Writing a First Draft
National Novel Writing Month started yesterday, so those of you who are participating… what are you doing reading this blog???
For those who don’t know what this is, you can go to the NaNoWriMo site here and learn all about it. The point is to write a 50,000 word novel between Nov. 1 and Nov. 30. I think it’s great for discipline and for getting that first draft out. A terrific way to stop procrastinating and just do it!
Of course, unless you’re writing for a specific market, like the romances I wrote about in this post, 50,000 words isn’t going to be an entire novel. I guess you could either write the skeleton of a novel, then fill it out later, or write roughly half to a third of your novel by the end of November, whatever 50k words turns out to be.
So let’s talk about writing a first draft. Today I want to address a couple of things I think are pretty important when you’re sitting down to a blank screen. Now understand, we’re all different and we have unique strategies that work for us; these are general tips meant to be helpful. If they don’t work for you, throw them out.
→ Now is NOT the time to self-edit or worry about all those writing tips you’ve been taught. Just write. Let the words flow. If you’ve been studying the craft, you’ll naturally be inclined to show more than tell, write snappy dialogue, and be aware of how much backstory you’re allowing in. That’s great. But don’t let yourself get caught up in those details. Keep the forward momentum going. Your best writing will happen in the revision process.
→ Provide yourself uninterrupted time to write. This is a tough one, with jobs and families. But honestly, I think your biggest challenge is going to be staying off the Internet when you’re writing. I was recently re-reading Stephen King’s On Writing and he talks about having a quiet space to write, turning off the telephone, even closing the window shades to avoid distractions. How EASY it would be, if that’s all we had to worry about! King wrote it before the era of online social networking. The difficult truth is this: If you’re going to be a writer, you must set aside writing time and hold it as sacred. Turn off your Internet connection.
It’s hard because these days you are (unlike Stephen King) required to be a marketer, too. Nevertheless, you’re going to have to figure out a way to organize your life so that you have chunks of time for marketing activities, other blocks of time for learning (reading craft books, attending conferences), and significant periods when you’ll just write. Working on a first draft is when you JUST WRITE.
→ Get your family involved. If you live with other people who depend on you for things like bringing home the bacon and/or frying it up in the pan, you’re not going to be able to accomplish this alone. I’ve said this all before so forgive me if it sounds familiar, but I think it’s important, when writing a first draft or writing on a deadline, to consider various ways to call in the reinforcements. Get more help with cooking, grocery shopping, housecleaning or lawn-mowing if possible (delegate!) Set up a schedule for each week (it can be different each week, just as long as you make one) where you have protected writing times.
Sit your family down if necessary and let them know: “The next 30 days may be tough on you but I really need you to step up to the plate.” It might be hard on them but that’s okay; this is a learning curve for your whole family. Behind every successful writer is a supportive family who mobilizes to pick up the slack when mom or dad has a deadline—or a first draft to get out.
→ Remember this is a first draft. Lately I’ve seen a lot of ranting online from agents reminding writers: Do not submit in December whatever you wrote in November! Anyone who writes a first draft in a month is going to need several months to revise and polish. Revisions are when the real crafting happens. So don’t proudly start querying on December 1st with your NaNoWriMo project! (Unless it was last’s year’s NaNoWriMo project.)
For a little more inspiration, see this post I wrote awhile back: Prepare Yourself for Success
And here’s a very detailed blog post from Nathan Bransford’s client Natalie Whipple: Tips for First Drafting
Are you participating in NaNoWriMo?
What is your goal for the 50,000 words—an entire novel, or half of one?
Have you ever done this before? How’d it work for you?
If you’re not going to do it—why not?