Since it’s National Novel Writing Month, I thought I would write a post today about novel writing. It seemed fairly appropriate. These are a few of the methods I use for cranking out a novel, and I hope that you will find them helpful as well. These are also useful when you run into the same problems outside of November.
Novel writing tip #1: Have a plan in mind.
Whether you are an outliner or a pantser (improviser), it is critical to have a plan for your novel. This generally means that you know how the novel begins and how it ends. Everything in the middle can be fuzzy if it needs to be right now—but if you don’t know how the novel ends then you need to pull out your pen and notepad and start brainstorming (or as a friend of mine calls it, barnstorming). If you don’t know your destination, it is difficult to plot a course for your journey. The ending of your novel is your destination, so if you don’t know what it is, how can you get there? Half the time, when I write stories I have no middle in mind: I just know where I’m starting and where I’m going. If I don’t know where I’m headed, I stop and pick a final destination. You may be afraid that choosing an ending will pigeon-hole your writing into something you don’t want it to be, but I have found this is not the case. One of the great things about this is that you can change your ending at any time—you just need to make the appropriate course-corrections to get there. Here’s an example of how to brainstorm:
Billy and Jenny get the missing tiara after all, get married, and run off into the sunset? No. Billy and Jenny don’t find the tiara, they end up burying the whole place it’s hidden in with explosives and there’s an awesome scene where they run along a mineshaft with a massive explosion in the background, and then the magical frog shows up again and transports them to safety, or maybe then…
The best part is that this counts toward your NaNo word count, so you’re not losing any time by doing this. Once you have something you like, you might find that you have an easier time of figuring out what to do for the middle, even if you just pull it out of your butt as you go along. Of course, a lot of novel writing is just pulling stuff out of your butt, but that’s beside the point.
Novel writing tip #2: “Block” the scene.
This can help you if you have an idea of how you want your scene to go, but haven’t the faintest idea of how to get it down onto paper. Even if you’re opposed to outlining, give this a try. Outline the next five bullet points of your story. Just five. It can be as simple as “they walk across the room to the punch bowl” and “they take a drink of punch.” You then have two options at this juncture: write out what happens for each bullet point, or write the next five bullet points. You can combine the bullet-point making with the brainstorming method of just throwing out random ideas until you settle on one. Now that you have the scene blocked out, you should have an easier time writing it. This also helps with blank page syndrome because you no longer have a blank page. Plus, you get to keep all those juicy words for your word count.
Novel writing tip #3: Write out your frustrations.
Can’t move forward? Start ranting about it, and write down your rant. It will boost your word count, feel good (who doesn’t love to vent some frustration?), and most likely will help you spot whatever roadblock is holding you back. Then you can start trying to think of ways to get around the roadblock (writing down all of your thoughts, of course). Doing this stream-of-consciousness rambling can actually help you get some story planning done. Anything that keeps you writing during NaNoWriMo is useful, and you’ll get back to writing your story a lot sooner than if you took an internet break.
Novel writing tip #4: Give it five minutes.
If you can’t seem to get focused on your work, set a timer for five minutes and promise yourself that you will do nothing else in those five minutes but write. Even if all you do is write two or three sentences, you have accomplished something. It is more likely that you will get into what you are doing a little more, and soon you’ll be twenty minutes in instead of five.
Novel writing tip #5: Light it up.
If you can’t concentrate, don’t drink another cup of coffee. 20 cups of coffee will just make you shaky and can actually make it harder for you to concentrate. However, I have found that broad spectrum lighting can be beneficial as a concentration aid. I discovered this because I have seasonal affective disorder, which can be treated in part by exposure to a therapy lamp such as those produced by Verilux. (Disclaimer: This is not an endorsement for Verilux.) Something about being exposed to broad spectrum light makes it much easier for me to focus, and it definitely lifts my mood. Don’t use the lamp for more than 30 minutes and don’t use it after 5 pm, though, or you’ll have trouble sleeping or may find yourself a little hyperactive. I’m not joking. I speak from experience.
Novel writing tip #6: Write something else.
If you’re stuck on your novel, pick another project and work on it for an hour or so. Don’t abandon your main project, just keep one or two side projects going. I find that I am most productive when I am working on two or more writing projects. You could also write a poem or a flash fiction if you don’t want to have two major projects—just have something to write so that you can recharge your creativity tanks. Focusing on the same task for too long can make it boring and sap strength from your creative mind.
Novel writing tip #7: Get up and move around.
This is my favorite tip of all. I like to get up and pace around the room and talk to myself about my novel. Sometimes I act out dramatic scenes, or practice dialogue to see if it sounds natural. Not only is it good for your body to move around, it can boost blood flow to your brain, which is kind of important for creative endeavors such as writing a novel. Once your brain is flowing with ideas again, sit down and write those ideas down as fast as you can.
Those are just a few of my tricks for novel writing, and I hope that they can help you too. What are your personal favorite tricks for writing?
Not ready to get back to writing just yet? While you’re procrastinating, you might as well read the first chapter of my published fantasy novel Charybda here. It shouldn’t take you more than fifteen or twenty minutes. Then get to writing!