With November less than a month away, and in the mildly self-aggrandizing of attempting to offer some advice to budding writers… This is the story of how I managed to write my first novel. It is also the story of how I managed to write my nineteenth novel. They just happen to be the same book. The other eighteen are still sat on hard drives, in paper copies or in one case on an old Amiga floppy disc I can not access. You see, in case you have failed to guess, the only reason Cider lane became my first novel was because I actually finish writing it. More importantly, perhaps, I actually finished the first draft.
Like most writers I suspect, I have started a lot of projects over the years, far more than nineteen technically, as I have endless notebooks and scrap ends, one-off chapters of unwritten masterpieces (or utter drivel in all likelihood). That nineteen is the number of projects that got past 40 pages or around 20000 words minimum. Then for one reason or another, they ground to a halt. Some are a lot longer than that, some just scrape over the line, but all of them had one thing in common, all of them (until Cider Lane) never got completed to the end of a first draft.
Maybe I just lost interest in a story. Maybe I found myself inspired by something else and launched myself into it and left the earlier work behind in the ‘get back to this later’ tray. Quite often life just took a turn to the left, life does that on occasion, I have been writing for over thirty years, after all, children, relationships, depression, different jobs and a whole lot of other stuff has happened in that time. Life has a way of happening to us all… But if I was asked to nail down one main reason that all these manuscripts fell by the wayside it is this one: I used to edit as I went along…
Edit as you go, go back to chapter one and rewrite it again, and again. Write a bit further then feel you need to revise things again. Edit, edit edit. Re-write, re-write, re-write… I could write 100000 words, but the actual manuscript would still be 10000 words long. I know I am not alone n this experience… It is also one of the reasons why I would get stalled with a story.
Generally, I would go back to a previous chapter because something had made a little light bulb come on in my mind and I would realise that whatever I had just written would work better it ist had a bit of foreshadowing, perhaps just if it was alluded to by a character in an earlier chapter. Then I would go back to add it, or change something and find myself sucked into revising the whole chapter from the start, yet again…
When NaNoWriMo came around every year I used to be busy, November in my old job was the worst, long hours tight deadlines. Added to which I would always be in the middle of something writing-wise. So while I always like the idea, I never actually did it.
NaNoWriMo, for those who do not know, is ‘National Novel Writing Month’. It’s well organised, but you don’t necessarily need to go down the organised route. The idea is to write a 50000 novel in the 30 days of November. There are groups who cheerleader each other along. Calendars to track your writing with. A whole lot of social engagement and help from other sources, you can register here, and find a local group via the main website. Importantly they also have a couple of guiding principles they suggest you stick to if possible.
- Write every day… and stick to your targets
- Don’t edit just write… editing if for December…
Its the latter one that really makes the difference for me, so I decided one year to try it. In July … as I say November was always a busy month for me. But other than getting the date wrong I used the word count guides and the forums, and the guideline on not editing as I went along. A month later, I had done it, not a 50000-word novel, but at the time a 69000-word novel. I overshot because it went so well. It was bare bones, there was almost a year of redrafting, editing more redrafting more edit etc. before the manuscript was somewhere near its final stage. But I had the first draft and therein lays the trick… I had something real, and complete to work with.
I am an exception, to a degree. Few NaNoWriMo novels ever get published by there writers, that’s not really the aim. Certainly not in the form they are first written (when I say Cider Lane had a lot of editing afterwards I mean a lot.) But plenty prove to be the ground stones on which a novel is built. Its an exercise in creativity, not perfection. It forces people, in a gentle way, to write with a certain amount of self-discipline. There is no failure if you don’t succeed in completing your 50000 words, not in any real terms, no one will look down on you for failing, but they will all cheer when you cross the finish line on November the 30th. Even if you fail, you will still have words on a page, something you might be able to take on to the next level, or just a whole lot of practice in writing. Also, it can do wonders for your self-discipline, teaching you not to edit as you go, to work to deadlines no matter how self-imposed. and just the pure love of writing.
What I got out of it was just that, which helped me no end, and still does. I am a better writer for it, not just in terms of productivity.
Its October, you have all month to register at https://nanowrimo.org/ you can plan and plot your novel as well if you want, or just wait until November the 1st and start writing. But in the end, you have little to lose, and much to gain, if all you gain is friends who struggle along with you…
Current ‘working’ titles I have under consideration for myself are:
- Maybes daughter part dux ( actually an on going project that is 30k done , but is planned for around 50k more and as I say nanowrimo is a great way to get a first draft down)
- Like a Bad Penny (a spin-off of a spider in the eye with a female protagonist, guess what her name is…)
- The Droitwich Horror (spoof Lovecraft horror set in the west midlands…)
I’m a new writer, about halfway through my first draft. I’ve been away from writing on it for the past couple weeks, having let life and laziness guide my days. Thank you for your explanation of the NaNoWriMo way. I’ve heard of it without understanding it. It sounds to me like a good goal to strive for.
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It is always interesting to hear the success stories–all of which tends to be: Finish the damn rough draft before you edit or rewrite anything.
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It’s good advice 🙂 but of course I would say that
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Ooh… I like the idea of a Bad Penny spin off🤔 would be really cool to see her and Harry as a double act… reluctant (recalcitrant?) partners saving the world 😉
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There is quite a lot more Bad Penny in book 2, She is a tad disparaging of Old ‘arry though…
Bad Penny —–> “Who do you think I am some bargain basement antagonist from a dime novel? Blabbing all my secrets to the hero? Do you think that’s who you are Hannibal Smyth, the hero of some cheap pulp paperback? The man of daring-do, the one who saves the world, the one who gets the girl in the end. Is that it? Because you’re not so much daring-do Mr Smyth, as daring-don’t.”
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As it is that most wonderful time of the year again, and the ghost and ghouls are gathering in the shadows… Thoughts turn once more to the coming November. So here is the annual pre-NaNoWriMo post
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