Now that we're over halfway through November – NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month – how's your word count looking? While NaNoWriMo enthusiasts try to crank out 1,667 words for 30 days straight, completing a first draft by 30 November, I prefer writing rather more sedately. I'm at the 55,000 mark on my new novel and it's taken me some months to get there, but my plan works and it doesn't require me to press pause on the rest of my life for a month. Here's how.
1. Set aside two writing sessions a week
Just two. For two afternoons a week, I commit to sitting at my screen for at least an hour, opening up my manuscript and typing something. That's it. I write fiction because I find it fun, creative and relaxing, so I allow myself to spend an hour writing whatever part of the book I feel like. But I try to make an extra half-hour to an hour available, in case I get on a literary roll and want to write more. I aim to write 1,000 words at a session but usually write more.
2. Switch off distractions
This really, really works. The time when I'm working on my book is sacred, so before I start, I crawl down behind my desk to unplug my internet cable, then switch my cellphone onto flight mode. People, it's frigging miraculous what you can achieve in an undisturbed hour. A single email or social media check-in can bomb an idea, derail a train of thought, vaporise that mood that could have been the beginning of an amazing scene. Try using a tool such as Freedom to lock yourself out of the internet for pre-set durations, say 90 minutes.
3. Leave judging and editing your first draft till later
Whether what you've written is good or not isn't relevant at this point. Write first; edit later. Your book won't be perfect now, and parts of it may be downright laughable, but it's important to get the story down while you feel that rush of inspiration. Editing and judgement can kill the excitement you need to make it to the finish line of your first draft. As my writing buddy (and fellow swimming-class parent) Byron agrees, unexpected things happen when you're writing. In his case, a sinister character appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. 'I just went with it,' he told me. His book needed this character to the balance the others, he now feels. Half the thrill of writing lies in the unplanned developments that happen while you're writing. Don't think, 'I didn't plan this so it's wrong and it's not going to work.' Leave it in; relook it later.
4. Don't talk about your book too much
Avoid revealing too much about your story to those who ask. Hone a one-sentence description or elevator pitch to give them enough to satisfy them. Don't go into details or they'll give you their opinion, which may ruin the magic for you. It's vital that, while writing your first draft, you stay true to your vision. Once you're happy with your completed first draft, get feedback from trusted friends or colleagues who love reading novels and whose opinion you value, or from a professional editor. But don't open yourself up to criticism too soon, or someone's offhand comment may make you divert completely from the shining idea you really want to pursue.
5. Save your work after every session
I learnt this the hard way. Rewriting a large chunk of my mystery novel Little Diamond Eye that had come to me as if channelled (you know?), three days later, was not nearly as fun as it had been the first time around... Make backups each time you write. Save your work in two different places, ideally emailing the latest version to yourself on gmail.
Let me know how it goes, and share your own tips for getting your novel written, on The Peacock Book Project's Facebook page: www.facebook.com/peacockproject
Catriona Ross is a journalist and author. Find her books in the Kindle Store: Little Diamond Eye, The Presence of Peacocks or How to Find Love and Write a Novel, The Love Book, Writing for Magazines: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know, and The Happy Life Handbook.