I have never done NaNoWriMo. I know that there is an ongoing debate about its efficacy for aspiring writers, but I haven’t felt that I could stake out a position one way or another.
Now, though, I am now in the midst of my own NaNo experiment. I started City of Shades (Thieftaker Chronicles, book III, by D.B. Jackson) later than I had intended, which means that I was behind almost from the start. So, I decided that I needed to crank out the pages in February. If I could write 45,000 words this month, I would be back on track. If I could get 50,000 words, I would be ahead of schedule heading into March, which would be good I’ll be taking a week off to travel with my family and celebrate my big milestone birthday. That’s right: I’m about to turn 21 . . .
Anyway, I work Monday thru Friday, which means I have 20 work days in February (including today, despite the fact that it’s a national holiday) to meet my goal. And after eleven days, I am at 28,500 words, which puts me on pace to clear 50k.
I bring this up because I am following advice that A.J. Hartley first articulated on this site some time ago: I am writing fast. And this got me thinking about all the advice we offer here on MW, and about how much of that advice, my own and as well as the advice of others, that I actually put to use on a daily basis.
I thought it might be interesting to mark the President’s Day holiday as I do so many holidays: with a list — specifically a list of the writing tips that help me most. So, here it is, in no particular order. Sort of.
1. Write Fast: I mentioned this one already, so I’ll discuss it first. (So this is in a particular order, but the rest isn’t. Really.) Writing fast is not only helping me to get back on schedule, it is also forcing me to make quick plotting decisions, and to worry (for now) more about character and narrative and setting, and less about wording. I can clean up rough prose in revision, but those other elements I want to get right in the first draft. And finally, it is keeping the book fresh for me. I’m not languishing; I haven’t time to get bored with the project. I may run into a wall somewhere along the way, and I may find that the finished product is too rough. But for now, this approach is working for me.
2. Keep Moving Forward: A couple of weeks ago, I posted a rough draft of the opening to City of Shades. You all offered some helpful advice and showed me that while the tone is right, and I have some good passages, it still needs tweaking and rearranging. I was sorely tempted to rework it right away and then post it again, if for no other reason than to show that I really do know how to write. But I followed my own advice and kept moving forward with my writing. As I work, I make notes to myself about changes I need to make — I have a Scrivener file called “Editorial, City of Shades,” which is filled with things I need to consider as I rewrite. But it is much easier to revise once the initial draft is entirely done. And I do not want to lose the momentum I have going right now. So onward!
3. Create space between the writing experience and the revision process: This one is huge for me, and something I’ve talked about at length in the past. In order to edit my own work effectively, I have to put as much distance as possible between David the writer and David the editor. So I put the book away for several weeks and work on other stuff. Since I write on the screen, I edit on paper. I read my drafts aloud. In short, I do everything I can to make the reading-for-edit experience different from the process of writing the book, and this allows me to see problems and issues that I might have missed while writing.
4. Outline: Stepping into a hornet’s nest here . . . I know that many of you are dedicated pantsers, but I am growing more and more committed to outlining as my career progresses. In fact, one of the reasons I have been able to write this book so quickly thus far is that I have a solid outline from which to work. My outlines remain fairly loose and light on detail — maybe two or three sentences per chapter, just to give a sense of where the plot is headed. But even that amount of guidance has been invaluable.
5. Know your characters: Also a big one, and very broad. Knowing your characters means knowing their backgrounds and attributes, their best and worst qualities, their strengths and weaknesses, their dreams and fears, and their immediate wants. And it is crucial for so many reasons. Character lies at the very core of what we writers do. Without characters who are compelling and convincing, our stories will fall flat. And, like outlining, having a sense of who our characters are and what they need and want, facilitates our writing and enables us to work quickly. So, get to know your characters, and remain true to them throughout the writing of your book.
So, there’s my top five list. What are some of your favorite pieces of writing advice? Your turn to play!David B. Coe http://www.DavidBCoe.com http://www.dbjackson-author.com http://magicalwords.net
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