You can write a book in one month. All it takes is an idea that excites you and a few tips I learned during Nanowrimo – National Novel Writing Month. Read on to find out how!
Writing a novel seems like a huge undertaking given how many hours it takes to complete a draft. With holidays, family, work and everything else in life that gets between you and your story, you may struggle with it for almost two years. That’s how long it took to write my first. I had no idea what I was doing. My book writing journey chugged along like a car with a flat tire toward a brick wall crowned with barbed wire. Then Nanowrimo came along that following year. I finished the second book the series in 22 days. It took me 19 days to hit the 50,000 word mark to win Nanowrimo this month. I’ve been on a seven day break for company (you gotta do what your gotta do and family always comes first) and plan to finish the last few chapters this week. The first draft of my new novel will probably be around 60,000 words.
Before you write, come up with an idea for a story.
You need a spark. Something to start the carburetor to take you on a wild ride through a writing a book. Even if you’re a pantser, you should have a vague idea of the basis of the story. That becomes the foundation, (Okay. We’ll stick with the car metaphor) the road on which to drive your story.
It’s hard to get into the flow when your head is whiplashed from accelerating then slamming on the brakes because you don’t know where to go. Have you ever driven with someone who does that? Ow. You don’t have a map and your compass is so messed up, it reads north in every direction. Unless you’re an outliner who sticks to every detail with magnetic precision, you will run into a momentary dead end in every book. No worries, my writer friend! Since you have a basic idea of what your story is about you’ll be able to blow through that wall with stream-of-conscious writing mentioned in this blog post.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but your super amazing idea should pop into your head at odd times and bug you while you’re driving to the grocery store. It should nag you to write its story when you’re in the shower. Pester you while peeling potatoes. The idea will worm its way into your work out. Don’t ignore its persistence or alliteration.
IT IS THE ONE.
An idea for one of my novels came to me while I slid books on a shelf. Sounds boring but that scene starts the climax of a thriller. Another story idea popped into my tiny cranium when I drove up and down the hills in Maine while mist collected on my rental’s windshield. OoooOOOooOooo. Yep. That one’s a thriller too. The book I wrote this month came from the view from a Scottish castle outside of Edinburgh where we stayed in October. Inspiration can come from anywhere.
When you get an idea for a scene write it down!
I wrote the bookstore scene hours later while waiting for a hair appointment. I typed it in Notes on my iPhone then emailed it to myself. I do that a lot.
I wrote a scene for my new fantasy in that castle’s library while looking out the window. It takes place much later in the story, maybe even in book two, but the idea shifted my imagination into high gear and it hasn’t stopped motoring. When I returned to Boulder, I wrote pages of notes to work out the world, rules, and logic before writing the first page of the novel to make the fantasy believable. (It’s a lot more work than thrillers.) I only used about a tenth of my ideas, but the story makes sense, to me anyway. We will see.
This year, I won Nanowrimo but it’s my first foray into fantasy and I write thrillers. I had no idea if I could pull it off. I had a few, “This is so stupid!” moments when I forced an idea. As soon as I let it go and let it flow, (Hmm. I like that rhyme.) the story eased into the fantastical elements at the appropriate times. Then there are the November birthdays, the start of ski season, and family who flew into town for Thanksgiving.
So how did I do it?
20 Minute Rule.
Many times, I wasn’t in the mood to sit down and write. The fantasy genre intimidated me. I used Pomodoro’s technique, but cut it down from the twenty-five minute rule to twenty. I told myself, “Come on! You can write for twenty minutes!” Every single time, I wrote for at least an hour. Once you have momentum, you can take your foot off the gas pedal and coast.
Find a place where you won’t be interrupted.
My kitchen counter is my old reliable. I write and blog while sipping coffee every morning. Later, I walk upstairs to my office. My Bichon, Roxy, became restless this fall. She started pestering me to play every morning. I had to come up with a new location. I had been sick for two weeks in October and brought my laptop to bed with me. Roxy slept at my side for hours. Peace and quiet.
Huh. I decided to give it a try. For the first few weeks of November, I wrote 50,000 words tucked under the covers with the drapes drawn. I have to admit to feeling guilty about it, but I was hitting 2000 – 3000 words a day consistently and it worked. Why fight it?
Lots of warm drinks.
