Monday, November 8, 2010

An Award and How to Write a Novel in a Week

A little over a week ago, I received an email saying I had been the recipient of the Masters Award, an award presented to some of the top Sci-fi/Fantasy writing blogs.  Well, you can imagine how astounded and absolutely humbled I was to receive this award.  I don't know if I've necessarily earned it yet, but I sure hope to try!

How to Write a Novel in a Week:

Now let's get this straight.  I don't necessarily think writing a novel in a week is a good idea for everyone.  However, if you're like me and you've spent years writing the first draft on past novels, there are some tricks I'll mention here that you might want to try for yourself.

Going into NaNoWriMo, I really didn't think I'd be able to write the 50,000 words in a month.  I was pretty sure I was setting myself up for failure.  On all my past attempts, my first drafts took a while.  I spent six years on my first novel, almost a year and a half on my second (ELEMENTAL), and two months on the total rewrite of ELEMENTAL.  I knew I was getting better at picking up the writing pace, but even HANSEL AND GRETEL has been taking me longer than I'd hoped.  So 50,000 words in a month?  Pretty much impossible.

October 30th rolled around and I decided I'd stop procrastinating and work on my outline.  I figured if I had an outline written, I'd know where I wanted to go with the book, and it would be easier to at least pump out 1,000 words a day.  I got through the outline on the first two chapters before I decided to check my email, twitter, my blog, etc.  In other words, I wasn't going to get through the other chapters before NaNo began.  But while perusing the internet, I thought I'd play around with a character outline.  I thought it might be fun to get a better idea of who Lilly Grey was.  This was a very smart move on my part.  It only took about thirty minutes and I had a great head start on my novel.

Knowing exactly who your MC is BEFORE you start writing can eliminate a lot of future headaches.  I know this personally.

November 1st came and my heart was pumping to get started.  The story had been brewing in my head for a few weeks and I was ready to put words down.  It turned out, having the first two chapters outlined already helped.  I knew where my start was and I had enough knowledge of what was happening in future pages to keep me motivated.  But guess what?  Having ONLY the first two chapters outlined helped, too!  Once chapter two was written, there were twists and turns propelling me forward to the third chapter that I never would have thought of before I started writing.

So I wrote and wrote and wrote and by the end of Day 1, I had over 10,000 words written and I still didn't want to stop!  Sadly, my bed was calling to me by then, so I did stop.  And that's tip #3 dear readers!  (tips #1 and #2 being outline first two chapters only and do a character outline before starting).  When I stopped for the day, I stopped in the MIDDLE of an intense scene, not at the end.  This way, I was excited about getting back to it.  I had the whole night to ruminate and plot out the rest of the scene and beyond so that when I started the next morning I could fly through another 7,000 words.  And ruminate I did.  I actually dreamed about my book every night I was so anxious to get back to it.

But seriously, you ask, how can anyone fly through 7,000 words, no matter how excited they are about the book?  Tip #4: keep it simple.  The reason all my previous first drafts took so long to write was because I'd obsess over each and every sentence, making sure it was perfect before I moved on.  But do you want to know what I discovered since I started revising and revising and revising some more?  All those sentences I obsessed over get the same chopping treatment as a sentence that I didn't necessarily consider perfect.

So when I came to a part in MORCAH that I didn't know exactly how to describe, I'd get the gist of it down, knowing I'd come back later to perfect it.  There's a lot of shrugging going on in the first draft right now because I wanted to convey nonchalance, but I didn't want to get stuck trying to come up with the perfect way to describe the nonchalance, risking the chance that I might lose my drive for the day.

And that brings me to tip #5: don't think about the past.  If you think about what you've written already, you'll think about all the things you want to improve, and then the inner editor will rear its ugly head.  During NaNo, you don't have time for the inner editor.  He needs to go to sleep for a while in preparation for the second draft.  And actually, that coincides with tip #4.  Even if you go back and edit, you'll probably end up changing a lot of it because you just haven't gotten to the ending yet.  There's simply very little point in perfecting everything before you know how the whole thing is going to look.

