It’s Nano. Which means everyone is pushing themselves to write 50,000 words towards a novel this month. And it seems like a lot when you’re trying to have a life, too. But, really, it isn’t. Not if writing is a priority. (I say as I look back at my writing counts so far this fifth year of writing seriously and see that I average about 32,000 a month…)
But it’s true. I know why I’m not hitting the 80,000 I always want to write each month. And that’s because I let stupid shit distract me.
In the first draft stage I write about 2,500 words an hour, sometimes more. That means I could hit 50,000 words with twenty hours of writing a month. (Stops. Checks math. Slaps self for not hitting 50,000 words a month. Really? Just twenty hours? What the hell did I do with the month of September? Oh, right, launched a novel, went to a conference, yada yada.)
Anyway. It’s doable. It really is. And here are two great posts by guys who’ve been doing this long enough to give it to you straight.
First, Chuck Wendig with NaNoWriMo Survival Guide: How I Write 50k(-ish) Every Month
Second, Dean Wesley Smith with Give Writing The Time
It helps to know that there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this. Wendig plots, DWS is a pantser. But they both put in the time it requires and they both write fast.
(If you aren’t a good typist and you want to do this long-term, stop right now, and take some of those typing classes where you get to destroy alien word attacks until you are fast enough. Really. Give yourself that solid foundation. Or you could do what James Patterson does and hand-write your stories and then hire someone to type them up for you, but, really, just learn to type. FAST.)
I thought it was fun to see how Wendig reaches his wordcount, so figured I’d share how I approach writing, too, for what it’s worth. (Note, he actually makes a living with his writing and I’m still working my way towards that, so…)
- I write in scenes. When I sit down to work on a novel or story, I picture an interaction between my characters and write that moment down until I’m done. Usually this means that I write about 2,000-2,500 words in a sitting.
- I don’t outline, but I have a feel for where the story is headed next.
- I reread and do a light edit of what I wrote the day before to get me back into the flow of the story before I write the next scene. (This means I also generally have a pretty clean copy when done.)
- I listen to music when I’m writing. I listen to music almost all the time, actually. But it can’t be new-to-me music and it can’t be too loud. It has to be something comfortable that I already know that can run in the background and serve to quiet down parts of my mind that will otherwise wander off and try to distract me as I write.
- I’m not a pretty sentences kind of writer. My goal is to get a story across to my writers in the simplest way possible, so I don’t bog down in getting that perfect turn of phrase or using that ideal word.
- Having said that, I’m pretty sure I have a fairly decent vocabulary compared to most, so I often do use very nuanced words. But if I don’t know it, I don’t try to force it. I use what comes naturally.
- I have an office that I write in nine times out of ten. (Although I wrote the first novel sitting on my bed with a view of a lake and the second one sitting on a couch in a studio apartment with views of brick buildings, so I’m not wedded to one location.) As long as I can type comfortably for an hour or so at a time, I’m good.
- My main distraction is my pup and I know her schedule, so I plan my writing accordingly. I don’t start writing a scene at 10 when I know she’ll be crying to be fed at 10:30.
- I’ve tried writing seven days a week and done so, but I prefer to write five days a week and take off weekends. It lets me do all those life things without beating myself up.
- No one gets to see what I’ve written until I think it’s submission ready. It still goes through a few passes after that stage, but I want as much consistency as possible across what I write and that means I want what I write to be mine as much as possible.
- I don’t even talk about what I’m writing with anyone. It’s all me wrestling with things in my own head.
- At some point when writing a novel I will generally do some sort of character arc drawing for each of the major characters. And I’ll usually do a chapter level summary, especially if it’s multiple viewpoint. It makes for an easy cheatsheet of what’s happened so far and where I’m headed. Sometimes this doesn’t happen until after the first draft is done.
- I can’t read in the same genre I’m writing. What I usually do is binge on books between drafts and then don’t read while writing. At least for novels. I can read when writing short stories.
- This goes for craft books, too. I write something. I stop. I beef up on more writing craft knowledge. I go back and apply that to the revisions. I don’t try to learn more writing craft while in the midst of a writing project. It messes me up. The whole draft needs to be written at the same skill level as much as that’s possible.
- I do revise. Not a lot. Maybe one major revision once I see the true form that the story wants to take and then three or four passes through for grammar and consistency and correct words and in response to beta feedback.
- I don’t write with proper grammar. Most of what I write is in deep third person and to me proper grammar doesn’t make sense when you’re that deep in someone’s head. (I found reading some Stephen King very freeing in that respect. He helped me realize that you can do ANYTHING as long as it works, even use parens in a novel.)
- If I get stuck I walk away for a bit and come back. Play with the dog. Take a shower. Go for a walk or hike. Something to let the story work in the back of my mind until I can come back at it fresh. (Internet crap doesn’t count.)
- I sometimes shift gears if I can’t move forward with a story. I’ll work on non-fiction for a bit or a short story instead of the novel.
- I try above all else to finish everything I start. There are some exceptions, but for the most part I will finish every project in a timely manner. (Six to eight weeks for a novel, a day or two for a short story. That’s first drafts, not necessarily final drafts.)
- And, finally, I accept that not everyone will like what I write. My audience is not every single person on this planet and that’s okay with me. And, truth be told, people who like one thing I write will not like another thing I write. That’s okay, too. It’s not an excuse to be sloppy. I do the best I possibly can with everything I write, but when I’m done if someone hates it, they hate it. Someone else somewhere will love it. It’s my job to make sure my writing finds its way to that person.