Last week, I talked about how thorough planning can help the inexperienced writer to swim more confidently through the murky depths of novel-writing. I also talked about the particular methods that worked and didn’t work for me, and where I might improve in the future. Today, I’ll take a look at some techniques that I found useful when trying to stick to my target.
WHAT? 5 o‘ clock in the morning? Are you mad?
Well, as I described in my previous post, my planning methods haven’t always been perfect, but the changes I’ve made have led to an improvement in my writing output. Each day I’ve managed between 1000-1300 words, and I’ve maintained this for over a month now.
My system for achieving this was:
1. To have a clear time for writing. For me it is 5am. Though it’s a struggle to drag myself out of bed, my brain isn’t fully engaged yet, so I don’t spend so much time worrying about the quality of what I’ve written. There are also fewer distractions. ‘Mum, can I have my breakfast?’ or ‘Where’s my tie?’ come to mind.
2. To have a clear word-count for each day. I actually gave myself a relatively low daily target initially (500 words a day), but found that I was exceeding this regularly, so my target now is 1000-1300 words. Most days I manage 1300. See what fits in best to your schedule. Give yourself a realistic target and stick to it.
3. To not worry too much about what I am writing, but instead to simply move the story forward. If the story is in print, I can go back and improve it in subsequent drafts.
4. To write a brief synopsis at the end of each writing session, so that I don’t have to churn through every word written when I’ve forgotten a detail. I find synopsis-writing exceedingly dreary, but it does cement the story into my memory.
5. NEVER, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, GO BACK TO RE-READ ANYTHING IN DETAIL, OR EDIT YOUR WORK. Not until you have finished your first draft. If you do, it will prove to be your undoing. At the moment, I am clearly aware that entire sections of my story are weak, certain character’s behaviours are incongruous, and the plot is, at times, repetitive or doesn’t fit. I’ll sort it out later (hopefully). I know if I try to sort it out now, I’ll be taken away from my objective – to complete a novel. So, if this is your objective too – DON’T GO BACK.
6. If you have any new ideas to fit into the story while you are writing. Note them down. If you’ve gone too far in the story to include them, you might be able to fit them in on the second draft. If your ideas are overflowing and you’re confusing yourself trying to include them in the plot, maybe you need to write another novel?
Some days my writing flows and I’m happy with what I’ve achieved. Other days, my characters don’t do what I want them to do, or the pace is all wrong, or I’m finding what I’ve written is dull (which usually means it is, and the reader will think so too). It’s hard to carry on, especially when you can’t think of where to start, or the words won’t gel. Usually, however, once you start, even if it’s not perfect, the words are there and the story’s progressing. Your novel’s not set in stone – it can be changed later.
So, be strict; adhere to the rules you set yourself. Find a time that suits you, set yourself a wordcount, don’t make excuses, don’t keep going back (for me, it’s another form of procrastination when I edit before the story is completed), and make sure you write a brief paragraph of each chapter as an aide-memoire. Your chapter synopsis will hold your hand through the whole novel writing (and re-drafting) process.
And finally, rules are your friend. Stick to them. Above all, remember to be kind to yourself about your first draft. It’s never easy for anyone, and if you don’t believe me, here’s a link to Austin Kleon’s blog. He’s posted excerpts from John Steinbeck’s diary, which the author wrote while grappling with his novel, The Grapes of Wrath.
Anyway, I’d love to hear from you about your first draft experiences. What successes you’ve had, any pitfalls you’ve encountered. Has your novel writing experience gone like a dream, or like me, have you spent many hours in despair, wondering who is in control. Is it you or is it really the novel?