10 Survival Tips for Writing Your First Novel (31DBBB Challenge Day 2)


So you’re about to start writing a book.

The fact that you’ve already come this far—decided you’re going to start writing a book regardless of how terrified you might be—is impressive enough. But you’ve also found your way here, the ideal place to learn how to nurture your ideas through their various stages of growth and development.

That book isn’t going to write itself. It needs your help.

Here are our 10 novel-writing survival tips, whether you’re in your second day of Camp NaNo or just taking the leap on your own accord.

1. Draft a plan. Any kind of plan.

Novel planning doesn’t mean you have to construct an A-B-C-formatted outline. Even writing down a few key plot points is better than starting aimlessly. This is meant to give you a better picture of where you want your story to end up versus where it stands now (possibly as a blank page).

 2. Don’t worry about formatting.

Other than chapter headings and section breaks to keep yourself relatively organized, you don’t have to do anything special before or during the novel-writing process. If you want to spend extra cash on a specific word processing platform, that’s up to you. But opening up a Word document, naming it something you won’t forget and starting to write in default formatting and style works just as well (and most likely for you, it’s free).

 3. You don’t need SpellCheck.

Drafting a novel, misspelled words is the absolute least of your worries. No matter how long you’ve been a member of the grammar police force, all those underlined words can be distracting and can throw you off if you’re in the middle of a good sprint. You’ll have plenty of time to go back and edit later. For minimal distraction, you might want to consider turning off the feature.

 4. There will be days you don’t feel like writing.

It’s certainly not a bad idea to try to write a little bit of something every day, even if it’s just a few lines of a journal entry or, why not, an email you’ve been needing to send anyway. Skipping a day of “noveling” doesn’t mean you’re giving up. Sometimes your brain just needs time to recoup. Engaging in an alternative “creative” activity can act as a worthwhile replacement.

 5. Sources of motivation differ for every writer.

For some, word or page count is what keeps the creative energy flowing. For others, it’s finishing the structural elements of a story, then going back to fill in the rest. Or it might be a little bit of both. Quality is always the end goal, but because finishing a first draft is the first and often most difficult step, it’s completely reasonable to run with whatever factor motivates you to keep pressing down those keys.

 6. Work backwards from “what” to “how.”

Sometimes what stops us in the middle of a good story is knowing point B, but having no idea what point A is. Knowing two characters end up trapped in a castle (okay?), but not knowing how they get there. Use this dilemma to your advantage. Work backwards. Focus on where your story needs to get to as you piece together how it all unfolds.

 7. It’s okay to write terribly.

Someday you might have an agent, an editor, a beta reader or an honest friend who will read your book and give you constructive feedback. So for now, don’t worry if it isn’t good. Don’t worry if some things don’t exactly add up. Just keep writing. It’s much easier to work with and revise a finished project than sit at your desk, staring at an unfinished document, stumped.

 8. Your characters might try to hijack your brain. Let them.

Characters may be all in your head, but it’s your job to bring them to life on paper. Strangely, as your story develops, you’ll find your characters actually tend to know more about themselves and their story than you do. If you spontaneously think up a plot twist you can’t resist, thank your characters—then go with it.

 9. Write those scenes that make you feel uncomfortable.

This is a tougher one. We want to feel comfortable and satisfied when we’re writing, right? Well… yes. But it’s likely the biggest cause of novel abandonment is boredom (not yet proven). The same goes for the reading side of books. Sometimes we have to write scenes we’re not necessarily comfortable writing. Cringe-worthy content isn’t always bad. Sometimes it’s just what your story needs to appeal to the masses (as much as it can).

 10. Remember that writing a book doesn’t happen in a month.

WriMos are great, but a story you start at the beginning of July, for example, isn’t going to be publisher-ready, or even necessarily close to being finished, when July ends. The entire process can take years, but even just writing the first draft might take longer than you anticipated. This is okay. This is normal. It’s better to take your time and complete a promising draft than rush and end up deleting the majority of it anyway.

You can do this. You might even finish this.

Good luck. Write on!

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

Solution Saturday: I Can’t Write 50,000 Words in One Month


Oh, yes you can.

Or you can at least try.

Camp NaNoWriMo is merely days away now (!), and you could be in one of multiple places: signed up but scared out of your mind (understandable), not signed up because you’re not interested or legitimately can’t give up other lifestyle commitments, like breathing (also understandable) or our least favorite: not signed up because you’re not sure you’re going to be able to write enough words in such a short amount of time.

