The year was 2013 and I just finished my first novel for NaNoWriMo.
It changed everything.
Before 2013, I hadn’t finished anything before. Well, maybe a few short stories but not a huge novel. After so many writing sessions, so many hours, so much sweat, blood, snot, tears, and sleep deprivation, I got to the end.
It changed everything because I proved to myself I could do it. I knew what it felt like to finish a full novel and that alone was a bucket of inspiration. Once you know you can do it, suddenly the second time around won’t seem so hard. And the third time will feel even easier. The daunting task of scaling the mountain will no longer terrify you.
Here are some other things I learned from finishing my first novel (essentially by trial and error):
I’m sure there’s plenty of other things I learned but those come to mind the most. The point is that writing your first novel is like playing a game of trial and error. You don’t know what your voice is, your style, your flow, or anything. The only way to figure it out is to do it.
At this point, you’re likely on the road to finishing that novel for NaNoWriMo. Consider this tip more of an encouragement than anything.
You’re almost there. Keep going! Finish. Even if it’s a horrible manuscript, you’ll learn so much and can either edit it or start over and write something even better.
It may be hard to believe but not every writer is an introvert. Ernest Hemmingway sure wasn’t. Sometimes you need a good writing buddy to go to a coffee shop with. Even introverts need it every now and again. There’s plenty of benefits to writing with a friend but, naturally, there’s potential risks and problems, too. For NaNoWriMo, you might just need a good friend or writing partner to keep you motivated.
First, finding someone else who writes for NaNoWriMo could prove a challenge. It might mean you’ll need to step outside your comfort zone and meet new people. Once you’re able to actually find someone, you’d be surprised how much it sticks a fire under your seat to get stuff done.
A writing buddy can challenge you to write faster, harder, and reach your goals because they act as a natural accountability partner. No one wants to spend an hour or more with someone only to reach the end and say, “Well, I wrote 500 words.”
A friend can also help encourage you, give you advice, and, let’s face it, not make writing so lonely. For some, the loneliness of writing is the greatest struggle. Helping ease it can be a huge benefit.
Beware of talking too much. It’s all too easy to meet up, grab a coffee, and start talking endlessly about movies, books, and whatever the heck Trump just tweeted. So, try to restrain your inner Chatty-Kathy and keep the talking to a minimum. If anything, both of you can agree to talk for a little after you’ve gotten the writing done.
NaNoWriMo is all about gains made through every chapter, every paragraph, sentence, and word. The beginning and end will likely be very easy to write. The middle is going to be a certified Grade-A pain. Maybe you’re at that point right now and are getting stuck in the muck and mire of your plot?
Rest assured, you’re not alone. Many writers struggle with the middle. Much like the middle of a chess game, the middle of a story is difficult because of the possibilities. It’s not as well defined and can become tricky when you’re trying to decide how much attention should be given to plot versus character. The middle is also the most important part of any story. It’s the meat and potatoes of the narrative. People love to experience the journey of your character more than knowing the beginning or end of the journey. So, the middle carries more weight and it’s easy to get stressed out wondering if its working or not.
What’s a struggling writer to do when they’re in the muddy middle?
Push through it like a bulldozer.
It’s going to be really tough but the best thing you can do is fight like mad to get through it as fast as possible, come hell or high water. Put all your weight and strength into getting it done. Sometimes that might mean regrouping with your outline and make sure you’re sticking to your structure. It might also mean not sweating the small stuff or getting hung up on how things are clicking. If it clicks enough to be workable later, then leave it for the edit.
Why is pushing through so important? Because once you make it to the finish line, hindsight is 20/20. You’ll now have perspective and can see the full picture. Once that full picture is in view, the middle will suddenly start to make even more sense and you’ll feel more comfortable editing and molding the middle to meet the end.
Sometimes you can give yourself all the permission in the world to let your first draft suck and you’ll still criticize your general writing instincts, grammar, and every sentence you throw down. You know you can’t critique yourself while you’re writing because you’ll end up spinning your wheels. So, what do you do?
Quiet your inner critic.
You have the choice and the power to do it. An inner critic can vary from person to person. Some are mean and demeaning while others just demand perfection. Whatever your inner critic’s voice is, you have to learn to quiet it. Hate to say it but it’ll take practice. But first you have to make the choice to quiet it and then you will be able to harness your willpower to keep it quiet.
This is going to look different for different people. There’s no silver bullet on this one, unfortunately. Some might need to tell their critic to shut up frequently. Others may need to just get as much down as fast as possible so their critic can’t have a word in edgewise. It might take meditation. Whatever works for you, do it if it means your critic is being quiet and you’re getting faster at writing.
When you’re in the thick of your novel, it feels only natural to have the itch to tell people about it. It’ll be even more tempting to send a part of the draft to friends, family, or anyone else who says they want to read it.
Don’t do it.
With your first draft, you need to adhere to the door closed policy. That means you don’t tell people about your characters, your story, your ideas, or how things are going. The only exception to this rule could be telling other writers who also are working on a NaNoWriMo project but even then, keep things brief and simple. Don’t go on and on about the project.
Your project isn’t finished yet. The first draft is solely an exploratory venture that’ll need to be heavily changed, edited, and molded into something else. If you start telling people about it, you open the floodgates to potential criticism, judgment, or weird looks.
Even weird looks can kill motivation. All it takes is a weird noise from your Aunt Helen or an “Uh-huh” from Uncle Walter to make you feel seriously foolish and want to crawl into a hole.
Letting people read your manuscript is even worse than telling people about it. Grammar mistakes will abound. Details will be wrong. Descriptions will be awful. Pacing will likely suffer. The whole gambit is not going to be any good. Why in the world would you run into a battlefield unarmed with only a speedo to protect you?
So, when you have that insatiable craving to tell someone about your novel, repeat after me:
The first rule of writing club is you don’t tell people about writing club.