tools I love with other folks, I’m thinking that writing a novel in public in Obsidian might encourage others to give Obsidian a try, as well.

And just so you know: the folks creating Obsidian have no stake in this. I’m not getting paid, sponsored, or compensated by them (or anyone else) in any way. This is just me, being me.

Why Do This?

Remember that NaNoWriMo novel I finished? Part of what drove me to the end was the sincere desire not to disappoint the people who were showing up to read the book every day.

I know from experience that it’s very easy to start a novel and even be very enthusiastic about it … only to have that great start foiled by distractions or broken routines.

This time, if I fail … well, I’ll have to fail in public. And the truth is, I think I’m more afraid of public failure than I am of writing novels.

Also: I confess the whole “Can he do it or not?” performance art aspect of this experiment appeals to the showman in me.

How You Can Help

  1. Read along. Show up, follow the story, and let me know what you think.
  2. Spread the word. If you’re willing to tell friends you think are interested, tweet about my work, or share this effort on Facebook, I’d be over the moon — especially if you or your friends are writers.
  3. Buy me a coffee. If you like what I’m up to, you can make a little one-time financial gesture over at BuyMeACoffee.com. This is always optional, never required … and always appreciated.
  4. Keep me honest. If I miss a day, bug me about it. (I’m not going to. I’m not!)

And, Finally, Some Important Things to Know

This book has gay characters. I can’t tell this story without ’em. But it also has straight characters, and some characters who’ve never revealed their sexuality to me. That said: if you don’t want to read a book with gay characters … this book isn’t for you.

This book is for grown-ups. I’m planning to keep things pretty much PG, but we’re exploring themes and points of view that are not for the kiddies. There’s zero porn, but this is a story about adults, and what can go on between them. Oh, and there’s a little profanity — sorry!

This book isn’t autobiographical. This book is populated with fictional characters I created to represent specific points of view. To give ’em room for growth, I’m giving them some pretty severe emotional and psychological obstacles to overcome. And to keep things interesting, I’m going to run these suckers through the wringer. None of horrors depicted have happened to me, and none of these people should be taken as stand-ins for me or anyone else.

There will be spoilers, but you can avoid them. I’m sharing both the book and my process. This includes the outlines I create, my brainstorming about what could happen, character profiles that disclose backstory, and more. If you’re a writer, or if you’re curious about the process I’m using, these things may be of more interest to you than the book itself! But if you prefer to just experience the book as readers will, you can always just read the chapters as I publish them … ignore the extras … and be kept in suspense until the end.

Thank You!

Thanks for your interest … and for being willing to play a part in this adventure.

The novel, being written in and published by Obsidian.md, is available to you right here.

Mark McElroy: lives in Mississippi | is blogging again | is author of a dozen books | works as a professional storyteller | has a husband | is working on a novel | is an engaging public speaker | lost fifty pounds in 2017 | is a little obsessed with pizza.

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