If you were expecting to read three hours worth of content before getting to work, surprise! This is the part where you stop thinking about writing and actually start doing it (unless, of course, you already wrote your first chapter, then you’re ahead of the curve!).
Yes, a novel is a big undertaking, but don’t be intimidated. A novel is just a bunch of words, and you are absolutely, without question, capable of doing it. The biggest challenge you will face is having the follow-through needed to actually finish it.
While I can give you some great tips about the writing process (and will in just a second), there is one tip I need to give you beforehand, and that’s save often, and save copies. I don’t care what word processing software you use – I use Microsoft Word, and sometimes I just write in WordPress (the software that runs my many websites) – but make sure you save your work often, and if you don’t have backup software that runs automatically, make sure you save copies. I’ve got a copy of Iterate from after every part of the process (first draft, first edits, final edits, final read-through, you get the idea). I can’t stress how important it is to have backup software or to at least keep copies, especially in the cloud or at least off of your computer.
You may want to brush that kind of advice aside because it’s tech advice rather than writing advice, but consider these scenarios:
- Your manuscript gets corrupted and you have to start over.
- Your hard drive dies along with everything on it and you have to start over.
- Your laptop gets stolen and you have to start over.
Have I convinced you yet? Hopefully so. Now let’s move on to what you’re really here for.
You will need to establish good habits, along with some kind of routine to keep the juices flowing and make steady progress. Here’s what works for me:
- Write in a distraction-free area. No TV, no people talking (sorry coffee-shop stereotype), no music with words. For some of you, parts or even all of this may not apply, and I completely understand that different sources of background noise affect people differently. Talking is a big no-no for me, but I have one album (R/D’s “Liquid Heart Keeper”) that I have listened to hundreds of times almost exclusively while writing, because there is almost no talking on the album – it’s just chill, glitch/electronic music. Apply this advice however it affects you.
- If you’re a procrastinator, pick a time of day and use that time every single day to write (take the weekends off if you’d like, but hopefully there are times when you won’t even want to do that). I’d estimate that 97% of Iterate was written during my lunch hour at my day job. 100% of my third novel was written during my lunch break, for what it’s worth. Once you set a routine, it gets easier and easier to follow. I now get annoyed when I have errands to run during lunch, because, like some kind of Pavlovian response, my brain expects the satisfaction of writing.
- Don’t write words just to have written something. It will be hot garbage. I’m not sure if the folks over at NaNoWriMo still advocate this, but they used to, and I vocally disagreed with it on multiple occasions. Yes, there is merit to finishing your novel, even if the initial result is trash. And maybe you are just trying to get that first novel under your belt despite knowing you probably won’t publish it, but if you are putting yourself through the whole experience, that includes editing. Writing words just to write words is like racking up $5k of credit card debt. It may feel satisfying to have instant material gratification, but you’ll pay for it later. Editing is the least fun part of writing in my opinion, but also the most crucial. Your characters, your great ideas – everything you write is either reduced or lifted to the quality of your editing. We’ll get into that process later.
- Everyone gets writer’s block. If you need a day off, take the day off, but return to your routine the next day. One day off can easily become one week, then one month, and suddenly you’ve abandoned your project. Don’t let it happen to you. Instead, use writer’s block as an opportunity to examine your work. Go back and read over the last chapter you’ve written, and more often than not, you’ll come up with ideas during that process. If you don’t, consider that maybe you’ve written yourself into a corner. It’s okay if at any point you need to rewrite a paragraph, a few paragraphs, or even a whole chapter. I’ve done it – and quite a few times at that. It’s all a part of the process, and it will happen to you. Don’t be discouraged, because it’s not a setback – it’s progress.
- Cast aside self-doubt. You will face it constantly. “Why would anyone read this?” “This sounds a lot like another story, people are just going to think I’m copying them.” “Why can’t I write like *insert author*?” Entertaining ideas like these are checkpoints for defeat. There are times when we are our own worst enemies, and surrounding yourself in your own negative thoughts is self-defeating in its simplest form. You can write a novel. There are billions of people on Earth; someone will want to read it. There are tons of stories with similar premises and even similar major plot points. Stop focusing on petty things like this and put that energy into writing your incredible story. Think of a book that everyone you know makes fun of. Was it hard to think of one? Probably not, right? And yet, that book is famous enough to have haters. Here’s just a fun tip that applies to writing and pretty much everything else – if you rise to the point in your life where you have haters, then you’re probably doing something right. Nine times out of ten, hate arises from jealousy.