It’s November 1. Hundreds of thousands of writers all over the world have one goal: write a novel. By the end of November, many will have written 50,000 words. That’s an immense achievement. Any writer anywhere who writes 50K words in just a month has begun a journey which will change his or her life.
Some authors will go on to establish careers as novelists. Even if you don’t however, NaNoWriMo is an immensely valuable exercise. So, how do you write a novel in a month?
How to write a novel in a month and stay sane
Let’s look at some tips which will help any NaNoWriMo author to stay sane. You can use these tips even if you’re not doing NaNoWriMo, of course.
1. Establish a time and place to write, and stick to it
Novelists lead boring lives, by intention. Yes, they take vacations, and socialize, but they know that novels are written alone, in solitude.
Don’t despair if solitude is impossible. Even if you have a full-time job, three kids, and many commitments, you can nevertheless complete NaNoWriMo if you set a writing routine, and stick to it.
You’ll need to write 1600 words a day to complete 50,000 words in a month. It takes me an hour to write 1000 words when I’m starting a novel. Once I’ve written the novel’s setup — the first three chapters — I know the people and the situation, and my writing speed increases automatically.
Try setting your alarm clock and getting up earlier so that you can write in peace. Or write as soon as the kids are in bed. Whichever you choose, stick to that routine. Within a few days, you’ll have trained your body and brain so that when it’s time to write, you’ll write.
2. Forget writing a novel: write ONE scene (or even just a paragraph)
You’ve written 1600 words, and you’re proud of your achievement. Well done! Then you realize how many words you still have to write.
Please stop thinking. You just need to complete one day’s writing at a time. When I start a novel, I never think of all the words I’ll need to complete by my deadline, because it’s pointless.
I like to focus on one scene at a time. I make a list of who’ll be in the scene, what each character’s goals are, what they’re scared of, and where the scene takes place. Then I write the scene.
Usually, my scenes average at 1500 words. Some are shorter, many are longer. Just like a novel, your scenes need a setup, and a climax. Focus on that scene, only.
On slow writing days you may need to just focus on a paragraph at a time. That’s OK. Writing a novel is frustrating, because a super-fast writing day may be immediately followed by a day in which the words won’t come.
My creativity seems to run in four-day cycles. I have four good writing days, followed by two very slow writing days. On slow days, focus on your paragraphs. 🙂
3. Write first, socialize later
Social media is a blessing because it makes writing easier. There are endless writing groups you can join, so you never need to feel alone.
Unfortunately, social media is also a curse. How many times have you opened Facebook “for five minutes”, then realize that an hour has passed, and you didn’t notice?
4. Forget all the rules you’ve read: let yourself WRITE
Forget that. Forget it all. The creative side of your brain hates rules. It’s basically non-verbal. It “thinks” in feelings and images.
Relax. Accept the words which pop into your head, and write them down. You can worry about writing rules and whether you’ve done justice to your characters after you’ve written 50K words.
5. Focus on your characters: they will grow your plot
Your characters will surprise you. If you love outlines, your characters will shock you, because they won’t perform as you expect them to. When it comes to following your outline, or following your characters, let your characters win.
You can always change your outline. If you try to send a character into a direction he doesn’t want to go, you may find yourself blocked.
If you find a character’s baulking, and you MUST get him to do something he won’t do, think about his background. Come up with a reason for him to do what you want him to do. Rewrite early scenes, or pop in a little backstory, and the chances are that he’ll oblige you.
On backstory: as a rule, I’m against flashbacks and great lumps of backstory for new novelists because it can quickly get out of hand. Writing backstory makes it too easy to wander down byways and lose the forward momentum of your plot.
If you do find yourself writing backstory, keep it to under 200 words.
Onward, one day’s writing at a time…
Keep writing. Expect to have some days you hate writing.
Write anyway. 🙂
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