The first step on the path to publication is writing your novel. That’s easier said than done, right? After all, a novel is a labor of love, painstakingly brought forth like a magnificent rose in full bloom.
Uh, no. Editing is a labor of love, painstakingly brought forth like a magnificent rose in full bloom. Writing the first draft of the novel is a singularly messy affair. Most first drafts have tangled, non sequitur plot lines, and the plot holes in them are large enough to fit the Titanic. But that’s okay. You can’t let the magical power of editing go to work if there’s nothing to work on.
So, how do you get the first draft?
Well, there are probably as many ways to get that first draft as there are authors out there. We’ve each found ways that work for us. Let me share one way: NaNoWriMo.
NaNoWriMo is a wordy acronym for National Novel Writing Month which takes place in November of each year. It is a peer-pressured self-challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in November’s 30 days. That works out to an average of 1,667 words per day.
Why do I believe in the power of NaNoWriMo to get you to a first draft? Well, it’s worked thrice for me now. The now fully-edited award-winning Perfection Unleashed was born in NaNo 2010. In NaNo 2011, I completed the first draft of a Young Adult science fiction novel, tentatively titled Earth Sim, which I hope to release in 2013. More recently, in July 2012, I took part in Camp NaNoWriMo (created for the masochist who can’t just stop at writing one novel a year), and wrote 50,000 words toward Perfect Weapon, which will be released in December 2012.
Here are some tips to help you succeed at NaNoWriMo:
Tell everybody you’re taking part in it: Nothing inspires like peer pressure. Sign up on the NaNoWriMo site, join groups in your genre, age-group, and location, and find writing buddies. Better yet, get your real life friends to sign up too. Real-life peer pressure is more intense and aggravating when your BFF mockingly tells you that he or she is 2,106 words ahead of you.
Have a plan: Even if you are a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer, you’ll want a hazy outline going into NaNo. The more detailed your outline, the more successful you will be at nailing the 50,000 words. I had an incredibly detailed outline going into NaNo 2011, and hit my 50,000 words about fifteen days into November. When you don’t have to stop to wonder what happens next, you can go a lot faster.
Be willing to abandon the plan: 45,000 words into my 2011 NaNo novel, I’d exhausted my outline. What’s a girl to do? Well, make something up. That’s what writers do, right? In desperation, I added a plot twist to my novel that swirled conspiracy and intrigue into the mix. I got my 50,000 words, and the story is better. Granted, I’ll have to rewrite much of the novel to include that plot twist, but that’s what editing is for anyway.
Commit to writing no less than 1,667 words each day: The trick of getting through NaNo is not allowing the word count to get ahead of you. The further behind you fall, the easier it is to give up, so don’t fall behind. I typically set a personal target of 2,000 words per day. The difference between 1,667 and 2,000 is not profound, but over time, it adds up. Carve out time each day to pound out your word count. Skip sleep, if necessary (no, I’m not kidding.)
Use the weekends to get ahead: Most people can eke out more free time on the weekends than the weekdays. Tell your non-NaNo friends and family that they’re on hold for November, and you’ll check back in with them in December (after you catch up on your sleep.) Use the weekends to get ahead of your word count, but remember, even if you’re ahead, do not settle for less than 1,667 words a day.
Assassinate your inner editor: This is not the time to debate the placement of each comma. If you wrote a passive sentence, leave it there. If you think your descriptions are repetitive, highlight them so you’ll notice them later, then leave them be. This is not the time to pull out a thesaurus. Adverbs and adjectives galore? You can take them out later. Your focus now is just to write.
Keep track of your progress: The NaNo website has a counter that allows you to track your progress. Use it. It’s awesome seeing your word count bar rise above the straight line that depicts a steady 1,667 word-per-day contribution toward your 50,000 word novel.
Be confident: I’ve always believed that the single biggest factor of success is believing that you can attain it. Other people have done it, so why not you too?
Well, what are you waiting for? Let’s do this together. Look up my NaNoWriMo profile and send me a buddy request. (BTW, my NaNo profile picture is of Mu Xin, from my Double Helix series. Yes, she’s the ancient Chinese queen, high priestess, and warlord turned hacker extraordinaire.)