A guide to writing the first draft of a novel in just 30 days. This part will focus on actually writing the thing. Where to look for help, what to do when things start flagging and how to tell when it’s time to start worrying.
So you have your plot. Your freezer is full. You’ve warned your friends they won’t see much of you. You have negotiated with your house mates, caught up with all your chores and drunk all the beer. It’s time to actually write the thing.
The fine people at NaNoWriMo define a novel at 50,000 but most experts feel that’s on the short side. To acheive 50,000 words in 30 days you need to write at least 1667 words a day but most experienced 30 day novelists aim for at least 2000 words. I suggest you aim for 2000 words for the first week. After that first week you’ll have a better idea of the scale of your novel and you’ll know what to aim for. If your novel has a naturally epic scale then you’ll need to adjust your writing. You may have to sketch in some scenes to be fleshed out in the edit.
Now in theory even a two finger typist should be able to write 2000 words in under 3 hours but this is writing, not typing. You’ll have to keep stopping to think of the right word or look something up or work out what to call a character. I’ts important to keep these stopages as short as possible. Buy a cheap kitchen timer and use it. Never spend more than 5 minutes thinking about something. If you can’t get it right in 5 minutes then pick a place holder and use that. Write the place holder in capitals so you can find it when you come to edit.
I’m a night owl. I’m barely coherent before noon and I am fueled by caffeine till some time after lunch. I do my best writing in the late afternoon/evening/early hours of the morning. On the 31st of October I shall stay up to get a head start at midnight. I shall sit at my computer with some good quality dark chocolate wating for the stroke of midnight then I’ll write as fast as I can, finnally putting down that first line that’s been lying at the back of my mind for the last week or so. I’ll set myself a quota to meet and I won’t eat that chocolate till I get there. Then I’ll go to bed.
But that’s not for everyone. I know plenty of writers who do their best work in the morning. If this is you then don’t try to get a head start at midnight. Instead set everything up for an early start. Lay out your clothes, pick a tasty breakfast, something you’ll look forward to when the alarm goes, then set the alarm and get an early night.
When your alarm goes then just sail through to your computer/notepad/pda/clay tablet and try to get as much of your daily word count done as possible in the couple of hours before you have to do anything else. If you can’t get the whole lot done first thing in the morning then you will have to steal some time from your normal daily routine but if you’ve read parts 1 and 2 then you’ll already have some idea how you’re going to fit the time in.
Momentum is absolutely necessary for 30 day novelling. The hardest thing for the first time speed novelist is to keep gong to matter what. Most of the tips in this series are to help maintain that momentum. Now I’m going to tell you the biggest secret of all. Don’t edit. Don’t even think about editing. Stop worrying that what you’re writing is dross. Some of it certainly is but you can fix that come editing time. But you can’t edit what you haven’t written and if you start worrying about quality you won’t be writing.
One thing I’ve learned is that when you’re writing you are too close to the work to know the difference between good and bad. Some of the best writing I’ve ever done was work that, while I was writing it, I thought was meaningless padding. And that thought leads me to…
Don’t be too proud to pad. If you don’t know where you’re going next or if you’ve run out of plot or if you haven’t written eough to quit for the day but you’re too tired to tackle the next big scene then it’s time to pad. Pick something in your scene or your backstory or in one of your characters minds and let it run away with you. Write everything you can think about it and then write some more.
If that isn’t working for you then wheel out one of the plot ninjas I talked about in part 2. If the plot ninjas aren’t working for you then you need better plot ninjas and finding some is one of the few exceptions to the 5 minute rule.
Come back for part 4 when I’ll talk about keeping going and catching up.