So my social media boards and walls have been full of folks doing the annual NaNoWriMo plunge. National Novel Writing Month runs November, and the goal is for someone to write a (40,000 word) novel in this month. There’s help, and we’ll come back to it later, but let’s talk NaNo itself.
For new writers, that’s a scary project. TradPub always told you that you could write one novel in a year, and had to labor painfully over each and every word and sentence. Agony. Rewrites. The works.
You sit down and write. Simple as that. Writing is a muscle. If you commit to writing, you’ll develop it. Your plan should be to reach a point where you can write 1,000 good words in an hour without distractions. You won’t get there immediately, but you won’t run a marathon in three hours your first time either. Practice. After that, it becomes math.
1000 words/hour means 40 hours of work, give or take. Let’s call it 50, so you have time to think and plan as you go, assuming you’ve already roughed out your notes and outline in October. 50 divided by 4 equals 12.5. So you need to put in about 12-13 hours PER WEEK over the whole month if you don’t fully average 1000 words/hour.
Let’s assume you’re serious about this project. That’s 2 hours each day hard writing, with some gaps for things. How much television do you watch after work? How about the weekend? The average football game is 3 hours. Skip two of those and write instead on saturday and sunday and that’s 5000-6000 words, rounded off. And that’s just the weekend afternoons. You’ll have other time to do things.
When I had a day job, I got up and went in way early to get an extra 2 hours to write in the mornings, all by myself, in the kitchen at the office. And I wrote in the evenings, but usually only 2-3 nights at most (I wrote 7 days per week and usually 28 days in 30.)
You can do this. Let me repeat that: YOU CAN DO THIS!!
If you are a morning person, get up early this month. Night owls, stay up a little later. Get in 2 hours of work each week day, by not watching tv for a month. Its not like you can’t go back and binge in December. This isn’t the old days where you had to wait for reruns to come on in the spring.
2 hours each day. Maybe before the kids wake up or after they go to bed. Maybe your lunch hour or on the bus on the way home. Add it all up, even in small chunks. Find yourself 10 hours. That’s presumably 10,000 words if you are working at it. Over 4 weeks, that’s 40,000 words, without the weekend. Or one hour each day and six hours on the weekend skipping football.
It adds up. That’s how it works in this game.
You can do this, but you have to want it hard enough to commit to it. That means giving things up. People tell me they want to be writers, so I ask them how much they write. That’s what writers do: Write.
So write. It will amaze you how easily it will flow, once you commit to prioritizing writing over other things.
I have faith that you can do this.
It’s never really NaNo that kills people. It’s what happens afterwards.
Let’s talk about December 1, after you have written your novel. (and if you only got 3/4 of a novel done in November, remember to throw a party. YOU WROTE MOST OF A NOVEL. Now finish it.)
When you have this manuscript, what do you do with it? If you are a chronic rewriter, you probably never got more than one chapter anyway, so let’s assume you actually finished.
Put the damned thing away for the month of December. Period. You aren’t allowed to even admit you have such a thing. If someone asks, you say “Yes, did NaNo this year.” That’s it.
In January, you come back to it and read the document, front to back. Don’t change anything. Fix places where you left words out of a sentence (like I’ve NEVER done that). Run a spell-checker and make sure you caught things.
Then send it to your first reader and put it away.
Don’t touch it again.
When your first reader sends it back, fix the things they marked as awkward, or sentences that don’t make any sense (again, I NEVER do that). Add in the bits where something in your head never quite made it to paper.
Nothing else. No rewrites. No ripping whole chapters out because you could do it so much better if you spent another six months on 1000 words. Fix the obvious problems.
Now, here’s the hard part. Take a very deep breath. Maybe sit down first before you continue.
Publish the damned thing. As is. Slap a cover on it. Write a blurb in the active voice. Put it on Draft2Digital and have them distribute it everywhere. Dan and Kevin and the others are good folks, and your novel will go worldwide for folks to read and pay you money.
Put it up on BundleRabbit so other folks can find you and put you into bundles for the marketing opportunities.
But you are now done with this novel. I don’t care if you think it sucks. Almost every young writer I know thinks their work is crap. Part of turning into a professional writer is learning to get over yourself and have confidence that you write good stuff. We can’t all be Stephen King or JK Rowling, so don’t try.
Tell a good story. Tell the best story you know how. Then learn from this one and got write the next one. Do not look back.
DO NOT LOOK BACK.
Some of my early stuff makes me cringe to read. Shit happens. I’m a better writer now than I was one year ago, let alone five. I’m not going back and fixing things, except where someone points out a problem I can fix (like mixing up two characters and five different readers missed it until three years later and the audio person asked. Whoops).
Write a better novel next time. You don’t get better as an author rewriting the same novel six times. You get better by writing six novels.
I’m midway through novel twenty-one. I know people with fifty and more. They try to get better at their craft with each one.
So, how do you get better? Keep writing new things. Publish them and move on. At the same time, the folks at NaNo do a story bundle every year (the official nano bundle, that runs all of October and November). I happen to be in it this year.
This year’s is full of serious firepower from pros who have been where you are today. (And me.) How to write better, cleaner, faster. How you can make the leap from wanting to be a novelist to actually doing it.
It is a muscle. You develop it the same way you do anything else. But it is also a lifestyle. Writers write. If you aren’t writing, you won’t get much done. If you don’t prioritize writing over other things, then those other things are more important to you.
I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you that, but that’s what it takes. Writing (all art, for that matter) must come first. Not to the exclusion of other things, but you need to find ten hours each week to write, if you want to write a short novel. I can’t help you with Epic Dark Fantasy trilogies, except to help you with the math and say that 600,000 words is 600 hours of writing, spread over 13-14 months at this pace. If that’s you, you’re a better man than me. I like to keep them short and fast, rather than long, but that’s me. I’ll settle for two novels per month right now.
You are responsible for your own career. That’s the most useful advice anyone has ever given me at a writer.
But remember that however it goes, you will succeed by sticking with it on December 1.