Kick-starting that 50,000 word NaNo novel

National Novel Writing Month is upon us once again – really, given that it attracts people from outside the US, ‘International’ Novel Writing Month.

It’s well worth the challenge. Writing is about an awful lot more than just words-to-time – in the business, word length is a device for defining scale, but it is not an end in itself. What counts more is the structure, the styling, and the nature of the content within that scale. The ability to meet all the intangible criteria needed for a great book, within a specified scale – and to produce that content in a certain time is an essential skill if you want to turn pro.

That’s why I’ve always said that NaNoWriMo – and, for that matter, any writing – should always push for the highest possible quality, irrespective.

Wright_Illustrated History WhitcoullsThe way to do it, as we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks, is to plan the book out, starting with a logline – but leaving room for ‘seat-of-the-pants’ creativity around the main structure. The blend is essential. Check back on the earlier posts for more details.

So there you are, November’s looming and you’re got the plan. The word processor is fired up. You get read to type  and – nothing.

Stuck on the first sentence.

Don’t panic. It’s normal. The first sentence is the most important sentence in any book. It has to grip the reader. It has to draw them in – and the next few sentences have to do the same. Getting the structure of the first paragraphs right is critical.

But this is NaNoWriMo – or you have a deadline, or whatever. You can’t waste time sitting there waiting for the muse.

The way around it is to look back at your general plan and start writing a few paragraphs in. Get into the flow of it. I figure you’ll soon have some ideas for some great wording for the opening sequence. Go back and do it. And after a while, when you’ve written some more, you might think of some better ones. In which case you can amend the start to suit.

Word processors make that sort of thing a snap. And you keep writing meanwhile – which is the essence not just of NaNoWriMo but of all professional writing.

Are you going for National Novel Writing Month? Or do you have a project on the go anyway? I’d love to hear from you.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

Coming up this week: More NaNoWriMo tips, I pose the question – can dyslexics become great writers, like Agatha Christie? Halloween fun – and more…


18 thoughts on “Kick-starting that 50,000 word NaNo novel

  1. I’m 30,000 words into my first novel and am using NaNoWriMo to ‘get the story on paper’ that’s the theory anyway. I’m a little nervous of having to produce nearly 2,000 words every day to reach the finish line but the anticipation is building!

    1. NaNo is a great way of boosting things along. I’ve heard of a lot of people who’ve used it as a device for getting their novel moving – and that’s wonderful.

  2. Not sure whether I’m actually getting your gist, but for me, it is in large part about words on a dead line. Yes, I’d like there to be as much quality in the first draft as possible, but when push comes to shove, it’s largely about accomplishing the goal for me. Whether it’s worth honing will come after November.

    1. As they say, a ‘bad first draft’ is better than ‘no first draft’ – and once you’ve got something, it can be worked over, for sure. I think this is the essence of what the NaNo organisers have in mind when they set the contest up. It’s a tough challenge to produce that amount of material in that time, by any measure. Even professional authors balk at it.

  3. Would love the challenge of this, but I’ve just published my first novel. Perhaps I’ll be ready for NaNo next year…
    Best of luck to everyone!

    1. Absolutely. I’m in the same boat – I have to defer it every year because my publisher deadlines, relentlessly, fall in November every year. But it’s a wonderful idea and all strength to those who enter.

  4. I won’t be committing to NaNo this year, as I (like you) feel quality is more important than quantity. That said, I will be channeling the NaNo energy into my new project. I love the idea of NaNo, and applaud all the writers who rally to its call. 🙂

    1. It’s a great idea – and good on everyone who does it. I’m not doing it largely because every month is like NaNo month for me – I’m always focussed on output, and November is especially busy most years because my contracts usually specify delivery at the end of it.

      1. My day-job is as a technical writer in the computer software industry, so I’m no stranger to aggressive deadlines. The thing is, when I do that for 9-10 hours a day I can only push myself so hard afterward with my personal writing and produce anything comprehensible. I set deadlines daily and weekly deadlines for my personal writing which I stick to. Some year when I can take a month off from the day-job, I’d like to do NaNo and give it my all. With proper preparation in advance, as you’ve advised. 😉

  5. I’m working on a novel currently. I probably won’t enter the NaNoWriMo competition, but I’ll see if I can work to finish my story in such short time without shucking quality.

  6. I really like the idea of NaNo and have known about it for about four years now. I even participated in the last two years and plan to this year again.

    However both times I didn’t manage to ‘win’ it and am a bit ashamed to say that my failure to reach the set Deadline always discouraged me a bit and my confidence in my writing skills would wane.

    It’s a bit silly but I feel that way.

  7. I’ve finally got a logline written down after spending a three-hour car trip figuring out my character’s inner conflict for her character arc. Now I just have to figure out how she’ll resolve that conflict and I’m set to go. (That, and come up with names for the rest of the characters 😉 )

  8. It is the first time for me. I’m wondering whether I will be able to pull off Nano! Let’s see. All the best to you!

  9. For those who are able to write 50,000 words that are comprehensible and good to read in a month, I take my hat off to you. I could never do the competition in a million years. I take forever to write a page, a paragraph etc that I am happy with. Some days I get a rare experience of writing more, but invariably I spend an age later, fine tuning it. Guess some people are wired differently in the brain. All strength and kudos to those of you who can do this though!

  10. I have a novel on the cusp of completion. I should have had the corrections and revisions finished by tomorrow. Didn’t make it, so I’ve given myself a one week extension. Tomorrow is my writing day. I’ll have to see how far I get. Once it’s sent off for review, I’ll start another book. I have oodles in-waiting.
    I have yet to learn to type faster. I type and edit as I go. I make notes on a separate page on my computer, but I can’t track them, and don’t always have a clear idea of my characters. I have decided my old non-system is seriously flawed. The next book will be easier because I will have an outline and character bios–so I will know them better. No more–what color were his eyes; what month is it? I plan to resist the urge to edit as I go, trying to make each page perfect. Maybe I’ll be able to complete a book in 5 months (doubt that I can do 3, but maybe the next one).
    November for me will be: complete “A Glimmer of Love”, and get an outline done with character bios for the next one.

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