That makes me think of an analogy (I love analogies).  When you're laying down joint compound in preparation for painting, you don't slap on a tiny bit and then smooth it to perfection only to slap on some more right next to it.  If you did, you'd have to rework the area you already perfected and it would take FOREVER.  Instead, you slap it all down and smooth it all together at once.  The same is true for writing.  Get it all done, THEN smooth the whole thing out.

Another thing I have to mention isn't necessarily a tip, but it is something that really helped me pump out MORCAH.   I wrote it as if I was reading it.  I was so absolutely in love with all my characters, that I trusted them and let them have a little control in where the story went.  They didn't let me down.  However, giving total control to your characters is a bad idea.  I knew where I wanted the story to end, so I made sure wherever the characters took me, they still had my ending in mind.  In the end, I think I acquired a story that a lot of people will enjoy because my characters were allowed to live.

And finally, tip #6!  The most important tip I can think of: tell yourself you WILL write so many words a day and that it is EASY.  A lot of times writers have the nasty habit of conditioning their minds into thinking they can't do something or they're busy or whatever other excuse you can think of.  You're really just crippling yourself.  Though I don't fall for all that stuff about how you can think your way out of a disease, I DO believe you can think yourself out of success.  And if you can think your way out of it, you can think your way into it. If your goal is to reach so many words a day and you REALLY think you can do it (barring any real emergencies), you'll get it done.

Any other tips, my dear readers?  Have you found something that's helped you in the past?  And do you think any of you will be able to implement any of the tips I've given today?

Let us hear about it!

~Emily White


  1. wow. em. you make it almost sound possible for anyone... but how in the world do you type so fast? i don't think i could type 10,000 words in a day, even if they were the same word over and over. :) how many hours a day did you spend writing?
    i'm not sure my internal editor has an off switch...
    must work on that...
    thanks for the tips! :)

  2. Fascinating process! Thanks for sharing this. I actually think I COULD do in the way you described--because I've done glimmers of it before, turning off my inner editor while I wrote a dramatic scene, instructing myself to get the mood/flow of it down, and I'd fix it later. Which I did, and the scenes ended up working really well.

    Still, I like to tidy a LITTLE as I go 'cuz when I refine (not polish), I can add details that foreshadow and add symbolic elements, or make play-on-words references back to certain lines of dialogue, etc. I have to admit I also get a little more self-confidence to carry on when I tidy, because I hate plowing forward when I feel the past scene was muddy or garbage-y. *grin*

  3. Vic--I'll admit 10,000 words in a day probably isn't possible for someone who works outside the home. Because I'm a SAHM, I took advantage of any quiet moments my kids gave me and pushed the cleaning to the end of the day. I'd say I probably got about five hours in each day. And I can type fast, so that helps.

    My inner editor doesn't have an off switch either. I just threatened him with death if he made one peep. It shut him right up. :P

    Carol--I bet you COULD do it! In fact, I'm sure you can! Go! Go! *waves pom poms*

    I like to add the foreshadowing stuff when I'm done mainly because I find I naturally do it already (to an extent) and revisions are fun when you get to play around with everything, rather than just tweak sentence structure. :D

  4. Wow that's a really cool award Em! Congrats.

  5. Congratulations, Master blogger!

    I love this post on how you wrote a novel in a week. Love it! Many of your tips were things that I myself do, although I've never written so much in such a short amount of time.


  6. Love this post. I do the same when I get stuck on a scene, I just write the rough idea and come back to it later. :)

    Yay, congrats on your awesome NaNo-ing. :)

  7. Right now, if I tried to go that fast, I'd fry my brain. But just a few years ago, 2k a day for 3 days straight was enough to fry my brain. I'm hovering around 1500 avg. Pacing myself has been key. If I'm going muddled or stressed, I step away and refresh myself, maybe do a bit of light reading. If I get stuck, I natter with my hubby. He comes up with good ideas, even though he doesn't want to be a writer.


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