I’m not a really braggy, attention-seeking type of person (although my weight-loss posts may have been a little TMI for some!:)). So a lot of people are actually really surprised when they hear that I have written one entire novel, start to finish. Sometimes I get questions about how I accomplished this, or how I got enough ideas to make it work. So I thought I’d share some tips, especially since now that I’m working on novel #2, and am beginning to realize what really works for me, and what just doesn’t.
Now, keep in mind that these are not all necessarily my tips (I’m not that brilliant). Some I borrowed from various writing instructors from school (I’ll try to mention what I got from which instructor), and some are common knowledge-type tips that I really have found work for me, or that I’ve re-configured a bit. Also keep in mind that this is not a “how to get yourself published” guide. I’m not published, as of yet (although my first novel is still being considered), and it’s not that type of post anyways. Final thing to consider: do what works for you. This is what works for me, but everyone has their own way, and no way is right or wrong! :)
So here we go!
1. Set Aside a Writing Time/Quota (and don’t feel compelled to stick to it!):
This is one of the most popular tips that instructors, authors, and just about anyone will give you for writing. The reason: it works. I usually try to stick to a set amount of time or words per day. Although it may vary slightly (some days you write five chapters, some days you write one), and I don’t torture myself over sticking with it, having some sense of how long I should write for per day on average gives me an idea of how long a first draft may take.
The trick is to let it nurture your inner discipline, without making you crazy. While the word count quota allows you to monitor your progress and estimate an end-date, setting a time allotment is often more reasonable, and doesn’t drive you as crazy if you don’t meet it. Two ideas to remedy this: 1. This one comes from Winnipeg writer and one of my profs. at U of Winn., Jonathan Ball (http://www.jonathanball.com/). He advises counting only time spent writing as writing time. Not research, not reading, not the time you spend doing a little correcting here and there. This makes sense, as a little bit of “research time” can often seriously cut into writing time as we get lured into the trap of the internet. 2. This is my idea. Spend an hour or half an hour free-writing. Don’t stop, don’t get tea, don’t log into Facebook, don’t re-read anything, just write. Then check your word count. The word count you get is probably what is reasonable for you to accomplish per writing session.
Another two ideas come from Anita Daher (http://www.anitadaher.com/), who is a teen book editor at Great Plains Fiction, a children’s and young adult author, and writing instructor who instructed me in a writing intensive at the University of Winnipeg. She says that even if it isn’t feasible to do a lot of writing per day, if you can write a page a day, then in a year you can write 365 pages, give or take a few. Even if that isn’t working for you, she suggests staying in touch with your novel all the same. Every day, open your file, write a sentence or two, then put it away. It will get you somewhere, and will prevent writer’s block and disillusionment with your novel :)
2. Free-write: I’ve been doing this for this novel, and it helps you get the words down so much faster. While you need to pay attention to things like word choice, flowing style, chemistry between characters, etc. that can come in the second draft. Just sit down and get to it. Which brings me to…
3. Do Drop Everything and Write Days: Is anyone here the right age to remember Drop Everything and Read? We waste so much time doing stupid things like Googling old acquaintances from nursery school and reading about how Zac Efron got caught kissing somebody. So the next time you have fifteen, twenty minutes to kill, don’t waste them. Just drop everything, pull up your manuscript, and write non-stop for the whole time. Free-writing is important. Don’t re-read anything that you’ve written until time is up.
4. Write Out of Order: When I wrote my first novel, I wrote in linear order, start to finish, beginning to end. While it did sort of work for my story in the end, as I gained more insight into my characters’ journeys, it took a long time, especially when I got writer’s block. This time I’m still writing linearly, but anytime I get really stuck or I feel particularly inspired by a certain scene, I’ll skip ahead and write a future scene, saving it to a another file. This helps me to test out how I feel about certain ideas or story elements before I frame my entire story around them. It also gives me momentum to keep moving ahead.
5. Write a Story Treatment: Story treatments are basically a detailed summary of events in a story. They are commonly used in screenwriting. I did one for a course, and found the entire practice to be very helpful in developing a storyline. By the end of my treatment, I felt as though I knew my characters well, and that their chemistry and dialogue was solidified. Even if you’re not a plotter, using the story treatment during writing can help you to write through tough spots in your story, and using it after can help you to notice where there are problems or holes in your story.
So there we are! If I remember some more ideas, I will post them. Also, feel free to leave me a comment below if you have any ideas of your own. Happy writing and good luck!!! :) x Em