The most important thing to hold in your mind if you want to write 50,000 words on a novel in November is this. You are writing 50,000 words of crap.
In the month of November, I’m competing in National Novel Writing Month, better known by the cool kids as NaNoWriMo. I’m not a published novelist so I’m not giving you tips on how to construct the next great American novel.
Rather I’m a productivity expert and will give you tips on how to actually finish the month with 50,000 words written.
Most of the tips I’m giving can apply to any writing project. So even if you aren’t doing NaNoWriMo you should benefit from this.
I remember sitting in front of a blank screen in Scrivener and thinking, what am I doing here? I don’t know how to write. This whole idea is crap. I’m not good enough to write a novel. I knew this was true because I’d looked at what I’d written before and it sucked.
The clock was ticking. Time to write was slipping past and I wasn’t pressing keys.
Then I remembered something I’d heard somewhere. When you are writing a first draft you are writing 50,000 words of crap. Then I turned off my critical brain and just put words on the page.
Some people say you have 10 to 20 thousand words of shit that you have get out before the stuff shows up. The sooner you start writing, they sooner you get past the crap and to the good stuff.
When I first heard about National Novel Writing Month I thought it was ridiculous. Who can write an entire novel in 30 days? That was stupid.
It is still a daunting task for a newbie, but here’s a secret. You aren’t writing a novel in those 30 days. You are writing a first draft of a novel. And depending on your genre 50K probably isn’t a novel.
So forget all the reasons you can’t do it and commit to writing 50,000 words of crap in November. You can edit in January.
There is a concept in psychology called Convergent vs Divergent Thinking. These are the two sides of the coin to solving problems. Just like a coin, you can’t show both sides at the same time.
Convergent thinking is taking lots of options and narrowing them down to the best option. It is focused on ignoring or removing solutions that don’t work and putting all your energy into the stuff that is the best.
In writing, this is editing. That process that finds just the right word. That gets rid of all the unneeded words, scenes, characters, etc.
Divergent thinking, on the other hand, is the process of coming up with lots of possible solutions to a problem. It focuses on generating ideas, trying things, and creating. This is what you need to do in November.
Turn off your convergent thinking and play with your story.
Side writing tip that I used in 2017. Sometimes I’d finish a scene and not know what to write next. I knew where the story and characters needed to be very soon, but didn’t know the parts in between.
So I just skipped it and wrote the next thing I knew. This accomplished keeping me moving. I could always come back and write what was needed in the middle.
I found a couple of interesting phenomena doing this.
First sometimes I discovered I didn’t need any intervening scenes. I could just have the characters refer back to what happen in the missing space.
Second, once I wrote that follow-up scene, I often got much clearer on how they get there.
NaNoWriMo has a number of Pep Talks from authors on their site. I read one the other day from V. E. Schwab, and this stuck out to me.
once you have something, you can make it better. The only thing you can’t fix is a blank page.
Right now, the story in your head doesn’t exist on the material plane. It is only by your writing it will exist. Only by sitting down every day and typing out 1,666 words will it be born.
Like all babies, it will be smashed, covered in blood, sweat, and who know what else. It will be beautiful to its mother and an ugly little monster to those in labor and delivery. But they too will be happy it is there. It is alive.
One it is born, you can help it grow up into greatness.
But for now, you need to make sure it gets born. Take your prenatal vitamins, get some exercise, and write those words every day.
Question of the Day: What are you writing this month?