Okay, okay, that was rather a cranky post I made yesterday about the start/onslaught of NaNoWriMo. So in an effort to be nice/compassionate/not bitter, this weekend’s writing experiment is devoted to the idea of writing a novel within a specific span of time.
But here, let’s be a bit more measured. Patient, realistic. Let’s think about a longer span. I’m suggesting a year (which is the duration of the Telegraph’s Novel in a Year – super piece by Louise Doughty at that link). Or maybe, if you want something a bit more concentrated and can spare the time, three months, or six months, or even nine months. But make it one of those spans of time – multiples of three, magic numbers after all – to be started at some finite point in the future, e.g., 1 January 2013. (I’m assuming we all survive the end of the world that was apparently not prophesied by the Mayans for December 2012 – if you are worried about that, though, do NaNoWriMo, and then use the first 22 days of December for revisions. And then PRAY, while the rest of us look forward to Christmas.)
So here goes – a few suggestions:
* This weekend, find a couple of hours to plan some bare bones of your novel. Use those two hours wisely, and with a deadline.
* To start, brainstorm. Write lists, draw mind maps of things your novel will contain.
* Answer this question: What is the purpose of this novel? What is your intention? The answer might be slow in emerging, and this might be something you need to revisit throughout. Allow it to mutate, if need be.
* Then start to shape your narrative content. People, places, scenes. Prioritise, itemise.
* Create a structure out of this content – e.g., a three-act structure. You don’t have to outline in detail, unless you are an effective outliner, but perhaps you can start to divide your story into three acts, and work out what goes into each act. And to get yourself started, maybe just map out some of the chapters or scenes in the first act, to get yourself going. You can also think about writing patchwork-style, with sections from anywhere in the book that will be pulled together later.
* Then create a schedule of action: deadlines for parts or chapters evenly scattered throughout the year. Give yourself a start date, and an end date, and work out how much writing you need to do each week, for example. Maybe also build in some time for research – you might be able to start that sooner, in fact, but also factor in an end time for finishing initial research and then a start date for the actual writing. Research can, if you let it, go on forever. The goal: a complete first draft by the end of three/six/nine/twelve months.
* And then the work will begin (1 January 2014? 1 April 2013?): the processes of revising and self-editing.
Of course, you’re going to need to think about all the other things a novel needs: if you don’t understand what’s meant by three-act structure, or want to know more about creating strong characters, or using voice or point of view, or simply need some prompts and direction, you might need to create a course of self-study (resources are available everywhere – start here, or your local library). Or even take a course. I’ve taught such courses in the past, and its best to note that such short courses are usually not about writing a novel in, e.g., six or eight weeks, but about six or eight weeks of equipping you with the tools to write a novel. And then you go away and write it. A concentrated month can be helpful. But remember too that writing a novel is not a race, and few of us are sprinters.
(Updated 26 October 2013.)