Archives for December 2011

Confessions of a Draft-a-holic, or How I Wrote 50K Words in One Month

Last month I participated in NaNoWriMo–National Novel Writing Month. The goal was to write a 50K novel during that time. Given that my previous two novels took several years each to complete, I was skeptical about my ability to succeed. But since this has been my year to do a wide variety of amazing things, I took the plunge.

One challenge to writing quickly is I'm an inveterate editor. I have a difficult time not editing myself as I create. Granted, it saves time on the second draft stage, but it does tend to slow the initial draft down.

A greater challenge has been figuring out my plot. I wrote Second Death and The Source of Lightning by writing until I reached a point where I wasn't happy with where the plot was going, then starting a new draft. Second Death went through twelve drafts, all going in the same basic direction, and another ten drafts when I changed the course of where I thought it should go. I just don't have enough time to spend that long in the drafting process. My attempts at outlining, though, didn't go too well. The process seemed to take all the fun and interest out of the novel.

Just as NaNoWriMo was beginning, though, I found Larry Brooks' very helpful NaNoWriMo-themed posts on story engineering. I started with answering his story questions for my incipient novel, but the most useful revelation was the beat sheet. I planned out the story, indicating in a couple of sentences what was supposed to happen in each chapter. He includes information on where (and I do mean “where” in a word count sense) the main plot points should occur. That bit of information was seriously helpful when racing through the month, and I think will become even more useful at a slightly more sedate pace.

And then, a shot rang out! Well, not, y'know, an actual shot, but I had my own personal drama. I realized although my word count had advanced to a pleasing number, I wasn't anywhere near that point in the narrative. I was overwriting the chapters, making them roughly 1,300 words rather than about 800. I had to throttle back, because I was determined to write a coherent first draft of 50,000 words. I didn't want to finish up the word count, but not the story. The later chapters ended up somewhat abbreviated, but I got through it to “The End,” those sacred words.

I bought and devoured Larry Brooks' book, Story Engineering. I highly recommend it. Rather than taking away the urgency to tell the story, outlining it freed me up to concentrate more closely on “story” without fussing about “plot.” That structure was already in place.

Fifty thousand words, however, do not make a novel, in my opinion, so now I'm filling in chapters to bring the count up to roughly 80,000. The additional chapters are necessary to flesh out the story and make it more compelling. I'm doing that by adding chapters to my initial beat sheet/outline, inserting them in the appropriate places, and then writing those chapters.

I'll definitely participate in National Novel Writing Month again next year, but I'll use the techniques I learned the year around. I'm anxious to complete Revival and tell Elijah Grayson's story to a larger audience than just me and the NaNo validator.

Have you had similar experiences with NaNoWriMo? Or changed your writing process drastically? Share in the comments below.