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How to write a novel in National Novel Writing month

Forget elections, moustaches and bonfires, November is about one event: NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. Author Vicky J Payne offers her top ten tips.

Forget elections, moustaches and bonfires, November is about one event: NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. Author Vicky J Payne offers her top ten tips.

The principle is simple: you sign up and start writing every day in November until you hit your 60,000 words over 30 days. If not the full novel, that’s a decent chunk by any stretch. A word counter monitoring your output is particularly useful so you can track the 2K mark every day. It’s still not too late to enrol. It’s free, (although many participants make a donation to keep the scheme going), and it works… Sign up now.

I signed up to NaNoWriMo a couple of years ago to pull together a raw draft of my book, The Assassin’s Head, and these are my top ten tips:

  1. Although I already had a broad synopsis of what my book was about, its main characters and turning points, I didn’t plot enough. You’ll know days into NaNoWriMo if you are a plotter or not (many writers aren’t). If you are one, as I am, simply note where the gaps are and force yourself to map out a detailed plotline before starting your second draft. I found serious plotting hard work but it paid off dividends and I should have done it much earlier on.
  1. It’s always tempting to revisit, tweak, rewrite. Once you have 60,000 words under your belt you can edit to your heart’s content. In the meantime, no editing, revising or deleting. Not until December 1st!
  1. You will change your mind as you write so never let a flash of panic that you’ve drifted down no-exit writers’ alley pull you up. If, for example, you decide you want to make a character female instead of male, you can do so easily at second draft stage when no one will realise that Jade was once Jake.
  1. The initial high of actually sitting there and writing is, I’m afraid, exactly that: a high. You will come down and like all hangovers crave carbs to fill the empty space where creativity once powered your word count. You haven’t got writer’s block, you’ve simply grasped that it’s a job with good and bad days.
  1. Slow down. This is contradictory but, under pressure to hit your daily target, it’s tempting to power along without pausing. Don’t. Remember to include the details which contribute to the authenticity and atmosphere of your storytelling.
  1. If you haven’t already, you’ll find countless blogs about discovering ‘your voice’ and writing about what ‘you know’. I found all this advice demotivating and unhelpful. You already have a voice and if every writer only wrote what they ‘knew’ no one would ever write anything.
  1. Do your research though. If you want to include something you’re not sure about but that some of your readers will be, simply stick a note in your draft to check it out later. Don’t waste time in November scrolling through YouTube videos to discover exactly how that early Finnish machine-gun worked in the field.
  1. Be grateful to your characters who will spring into life to help you the moment you sit down to write about them. When one of mine is killed, I was so upset I seriously thought about changing the plot so they didn’t die! (Spoiler alert: I didn’t.)
  1. And talking of ‘killing’, I’m afraid you really do need to kill your own little darlings, and that is not referring to your characters but all that woolly prose and repetitive tics. Be ruthless and delete the little bastards. But not until December 1st!
  1. Maybe you’ve been longing to write for years, decades even, so if I could give you only one piece of advice, it’s this: write for yourself. Write what you want to read and trust that others will want to read it too. Here’s to you and, to paraphrase the Irish Blessing, may the page rise with you.

You can find Vicky J Payne’s The Assassin’s Head on Amazon.

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