Writing Tips

Novel Writing: Lessons Learned

Yesterday was the last day of Camp NaNoWriMo.  For those who are unfamiliar with the NaNoWriMo concept, I just spent the month trying to reach a word count of 50, 000 in 30 days.  I have come up about 10,000 words short at the end of the month, but I’m not discouraged.  This has been a great learning experience for me.  Since I know many of my readers are also writers, let me share a few of the most important things I learned:

Have a Plan

Having a plan is probably the most important lesson I got from the whole experience.  Think about it: if you’re learning woodworking or sewing, you start with a blueprint or a pattern.  The more developed and specific your blueprint is, the easier it will be for you to finish your project.  You may make mistakes, but the next time, you will have an easier time following the blueprint.  Then as you gain skill, you will have an easier time deviating from the blueprint, and eventually, you may not even need the blueprint.  I think this transfers to writing in the form of your outline.

When I started writing for Camp NaNoWriMo, I did not have a well developed outline.  As a result, I wrote a lot of scenes that didn’t have direction.  When I figured out what was going to happen later in the story, I realized I would have to go back and rewrite to set up for future events.  As I added characters, I realized that it would have made more sense to introduce them sooner.  Speaking of characters, there were a few that I needed to change altogether.  The way I wrote them, their original personalities did not match up with the actions I needed them to perform later.  For the setting, I had several problems with cultural backgrounds, travel time and distances, and basic knowledge about the professions of my characters.

Some things I would have done differently are to, of course, make a more detailed outline of my story’s plot.  Similarly, I would have made more and better notes about my characters before I even started.  I have a long list of topics I should have researched so I would be able to get the details correct.  Finally, I should have drawn a scale map of my setting with descriptions of all the important places and notes about the all the background information including some history.  If I had done all these things, I could have focused on writing the scenes rather than wracking my brain to improvise details while staring at a blank screen.

Make a Routine

One thing that worked well for me was keeping a good writing routine.  This was one of the things I did well, but I still would have done a few things differently.  I began with a word count goal of 1750 words a day.  I used my lunch break to write and usually got out 500-1000 words.  Then I would come home in the evenings and finish up.  Dividing the writing time into two periods was nice because it made each session seem like less work.  Weekend writing was good too because I’m an early riser, so I had plenty of time to write while my wife slept in.

The one thing I would have done differently is to allow for an occasional day off.  Since I didn’t plan for these, when prior commitments and appointments interrupted my writing, it was harder to get caught up later on.  As I continue writing to finish up my first draft, I will probably plan two days off of fiction writing each week: one day for blogging and one day of nothing.  The off day helps to avoid burnout and writer’s block, and it also allows you to get out and be social.  Writing isn’t really a social activity, and you owe it to your friends and family (and yourself) to spend some time away from your laptop.

Develop a Good Work Ethic

When I began, I was really excited about my project.  Inspiration drove me, and it was easy to keep up.  Later on, however, I found myself less motivated.  The only thing to do was press on and keep making words appear on the screen.  Sometimes that meant spending a while staring at my last paragraph.  Sometimes it meant checking Twitter or switching loads of laundry before I came back to put down more words.

Here are a few recommendations for developing a good work ethic: Commit to meeting your goals for the day.  Occasionally life will take you away from it, but don’t allow these instances to become regular, and don’t make excuses.  Once you stop writing for a few days, it’s much harder to get started again.  Keep up the habit, and keep up your work ethic.

Take Notes

One thing I did that helped out a lot was to keep a text file open while I was writing.  Every time I described new characters, I copied and pasted their names, descriptions, and other information about them into the file.  If I thought of scenes that needed to be written, I made a note in my file.  Anything that was important to my story that I might need to reference later went into the file.  I organized it in several sections so I could reference information quickly and avoid disrupting the flow of my writing while the scenes were still in my head.

This is something I did right, but I could definitely stand to add more information to it next time.  Also, if the file included my outline and preparatory notes, it might have helped even more.  Next time I might add a scene tracker, so I can look back quickly and see what scenes have already been written.

***

These were just a few things that helped me during my month of fiction writing.  My project is far from finished, but I intend to finish it.  This month has been a great learning experience for me.  If you’re a fellow writer and you have some of your own tips to share, feel free to leave them in the comments below.

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2 thoughts on “Novel Writing: Lessons Learned

  1. Congratulations! 40,000 words is nothing to cough at! “Aim for the moon. Even if you fail, you’ll land among the stars.” Which you certainly did. Great advice on routine and note taking. I do a lot of the latter. I use character profiles constantly and they are great to refer back to when I need to remember “who” my character is…inside and out. And as far as a thought for a scene I also write it down, but sometimes, a whole scene will pop in my mind and I just go for it and write it! Even if it doesn’t fit into the novel until 12 chapters later!

    Again, congratulations!

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