I’ve just completed CamNaNoWriMo for July, where I was challenged to write 50,000 words of a potential novel.
Novelists typically plan their work before they start to type. They map out plots, build new worlds and develop compelling characters. This preparation can take some time and effort, but it’s that old adage in practice: fail to prepare, prepare to fail. No-one likes the staring horror of a blank page.
I did none of these things.
I joined on a whim, just hours before Camp began. This is typical behaviour for me. I’m a pantster: someone who writes by the seat of her pants. I’m not alone in this approach, but it comes with its own challenges. A notable challenge is that it doesn’t always work.
For those who don’t know, CamNaNoWriMo is a virtual writer’s retreat; an online haven for anyone who thinks they might have a novel in them, however fleeting the thought. It uses daily motivational messages, both from Camp and from fellow authors, along with a visibly ticking deadline to whip us slacking writers into shape.
I was interested to see how this could work for me as someone who needed to redevelop a writing routine. I’ve been writing for decades, but I needed to re-engage after an enforced break from it. Aha! I thought, this could be the very thing I need.
50, 463 words later, I finished a day ahead of time. Having achieved my aim, what have I learned? The answer is I would have found it much easier if I had stuck to three simple things:
Destroy the blank page at all costs.
That expanse of white is your enemy and can stop you before you’ve even begun. To avoid this psychological trap, write something. Write absolutely anything. Jot down a few lines of dialogue, outline the first chapter or list what you had for breakfast if that helps you get started. It really doesn’t matter. You are a magician. You have the power to reshape your work later, deleting your breakfast along the way.
The more time you spend writing, the less time you spend worrying about what you should write. This creates a healthy psychological precedent.
Create a plan, but be prepared to betray it.
Begin your project with some sort of idea where you want it to go. If you can develop your characters and lay out a plot before you start, that’s great, but don’t fret if you can’t go into detail. These elements will only come alive as you write them and are bound to change profoundly as they interact. Characters can rebel and plots can ring hollow so have the confidence to go with what feels right rather than what you planned.
Just have a general idea of what comes next and that will be enough – and you can always change that too.
Don’t be precious about your work.
The point of a first draft is to make a start; a terrible, imperfect, confused and illiterate start. Give yourself permission to be bad. No-one needs to read it but you. Don’t judge it. it’s doing its job by existing. This is part of a process that all writers follow, including your literary heroes.
Just write now and worry about quality later. It will be there, I promise, often well-hidden, but always ready to be transformed into something good.