Sunday, 28 September 2014

Heading towards National Novel Writing Month

The leaves are beginning to fall and build up into a pile at the front door, which can only mean we're heading into Autumn, which also means that National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is looming.

Write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November! No small task.1667 words per day, every day for 30 days. The key to success is planning, and commitment.

Now, some authors don't like planning or outlining, and I'm certainly not one to tell you how to write! But, if you know roughly where your story is supposed to be going each time you sit down, you're much more likely to hit that word count target each day, and it's a key component of a lot of the books out there that will try to help you hit the lofty heights of thousands of words per day.

You are of course limited by your typing speed for one thing - and that can be made a lot more difficult on the virtual keyboard of something like an iPad or other tablet.

I'm firmly in the camp of quality over quantity - so I don't want to just hammer out 2000 words of nonsense just to tick off the day's word count, so for me, there's a balance to be struck, and NaNoWriMo is a very good, focused exercise to help you increase the number of words you're writing per day, while keeping an eye on the quality as well as the end goal.

So, here are some thoughts about how you might approach a NaNoWriMo project this November: -

Plan an outline of the novel before the start of November
There's a balance here as well - if you plan in too much detail, you run the risk of losing the enthusiasm, that spark of creativity that makes you want to write the story in the first place. However, if you can get a one or two sentence per scene outline down of the novel, you've got something to work with each time you sit down. One of the hardest thing you can face as a writer, is that completely blank page staring back at you, so swing things in your favour: don't start with a blank page.

Write when you can, as often as you can
You may think you don't have time to write - maybe you don't have a couple of hours free to devote to writing in the evenings, plenty of people have work and family commitments that keep them from their writing. But, you've surely got 15 minutes spare sometime in the morning? Get up 15 minutes earlier, and do 15 minutes of writing there and then. Take 15 minutes less for eating lunch, and use that 15 minutes to write. Do the same around dinner time, and go to bed 15 minutes later, using that time for writing.

That's an hour of time there - in 15 minute blocks - and if you can leave each session's writing at a point where you know how you're going to carry on, then you can pick up in the next session and just get straight on with it. No staring at the page, no procrastination, just 15 minutes of you and the story.

Supress your inner editor
The goal for NaNoWriMo is not to produce a finished novel. The goal is to produce the first draft of a novel. So if you change the profession of your heroine half-way through the story, don't worry about going back and changing every mention of it in what you've already written. Make a note of it in a separate document, and just carry on with the writing - you're going to be changing and editing things in the story well into December and beyond. You can even leave the spelling mistakes - you can sort them out later. Now if you're like me, you won't stand for that, and will end up going back over what you've written, so don't beat yourself up for doing that - just remember: sort the spelling out, but don't start looking at what you've written with your critical, editing eye! That's for later. Keep your eye firmly on the goal of getting the first draft finished by the end of November.

Above all else, enjoy it!
Writing is one of the most enjoyable things you can do - you're adding to the collective story-telling legacy of the human race - that's amazing. So don't worry about "is it good enough", or "who's ever going to read this" - every author worries about those things, so try to brush it aside. Concentrate on telling the story you want to tell, and concentrate on enjoying the creative process as you do so. Argue with your characters, interview them, ask them what they think of the events that have shaped their story so far. Take a trip out to a location that's similar to a location in your story (if you can!) Do whatever you can to make sure that when you sit down to write, you've got a smile on your face.

There are plenty of tools and programs out there to help you with your writing, whether it's for planning it, writing it, or editing it afterwards, and I have quite a few of my own that I've written for my own use, as well as for sale - but you don't actually need anything to write, other than something to write on, and something to write with. There are some free word processors available (LibreOffice for example), so you don't need to spend anything to get started.

This article is also posted at my software blog.

Happy writing!