Thought this would be helpful. A week out. Nerves are firing off without permission, sweat comes from everywhere, and that candy aisle is looking mighty tempting. Are you prepared to write your novel?
Especially for those who’ve never attempted writing a novel before, the process can seem daunting. There’s not much of an idea what to expect from the local buzz and false assumptions about what it takes to write a book. In a word: everything.
November 1st marks an important occasion every year. Hundreds of thousands of writers will band together under a single banner. One goal. Finish the first draft of a novel in one month.
To be more specific, the actual goal from NaNoWriMo is 50,000 words in 30 days, or 1666 words per day when you average it all out.
How the heck do you do this? Well, that’s what this post is all about.
The common view of the writing process is a lie!
Just like the tip of that iceberg in the photo, the general perception of writing is very different from the actual process. Most people think that writers wall themselves off from the world for a year or two, and painstakingly hammer out each carefully crafted sentence one at a time until a masterpiece appears. It’s shipped off to a publisher, who instantly grabs it, promotes it, and it becomes a well-known bestseller.
The truth is that most books are rewritten and revised over and over. Changes are made, whole chapters are added or deleted, and THEN the manuscript is nitpicked for details, BEFORE an agent ever sees a query letter.
For those lucky enough to land an agent and a publisher, the editing process continues, for up to three more years!
This is the trade model, but even indie publishers (the great ones) work with an editor, a cover designer, and a host of other people to make their work go. They don’t simply toss a first draft out into the world and hope it sells.
The big bullet point here is that no matter how wonderful you think your first draft is while penning it, it won’t be done. The first draft is the first doorway, it’s the initial step, the form. It could be loosely compared to a black belt in Karate. You’ve acquired the basic mastery of your art, and once that part is finished, you can work on perfecting the final product.
Before the Beginning
That said, I’m not really a huge fan of pantsing anymore. At least not the conventional view of it. While I have no doubt that many books have been written this way, and it is more fun, and can be incredibly productive, it isn’t the “best” way.
If you’re a pantser, by all means, do what you do. But consider the following at least.
If you spend just a little time this week thinking about your story, the world you want it to exist in, the grand theme the reader should walk away with, the character arc, etc. I’m not talking about a high-school outline here. Just answer the following questions:
- Who is the main character?
- What do they want?
- What are the stakes?
- What are they willing to do?
- Will they succeed or fail?
- How will you wrap everything up?
These are core elements of a story. They drive the content, the world, and everything else. If you can, put your whole idea for a story into a single sentence. An elevator pitch, if you will.
Here’s an example I’m making up right now for Fallen, one of my favorite movies.
When detective John Hobbs encounters a criminal who can’t be arrested, he’ll have to figure out a way to outsmart a demon, before it destroys him and his family.
…something like that. Just like my little one-liner, you’ll need to revise it over and over, but pin down what’s special or interesting about your story. This can be a sentence, a paragraph, or a page.
Even if you plan on pantsing most of the story, I think it’s best to have a minimum outline. This includes three vital pieces of information that will drive the story:
- Who is the main character? Basically all the stuff above.
- What is the primary conflict?
- How is the MC going to resolve it?
That’s a story. This is an outline, and it can be printed in crayon on a single scrap of paper.
You can space these pieces out, and stuff some different scenes or important plot points between the various areas. A solid outline that is easy to write is nothing more than a list of goalposts that you need to hit. My favorite way to do this is writing a “this and that” kind of story. A very brief, this happens, then this, then this, etc.
Doing so walks me through the course of the story I intend to write without worrying over the details. I can see the “big picture” in a few pages, and I can fix major plot issues before they every get a chance to show up. I used to start with one rough outline done like this. Nowadays I prefer to do the whole story like this, and re-write it over and over and over until I’m happy with it.
Then when I hit go on November 1st, even if everything doesn’t go perfectly, I have a REALLY good idea of where I need to go from anywhere else in the story. In other words, I ALWAYS have a talking point, something I need to accomplish, and writer’s block disappears. I know the story, so I can simply write it.
Then it’s a matter of work.
This is the hard part that firsties will often miss until they are in the moment. At some point in your writing career, you’ll have a loss of motivation, and you won’t feel like working on your book. Even with the best outline, knowing exactly what you need to write, there’s still that nagging repulsion from sitting down to do it.
Writing is work. A LOT of work, and you’ll have to force yourself into a chair and get it done. Hopefully, the NaNoInspo project can help you with this in November, but it won’t be your last battle with this kind of thing. It’s a lifelong battle faced by every creator.
Be prepared. Have a pep-talk ready, and remember that if you really want to see this thing through, you’ll have to do the work. Set up a writing time, and hold yourself to it as you would a job. Give yourself one or more hours every day. Assign yourself extra on weekends or days-off the day-job. Treat your writing time as sacred, and use it for getting words on the page. You can do research and daydreaming about being a bestselling author some other time.
Your writing time is for writing.
Best of luck to you. Hope to see you succeeding in November.