Happy National Novel Writing Month, readers! I posted on this topic earlier this week over at my personal blog, and so many people told me they found it helpful, I thought I'd expand it some and post it here for our YA Stands readers.
I fast-draft all of my manuscripts. It’s much easier and much less
stressful for me to write several thousand words a day for 5-6 weeks
than it is for me to scratch out 1k a day and constantly be thinking,
worrying, and problem-solving about my book for six months. I love
fast-drafting because it allows me to get in the zone and stay there.
If you’re doing National Novel Writing Month
along with so many of the rest of us, you’ll be trying to write 50,000
words during the month of November. Here are some tips and tricks from a
perpetual fast-drafter for getting those words on the page:
1) Get in the mindset. Chant these to yourself until you believe
them: You can’t polish a blank page. You can’t edit what you haven’t
written. A first draft’s only job is to exist; if it exists, it’s a
perfect first draft. Leave editing for December.
2) Prepare your lifestyle. Make a few meals ahead of time and put
them in the freezer. Or, you can swap cooking duty with a friend or
family member nearby; offer to cook a few nights for them in Dec. if
they bring over a meal or two in November. Stock your pantry and freezer
with items that won’t spoil so you can cut down on trips to the store.
Consider hiring a neighbor kid or local student to come help out with
basic house cleaning for an hour a week; I’ve done this several times,
and for $50, I don’t have to vacuum or clean the bathroom for a month.
Those are valuable writing hours.
3) Re-prioritize writing. For fast-drafting, writing has to not be
the thing that gets done once everything else is done. Unless I have
guests coming over, when I’m fast-drafting, the house chores suffer. And
that’s fine with me. Writing has to come pretty close to first to get a
project like this done. Explaining to your family what you’re trying to
do and how much work it is is a great idea; consider asking them to
help pull the extra weight by taking over dishes, walking the dog, doing
laundry, making breakfast so you can get right to writing, etc., in
exchange for a fun family party or outing in early December.
4) Create productive ways to give your brain a
break. Buy a book that’s a treat– one you’ve been dying to read. Keep it for when you're suffering brainfry. Reading
helps me to get out of sentence patterns and word habits I get stuck in
when fast-drafting, and it’s a blessed relief from hearing my own voice
on the page. Working on outlining or research tasks is also a great
productive break. I work through a copy of Donald Maass’s WRITING THE
BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK every time I draft. When I can’t write scenes
anymore, I switch to the book and work through a section. It’s also a
great thing to take along for sitting in waiting rooms, working on
during a car trip, or anytime I have 5-10 minutes to spare but can’t get
writing done. I also keep a file of research tasks– look up this,
Google that, find out X crazy detail– that I can work on when I can’t
write anymore. Doing these things lets me write scenes when I have the
time and energy, and it gives me productive things that don’t require
the same level of mental engagement when I don’t.
5) Get rid of your Kryptonite. If it’s Candy Crush, swear off. If
it’s Netflix, stay away. Facebook or Pinterest? Have your spouse/a
friend change your password and ask them to let you on once a day. Any
activity where you aren’t aware of time passing means you’re likely to
spend more time doing it than you meant to. Usually way more. It might
be your “braindead activity” but unless we’re very different people,
those things won’t refresh you and they’ll simply be a black hole in
6) Reward yourself when you meet your daily goals. Maybe the reward
is reading time, or chocolate, or new music. I recommend rewards that
don’t require tons of time– television, social media time, games I like,
etc., tend to mean I stay up too late enjoying my reward, and my
writing time the next day suffers. So make sure your reward doesn’t make
your writing suffer. A great reward for me is swapping pages with a CP
or friend who is doing NaNo– reading each other’s pages quick (no crits,
just reading for fun) and squealing over fun details and awesome
tension is incredibly motivating. When so much material is being created
so fast, the urge to share it and have it heard because IT IS SO
AWESOME gets overwhelming. So, share it! There are few better rewards
than having a friend love it, too. (But again– no critiques, no editing.
Just OMG LUV and high-fives.)
7) Remember that unless you don’t start, you can’t fail. That’s the
great thing about NaNo. You can “win” by writing 50,000+ words, but you
can’t really lose. If you write 10,000 words, you have a fantastic start
on your book, plus all the planning and time required to actually put
words on the page. You’re gaining, you’re making progress, you’re
creating something every day you put down words. No matter how many
words it turns out to be, creating isn’t failing.
8) Allow yourself the freedom of draft. What's a draft? It's a sketch. It's a skeleton that still needs the muscles and skin put on it. It's the foundation of something that will later be a novel. This means you can throw perfection to the wind. Yes, make sure you have a strong foundation and that your scenes aren't rambling and pointless. But skipping some things for now is perfectly allowed. For example: I highlight and comment on my own draft as I go. I'll use the "add comment" feature and put "transition" when I know two things don't connect and need to. I'll write "this sucks; fix it" when I hit really bad writing that takes untangling something I just can't put my finger on right then. Sometimes it's bigger things, like a description or motivation issue or plot hole. I'll make a note and move on. I also keep a separate file with a list of edits and questions that occur to me as I'm writing. I make a note of what I want to change or research in that file, then move on and keep writing. Sometimes writing will help me realize how to fix the issue, and I'll go back to the edit file and expand the note. But I don't stop to fix it. That's revising, not drafting.
9) Realize you're going to think your draft sucks and this is pointless. At some point during the month, it's going to happen. I have two pieces of advice to keep in mind: 1) It's probably true, and that's okay. It probably doesn't suck as much as you think it does, but it will suck a little. Of course it does. Drafts suck. It's what they do. No one cares if it sucks, so you shouldn't either. 90% of writing is rewriting. Sucking is okay. It's a baby book; it can't do most of the things grown up books should do, and it needs a lot of help. That's what revising is for-- helping your book baby grow up. 2) Thinking your book sucks is normal. Every writer thinks that about every book at some point. It's not a sign you're not a good writer, it's not a sign it's a bad concept, and it's not a sign you can't do this. It's just one of the stages of writing. Keep at it!
10) Be honest with yourself about what an incredible thing it is to write a book. Stories shape people's lives. Stories are used by prophets and gods and teachers in every faith system to illustrate ideas. Stories are how we remember loved ones and entertain each other and escape stress and connect with strangers. Through stories, we process and learn and empathize and relate. Stories help us look more deeply at ourselves, and also step outside ourselves to see someone else. Writing a book is something worth doing. It's not trivial. It's not wasted time, no matter what happens to the book later. This month you're writing a book, and that's awesome.
Are you doing NaNo? Do you have an awesome project in the works?