So today I have a great guest post for you by the author of IXEOS, Jennings Wright. I hope you enjoy.
The Nuts and Bolts of Writing a Novel
Since November 2011, I have participated in – and won – five NaNoWriMo events. The sixth will be in April, when I do the year’s first Camp NaNo. Our area has a lot of people who participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and a couple of the writing groups I’m in have tried to do it as a group. They are always wanting to pick my brain as to how to “win” the event. I think the advice I give holds true even if you aren’t doing a contest and are just trying to figure out how to write a complete novel.
The first thing I do is determine how many words the novel will be. Different genres have different expected word counts. Fantasy can be quite long (120,000+ words), but, in general, a standard genre novel is about 80-90,000 words, and YA is 60-70,000 words. For my adult books I figure 90,000, and for my new YA trilogy, I aim for 80,000 words.
These numbers don’t mean you have to write more than the story calls for, or that you can’t go beyond. But for planning purposes, it’s important to have a goal word count, so that you can figure out how many words per day you need to write to complete it in your desired time frame.
NaNo events are 30 days. Writers “win” when they write 50,000 words (or more). That means, to “win” at NaNo, you need to write a minimum of 1667 words a day for all 30 days. For me, since I aim for 90,000 words, my goal is 3,000 words a day. That’s the first thing I need to know.
If you’re not doing a NaNo event, you still should decide when you want to have your first draft done. Otherwise, you’ll probably just wander through it, and before you know it you’ve been working on your novel for two years and haven’t finished. So let’s say you want to write your first draft in six months, and you only want to write on weekdays. That’s about 130 writing days. If you are aiming at 90,000 words, you will need to write a minimum of 692 words a day. That’s not bad, huh??
Notice a key element in the last scenario: we didn’t figure out how many words a day assuming you’d write every single day. We figured it out based on your schedule. During NaNo, I don’t write every day. I can’t. But since I usually average about 3800 words a day, I don’t worry about how many days of the month I’ll write, since I have “words in the bank.” If I did plan to write every day, but knew I wouldn’t write on Thanksgiving and one other day when I was busy, I’d divide the 90,000 by 28 days and need to write a minimum of 3214.
Now that we have our goal established, we need a way to track it. I have a Stickie Note app on my Mac laptop, and I track each writing day there. I write the date, then my goal number, then write my actual beside it when the day is done. So let’s say that on Day 4, I’ve already written 10,354 before I start. I add my 3000 to that as my goal: 13,354. When I’m done, my actual is 16,726, for a total word count of 3372 for the day. The next day, I just add 3000 to that, and so on. If I don’t make my word count, I do not add those extra words onto the next day. I still add 3000. The odds are, you will always write at least a little beyond your goal, so you have a surplus. But even if you don’t, your daily goal is your daily goal, regardless of what happened the day before.
The only thing missing is you! Systems don’t write books, people write books. So once you’ve made your first draft and daily goals, the hard part is sitting down each day and actually writing! You’re the only one that can do that. If you are participating in a group event, you’ll have some excitement and momentum. If you’re not, I suggest announcing to your Facebook world that you’re writing a book, and start posting your word count there. There will be a couple of people who will follow your journey all the way through, and when you don’t post your word count, they’ll ask you. Usually in public. This is a great kind of peer pressure, and perhaps just the kick in the pants you need on those blah days to keep you writing.
Finally, remember: this is your first draft. It’s not your final draft! It won’t be perfect. It might not even be that good, at least in parts. It will need extensive editing, perhaps extensive rewriting. That’s all okay. The challenge is to get that first draft from your brain onto the page. Don’t edit as you go. Don’t skip the hard days. Just write, whether it’s good or bad. The words aren’t permanent. You can fix them later.
Nike’s slogan is a perfect one for writers: JUST DO IT! Nothing can stop you if you set your mind to finishing. Set yourself up for success, and get writing.
Thanks so much Jennings for being on the blog today. I hope you all enjoyed this post!