This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for some time, but with this being NaNoWriMo, I figured it’d be a good time to let you all read it.
I’m frequently encountering people who have great ideas or stories that they think would make a great book. When I tell them to write it, they say “Oh, i don’t know how to write a book”. Quite often, people are daunted by the word count that a book requires and it puts them off writing it at all or even making a start. Yet it really isn’t much of a big deal at all – we can verbalise more words than are in a book without problem, we can construct emails, letters and essays, so writing itself isn’t a problem. So how can people bridge that gap between writing at all and writing a full-length book? There are a number of ways, which I’ll explain below.
This is probably the most obvious one. Set yourself a target, either for the day, week or even hour. If you’re taking part in NaNoWriMo then chances are your target will be higher than someone without such a strict deadline, but the principle is the same. If you want to write 10,000 words in a working week then you may break that down to 2,000 words a day from Monday to Friday. This is a healthy amount to be writing, but if you’re not hitting it at first then don’t worry; it all becomes easier when you hit the stride of the story and get used to your schedule. What’s important is don’t try to push yourself too far – if you have a good day where everything flows and you type 4,000 words, don’t expect to do that each and every day. If you have that expectation and it doesn’t happen, you may get disheartened and miss the target altogether.
Another target may be to write a chapter or sub-section in one sitting. When I wrote Smoke Screens, I did it in chapter stages. As a non-fiction book this was probably easier than a fiction novel, because I had all the resources and information already at my disposal and had previously decided what order it should fit. It was then simply a case of writing it, but at about 100,000 words in length, it did still require actually writing, and having the layout pre-determined allowed me to write it within about three months. Putting this into perspective of fiction brings me nicely onto the next tip:
When you took creative writing classes in school the teacher probably had you cut the story into chunks, usually a beginning, a middle and an end. This is a lesson that carries its relevance through to writing as an adult, and can make the task of writing fiction infinitely easier. Without a plan, it’s very easy to waffle on for too long or to get to important parts too early (or too late). Reading Stephen King’s IT teaches the importance of not rushing the story. At some 1300 pages in length, there’s nothing rushed in this book, but the story truly benefits as a result. Reviewing this book would be a book in itself, so suffice it to say that there’s nothing to lose, and often much to gain, by letting things progress steadily rather than rushing through. Knowing this is often what separates an amateur writer from a professional novelist.
A plan can consist of anything you want it to, but it’s good to write down some key events or topics, perhaps even dialogue, and roughly where you want these to appear (beginning, middle end for instance). Writing the book then becomes a simpler case of filling in the gaps, and that’s much easier than trying to think everything off the top of your head as you write chronologically.
If you’re lucky enough to not be a solitary writer, such as a participant in NaNoWriMo, then a writing buddy is a great asset. Writing a book is not the easiest thing at the best of times, but now that we write on computers with the Internet at our disposal, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube can be professional distractions. By finding a fellow writer, you can set personal targets and have rewards or forfeits for hitting/missing them, or have competitions to who will the most per day or week. This will help your mindset to focus on completing the job and help you get into the groove of writing – especially if there’s a reward at the end of it.
Ultimately, there are numerous ways you can find to facilitate you hitting your targets or deadlines and these are just a few of them. Find out what works best for you and don’t be scared to vary it up – a writing buddy may work best during NaNoWriMo but not so good for other projects.
Remember a golden rule, though: do not edit! It may seem contrary to what you’ve been taught or what you know, but editing isn’t always a good thing. It’s essential when a book is completed or at the latter stages of development, but if you spend time editing as you write you will hinder your progress and can disrupt the flow, story or time frame in which you want to complete it. Let the writing flow, finish it, then, and only then, look back over it to tidy things up and make amendments as necessary.