National Novel Writing Month is nearly upon us. Sadly, I will once again be unable to participate in this annual event. I keep meaning to, but it never seems to fit my schedule right. I’ll be launching Red Dragon Five on November 20, and that means I’ve got a lot of production work to do in the 19 days leading up to it. Maybe next year.
But Red Dragon Five is the second novel I’ll publish and the sixth one I’ve written. So I would like to believe I have some advice I can offer to those trying this for the first time (or even the second or third time). Unsolicited, here is my advice for how to hit your 50,000-word goal in the 30 days available.
- Have a plan: Writing a novel is a tremendous undertaking. You need to plan in advance for how to accomplish it. That means writing down character sketches, outlining the plot, and making any other notes you need to, so that you know where the story is going as you write it. Inspiration doesn’t always strike when you want it to. Having a plan will help you write on those days when the creative juices are stubbornly refusing to flow easily.
- Write at the same time every day: Human beings are creatures of habit, and we use habit to train ourselves psychologically to do things. If you sit down to write at the same time every day, your brain will quickly learn, “It is writing time,” and automatically turn your thoughts towards creating your story. I write mid-day. I’ve had time to eat and take care of my correspondence, and it’s before I pick the kids up from school. Starting at around 10am, my mind shifts into “writer-mode.” It stays there until around 2-2:30. I have successfully written at other times of the day, but it is harder to make that transition.
- Establish a work environment: You should also write in the same place. It doesn’t matter where, as long as it is a comfortable place where you can be productive. I write at my couch or my dining room table. My brain knows that, when I am in one of those places with my computer in front of me, I am in writer-mode. You want to give your mind the same training. When it’s time to write, go to your writer place, so your brain knows it is time to focus on work.
- Just get it down: Do not worry about how good your words are while you are writing. That’s important enough for me to repeat: Do not worry about how good your words are while you are writing. Just get them down into the computer. You need to average 1666 words a day to hit your 50,000-word goal. Don’t waste your time obsessing over turns of phrase or thinking your story or your prose isn’t good enough. That’s all for the editing process. Right now, you just need to write. The hardest part about finishing a novel is actually writing it all. Getting there in satisfying style is something to work out when you edit and rewrite. Right now, just get it down. I made a lot of changes to Red Dragon Five between the first draft and the second. I’m working on the fifth draft now. This is the time for me to shape and craft and worry about whether it’s any good. For that first draft, I just needed to get from the opening sentence to typing, “The End.” That’s your goal too. Write it now; fix it in December.
- Keep it in perspective: Writing a novel is work. There’s no question about it. It requires hours of time and mental energy — time and energy you could be spending on something else. Writing requires sacrifice. But it’s also fun. As much work as penning a novel is, it beats every other job I’ve ever held. So remember while you’re slaving away in November that you’re doing it for fun. Maybe you’ll create a bestseller. Maybe you’ll author something no one wants to read. But it doesn’t matter. Have fun with it. Enjoy the creative process and the sense of accomplishment that comes from getting your ideas out of your head and into a manuscript.
I wish every NaNoWriMo participant the best of luck. May you all write the novel of your dreams. Maybe next year, I’ll actually be able to join you!
If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, leave a comment. I’d love to hear about your adventure!