Most writers speak of snacking and carbo-loading while writing. My motor runs on coffee and tea so I keep a mug filled at all times. Keeps me hydrated. When I run out, I rev up my engine by taking a break to fill my mug again. (Even I’m getting tired of the metaphor, but it’s so hard to stop.)
BTW, I’d switch to decaf by noon or I’d be so hyperactive, I wouldn’t be able to sit still.
This is the BIGGEST change I made. Instead of pounding the keys for hours on end, I forced myself take breaks. I’d eat a meal, watch a half hour of a movie and do a puzzle, run errands, read, take a walk, go skiing, anything to get my mind off my writing. Later, sometimes much later, I’d hit it hard again.
Stopping at the right place. Writing trick alert!
Here’s a trick for you. When you know you need a break, quit before you hit a writing wall. Sometimes I start a new chapter and quit while the ideas are percolating. Why? Because when you sit down again, you will be able to continue your flow. It’s a heck of a lot easier than waiting to take a break when your ideas in your brain are exhausted. You might write into a dead end or a twelve car pile up. It might be hard to start again with the walls closed around your characters, while they bump into each other like robots and have inane conversations. Writing words just to maintain a word count total is never the way to write a first draft. Stop. Breathe. Stretch. Go outside. Make sure you’re wearing pants, of course, then hit those keys again.
My aha moment about time management.
I had always wondered how people with kids or a full time job ever wrote a book. I’m a full time writer and have tons of time. But in the last couple weeks (especially on the weekends), I didn’t start writing until very late afternoon. I had never written chapters of books after dinner. But at 8:00 or 9:00, I’d tuck myself in bed. Instead of reading a book, I’d write my own. Then I’d read for a half hour before turning out the light.
Funny thing. I slept really well with lots of thoughts of characters dancing in my head.
Get excited about your novel.
I still think pantsers have an easier time. As my story progresses, the characters continue to flesh out. Their world is transforming from black and white letters to living color as the plot twists and turns. I’m hooked. I want to know what happens to everyone. Only knowing the basic plot points gives me the freedom to let my imagination take hairpin turns on two wheels while sticking with the general direction of the story. I never know how a scene is going to play out until I write it. It can be very exciting with the windows down and the wind whipping at my face. (Please make it stop!)
I’m in the middle of the heart-pounding climax. I have a general idea. BUT do more people die? Do these challenges change my protagonist? What decisions will she make? Will mistakes be made? What kind of diabolical evil will she face next? With fantasy, there’s so much more I can toss into the plot to mess with the characters. It feels magical. I feel magical. Lol!
I get the exact same edge of my seat feeling while reading a good book. I’m not saying this first draft is good, it’s terrible. It will go through lots of revisions like everything else I write. But it’s fun. I enjoy the thrill of writing. Editing, not so thrilling. (I made it through two paragraphs without a car, truck, or minivan. Ha!)
Note to self: Must hire editor.
After spending so much time in revisions while finishing another thriller over the last year, it felt good to set everything aside to focus on a creative project every day. I keep thinking, if I can write a draft in less than three weeks, how many can I crank out in a year?
Most important benefit of writing every day: Habits are formed.
I wrote my last 800 words to win Nanowrimo then drove to the mall to buy birthday presents. I thought it would feel freeing to hit 50,000 words but it felt strange and unsettling to stop. When I returned home, I opened my laptop and wrote a little more before running to the airport. Writing every day has become a habit. I want to finish it. I need to finish it. I WILL finish it.
If I quit writing for a long time before a first draft is complete, I lose the flow. All those creative juices dry up. I have to reread the whole draft to refresh my memory. Sometimes the energy and excitement is hard to recapture. There’s no way I’ll ever let that happen again.
Now that writing so many words a day is a habit, I should be done with my book by Friday, November 30th. If I hit a traffic jam, I’ll let my imagination take me in another direction. Compasses and road maps are great, but the real excitement happens when I discover a new road; one with lots of twists and turns. Who knew writing novels would be so much fun?
Are you a writer? Do you have any tips to share? Are you a reader who can tell when a book has hit the I-80 stretch through Nebraska?
PS – Since I finished before November 20th, I didn’t validate my 50,000 words until just now. I have to admit that the short congratulatory video made my eyes well up. I threw my hands in the air. Now I feel just like I did in 2014. I’m official.
For more of my Wild Ride, Click Here.