Stop right there. We need to have a chat.

As we’ve discussed previously, there are three reasons writers fail to develop and refine their skills. One of those reasons is time. Associated with this: being too busy, treating writing as a hobby (which some do, and there’s nothing wrong with that, please, no flailing tentacles in the comments) and just not knowing how writing fits into your long list of life-long ambitions.

Participating in a WriMo is voluntary and often, let’s be honest, a terrible idea. Until you get started. It’s the kind of stress we need to thrive—a combination of terror and excitement particularly difficult to describe. But if you give up before you’ve even signed up—you’re not doing yourself any favors.

Not sure you can handle it? Here are a few solutions that might motivate you to change your mind.

Solution 1: Set a reasonable word count goal—for you

Unlike National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short), which takes place in November, Camp NaNoWriMo—April and July—does not have an automatic 50K word count goal you have to reach in order to win. The system lets you set your own word count, so if you really think you’ll struggle making 50,000, you’re allowed to shoot lower.

A lot of your cabin mates might keep their word count at 50,000—or they might even set a higher goal. Cheer them on—but don’t let them intimidate you. If 10,000 words is all you think you’ll be able to handle this July, that’s still a huge accomplishment. And here’s the beauty of setting a lower word count: if you hit it before July ends, no one’s going to stop you from writing more!

Solution 2: Accept that you might not be able to write every day 

Here at Novelty Revisions, we’re all for the concept of trying to write a little every day, even if it’s not your best work. The truth is, this philosophy doesn’t always apply quite as well during WriMo months. You can try to write a little every day—1,667 daily words on the 50K track—and if that’s the strategy that works best for you, and you’re not too concerned about quality (or your own sanity), get those fingers ready and go for it.

If you’ve found that writing every day doesn’t work as well for you, use this next month as a trial run for yourself. What about writing every other day, or select days of the week only, such as weekends? The important thing to note here is, it’s not the end of the world if you can’t update your word count every day. That chart is there to help motivate you to keep going. If it flatlines a few times (too morbid?), just breathe. It’s going to be okay.

Solution 3: Turn “have to” into “want to,” “can’t” into “can try”

Writing is a lifestyle, and just like taking steps toward a healthier lifestyle involves positive thinking and positive self-talk along with diet and exercise (sorry), reaching toward word count and similar goals takes more effort than coaxing your brain into squeezing out its best ideas.

No one is making you do this. So getting into the habit of “have to” writing, when you really think about it, doesn’t even make that much sense. Take that have to and make it a want to. You want to write these words. You want to get closer to finishing this book. The same goes for the infamous “can’t” attitude. It’s in the title of this post, for goodness sake. You CAN. It might take lowering your set point (SORRY) and combating all the voices inside you screaming that it’s not possible, but honestly, if you can’t convince yourself it is in fact possible, no one can.

You don’t have to do this. But if you want to, don’t stress if you can’t reach 50K. And if you do shoot for that count and don’t end up making it—you tried. Never forget that trying and falling short is so much more fulfilling than giving up before you even start reaching. 

Can’t wait until Wednesday? Get ready to embark on your word-writing journey by checking out our summer 2015 “packing” checklist.

Do you have a “writer problem” that you can’t seem to find a solution to? Leave a comment or tweet @MegDowell with the hashtag #NRSaturdaySolutions and we might help you solve your problem in next week’s post!

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

Why You Should Never Give Up On Your Ideas (No Matter How Small)


This week we learned another Dr. Seuss book is on the way. Thank goodness he wrote it down, or the idea behind “What Pet Should I Get?” would have been lost forever.

Do you know what Dr. Seuss is most notorious for? Writing brilliant stories, with exceptional depth and purpose, using very few words.

In the very small writing community with which I am affiliated, I am notorious for writing large quantities of words, quickly and frequently, whenever I take on a new project. My likely-never-to-be-published novel, Queen Bee, is made up of about 130,000 words written across a time span of 14 consecutive days.

There may or may not have been a wisdom teeth extraction, and accompanying pain medication, to blame for this otherwise impossible feat. But you get the general idea.

If I’m normally so inclined to plow through a project at warp speed – not while taking prescription-only pain meds, mind you – why am I averaging about 100 words per day this month as I pour over a story only half-finished even in my own head? And why am I OKAY with this?

A lot of reasons, actually. The first being that it is February, and for the first time in a very long time, I’m in no rush to finish what I’ve started. Continue reading “Why You Should Never Give Up On Your Ideas (No Matter How Small)”