Shocking news: I’m going to attempt 50K in NaNo this year. Like, really give it the ol’ “try my best to meet that word count even if it kills me” attempt.
I’ve participated for years. Though I never really “try” since (1) I’m not much of a fast drafter and (2) I’m usually editing something in November. So my “participation” usually means showing up at the NaNo events and working in a group setting. THAT’S the part of NaNo I adore, the community.
But this year the stars aligned and I have to write a draft STAT so that I allow myself time to edit and expand it before I need to turn it in. So the faster I get that first draft written and marinating in my head, the better.
I average about 20K a month, every month. That number is steady even when I have other editing going on, and life stuff, etc. You would think the jump between 20K and 50K isn’t much. But let me tell you: it so is. I don’t know if I can do it.
Especially since I have a huge chunk of time in November when I’m not going to be able to participate. I have exactly 20 free days next month. This means I need to write 2500 per day to meet 50K. OMG.
HONESTY: That number (2500 per day), I don’t know if it’s possible for a single day, let alone 20 times.
To hit my average (20K a month target) I write 1K M-F and then catch up on the weekends if I don’t meet that goal. Yeah. It’s a pathetic number, I agree. Especially since writing is my full time job. You’d think if I stayed home during the day with 6 hours of dedicated writing time, I’d end up with more than 1K a day. Not so much.
The reality is that I DO need to increase my production of words overall. Because my numbers are pathetic and I need to work out a new strategy going forward. Or at least prove to myself that writing more in a day is completely possible. I’m hoping that NaNo will help me do that—GET OUT OF MY HEAD and work.
I won’t write endless crap, though, just to make the word count. Typical NaNo advice is: don’t erase anything, just keep writing words even if the words don’t mean anything. Or add a sex scene. Or blow something up!
So, NO. That’s not going to happen. I’ve got to have a working draft by the end of this. The whole point of fast drafting is for me to end up with something useable so that I have MORE time to edit and craft it into something amazing before my deadline.
Okay so now we come to the second part of this post where I give some advice. I’m kind of a NaNo junky which means that I LOVE to read/watch everyone’s thoughts on it.
Here’s my two cents if you want it.
How to write a useable first draft:
- No two novels will be written the same even by the same author. I don’t know why this is. But whatever. Don’t try to follow advice that’s not working for you. Any advice should enhance your own flow as a writer, not drive you insane.
- Remember that first drafts are junk. And by that I mean: the editing is really where the novel is. So if you don’t like the section you’re writing—SKIP IT. If it’s boring, you’re probably going to cut it anyway. Focus on the story. If you get ideas for world building, write that down. Ideas for characters, write that down. But really: story, story, story. All the other crap… uh, I mean enhancing… can come later.
- You don’t need to write linearly. If you want to, great. But as far as I’m concerned: Screw that, man. I can’t tell you how often I work backward. I mean, how are you supposed to know how to plan stuff beforehand without writing the end result? Added to this point: get Scrivener. If you’re working in Word, then you are forced to write linear. That’s how the program is set up. With Scrivener you can write all over the place and rearrange to suit your needs.
- You also don’t need to write full scenes. That’s another thing that Scrivener is good for: collecting pieces of a scene within a designated chapter. Write a section of dialog. Or a section of atmosphere. Whatever you feel needs to be in that particular scene—BUT DON’T CONNECT IT. You can put it together later. The reasons for not connecting them now is that you can move the pieces into other scenes if you find that necessary at a later point (as I often do), AND you won’t end up with one long piece of text that has pages of world building followed by pages of dialog. That crap all needs to be interspersed. If it starts out broken apart when you edit, it’s THAT MUCH EASIER. Especially if you’ve taken the time to label your sections.
- Know where you’re going. I’m a plotter, BUT even if you’re a pantser, it’s MUCH easier if you have a goal on the horizon. If you don’t, well… the draft is not so usable, you know? Because you’re going to have a LOT of wandering to cut and reshape.
- Keep notes within your mess of a draft. This is especially helpful when you’re writing out of order because suddenly you’ll have an epiphany which means that several things have to happen within the draft leading up to that point. Note each thing in the section that it should happen so you remember it when you get there. I do this by creating a doc (obviously each chapter for me would be a folder) labeled NOTES and then I change the icon to a yellow notepad. Then when I get to that scene I can split the screen (as you can do in Scrivener) with the notes on the right and work on the left.
- If you feel like you’re on the wrong track, STOP FOR A DAY AND THINK THROUGH YOUR PLOT. That’s your gut telling you that you’re veering off-course. A big part of writing is instinct. Hone that. You will thank me later.
And that concludes my practical advice on drafting.
I do want to throw in that you don’t have to be afraid to switch up your manuscript during drafting, or after drafting. Part of the reason that I adore Scrivener is the ability to move everything around and reorganize. Make use of the notecard feature. It works. Sometimes a writer has to step back and visually see the draft in plotted pieces—rather than words—in order to recognize where the beats should/should not be.
Ohhhhh, and friend me (HLHansen)!!!!