It’s that time of year again. Writers everywhere are hoarding Halloween chocolate and stockpiling caffeinated drinks (Diet Pepsi and Gevalia coffee in this house) because November, despite having only thirty days and requiring a full week of preparation for Thanksgiving dinner, is NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. Actually, it’s probably just Writing Month, as it’s also WNFIN, or Write Non Fiction In November month. I’ve even seen NaNoPoMo mentioned, or National November Posting Month, challenging bloggers to post every day. With the daily blogging, with fiction writers racing to write a 50,000 word novel in thirty days and with non-fiction writers also struggling to meet the same deadline, how could it not be Writing Month? And how could writers who aren’t participating fail to take notice, with daily word counts in everyone’s social media feeds?
I’m not participating this year. I decided I had too many other obligations to make a good faith attempt at a novel, or a daily blog. But that didn’t mean that I couldn’t learn from all the advice flying around. Many of the points are useful to any writer writing to meet any deadline or under no time constraints at all.
1) Say it in a Sentence.
If you can condense your story concept down into one sentence (think of it as your elevator pitch), you are on your way to developing the essence of your story. If you begin planning your novel and you can’t even come up with the words that encapsulate the crux of the tale, you probably haven’t thought it through completely yet. Think of your story as a painting. The elevator pitch is where you are laying down the big bold strokes of color. It just lays the shape of the work, nothing more. The major milestones are the smaller strokes where the picture emerges. The scenes are the fine detail work where the picture takes shape and becomes a true work of art. In the planning stage, the broad brush strokes of a single sentence are all that is necessary. If you can’t do that, you don’t have a novel in the making.
2) Research Research Research.
NaNoWriMo or not, much of your research can be done before you sit down to write or outline. It doesn’t matter what your idea is… unless you’re writing your autobiography as fiction, there is likely something you need to research. Even if you’re writing your autobiography as fiction, there’s probably something you need to research. Most likely you’re not writing something you know as well as yourself and your life. That will require more research, whether it be geography, history, and/or biography. The Internet has become an easy resource for us. Remember to try to use academic, government or specialist sites rather than general commercial sites, as they tend to be more thorough and reliable. But the Internet isn’t the only option for research. We tend to forget about books (how ironic), maps, charts, film, and other media, and most importantly, going directly to the source when possible. Visiting the geography we are interested in and interviewing the people we are writing about are excellent options. As this is research and can be done before the writing begins, the only constraints we have are the ones our lives and our bank accounts put on us. But if and when possible, we should consider doing something other than Internet research.
3) Pantsers will struggle in November.
Are you a pantser or a plotter? Everyone writes differently, and, while I certainly have my favorite way to write, I’m not going to tell you which way is correct. There’s only one way that’s correct for you, and that’s the way you should stick with. That said, in November, if you go in without an outline or a plan, you’re probably going to fail, because you don’t have the luxury of finding your way through a plot in a mere month. If you are comfortable with a working plan or outline of some sort, it will help guide you through your novel. And if you find that comfortable in November, perhaps that structure will help you anytime you sit down to write a book.
4) Editing is a Writer’s Worst Enemy
If you are participating in NaNoWriMo, you don’t have time to edit as you go. You’ll never get done in time. If you aren’t, should you edit as you go? Many authors say no. If you edit as you write, you’ll spend so much time editing that you’ll lose your flow and rhythm. Writers need to write. You can edit later. Some writers take the beginning of their writing day to edit the prior day’s work. That helps them get back in the story from the day before and lets them correct any issues that may have developed before they get out of hand. If you absolutely have to edit before draft one is complete, try just doing it once a day.
5) Been There, Scene That
Scenes need to be thought of as vehicles. They take the reader from Point A to Point B in your story. If you are planning your story (or pantsing it) and find yourself with a scene, even a beautifully written scene with several darlings in it, but it simply stays in Point A, you have to cut it. Each scene should start with a hook (or at the very least something interesting enough to entice the reader to keep reading), continue with action that progresses the plot, and ends with something that leaves the reader desperate to read on. If you have a scene that doesn’t do those three things, it either needs to be rewritten or deleted.
These five points are popular points given to writers preparing for NaNoWriMo, but they are points that any writers can use when working on a novel. Like I said, I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this year, but I am going to put these suggestions to use as I work on my current and future projects. Hopefully you find them useful in your writing as well.