In Part 2 of this series of posts, I talked about editing your work, and how the first draft is always just that, a draft – an incomplete piece of writing. Having said that, without getting those words out, without that first draft, you cannot move forward and produce a finished product – your novel.
Of course, the faster you can write the first manuscript, the better.
Now that I have taken the bold step of giving up my day job to be a full-time author entrepreneur, I am hoping to write at least two novels per year, as well as some non-fiction books, so I’ve been looking into how I could speed up the process of writing.
Having time to write is crucial, but it’s also important that you make the time to write
As you know if you follow this blog, I took part in the National Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, to motivate me to write about 2,000 words every day. It worked, and I now have a first draft of a novel. I am also now so used to the daily writing routine that I feel strange if I haven’t put down at least a few words, even if I cannot manage the 2,000 every day.
During this process, I found that one way to speed up your writing, is to have to have an idea of the plot, characters and setting for the novel. I’ll go into more detail on the various main elements of the first draft of a manuscript below.
Since you are already thinking about becoming a writer, and want to write a full-length novel, you must have an idea of what you want to write about, even if it isn’t a fully fledged plot. Two of my published novels took shape after I got obsessed with a story from my past, or a piece of news I saw. My virtual desk is full of half-finished novels, which came about in a similar way; and I intend to revisit each one. Nowadays, however, I try to plot ahead a lot more, simply because it makes the writing process so much easier, but this is something that is different for ever author I know. We all have our unique ways of working. An ideas board is a great way to start – just jot down what happens in the book and develop them into a plot. You’d be amazed how easy this is. Or think of the story in a summary: “Jane is in love with a guy who won’t even look at her. One day, she sees him sitting in a cafe alone, and Jane bucks up the courage to talk to him. It turns out they have something crucial in common…”
The characters often come first, before the plot, but there are no hard and fast rules. With most of my published novels, the characters emerged as I wrote, which meant a lot of editing afterwards to make sure the descriptions matched throughout the novel. Sometimes, however, the characters are so clear from the beginning, that all you need is to keep a record of the gender, age, look, inner conflicts, role in the story and particular mannerisms and so on. Of course it depends on whether you are describing the main protagonist, or one of the main characters in the novel to which degree of detail you go into. Having said that, I tend to know up to the level of what shoe size any of my characters wear, or what their favourite lunch-time spot is. In the third book in The Englishman series, I got to know a very minor character, one of Kaisa’s bosses in England so well, that I described his hairy calves in one scene. And no, he’s not a love interest. (Or is he? You’ll have to wait to read the book to find out!)
Most of my novels are set partly in Finland, my country of birth, and a place I seem to be obsessed with. It’s good to write about a place that you have experienced yourself, or you have a vivid idea of. Of course the setting doesn’t have to be real, and you can change things around in a place to suit the story, as long as you make sure the changes are consequential. With Google Earth and Street View it’s easy to find out what places look like, but remember this means it’s also easy for your readers to see if you’ve made a mistake. Most readers want a book to take them somewhere new, or different. If I had a penny for every time I hear that my readers loved learning about Finland through my books…
No plot, no characters, no setting?
Don’t worry if you are writing your first novel, and haven’t sorted out a definite plot, all of the characters or settings. Once you start writing a story, these tend to sort themselves out anyway. The most important thing you can do is to write every day – even if you don’t get to more than a few hundred words per day. Just get into the habit of writing – whatever happens and wherever you are. At home with a cold, on the train to work, in a cafe, on holiday – I even took my laptop with me when my husband was in hospital (it was a routine op, but still). And don’t give up. I wish someone had told me not to give up when I first started writing seriously. I would now have a lot more novels under my belt, and a few less half-finished manuscripts in my drawer…
A few tricks
If I’m struggling with a manuscript, I have learned a few tricks to get me going with the writing again.
- Walk away. Sometimes it’s good to take a break. Have a coffee, go for a walk, or if nothing else works, take the writing elsewhere – another room, a coffee house or the library.
- Go onto a new scene. Leave the bit you’re stuck on and start writing another scene. Remember this is the first draft, so it doesn’t matter if scenes are incomplete. You can come back and write more on the section you gave up on, but often if a scene is difficult to write, it may not belong in the novel. In any case, you can fix all that in the 2nd draft.
- Google it. I’ve talked about research before, and I use it a lot to get over a mini writer’s block. The more you learn about the subject, the more inspired you’ll feel to carry on. Sometimes, if you can, it’s good to physically go to the setting to be inspired. I dragged the Englishman up to Scotland on holiday last year, so I could see the place where my characters lived. While I wrote The Navy Wife, I often went back to look at the photos I took during our trip.
- Start re-planning the plot on whiteboard, or on your computer. Just jot down ideas – anything – and you’ll soon find a scene you can write. Or go back to your original ideas. Don’t worry if it’s the ending and you’re written only 10,000 words so far. Those other words will come, I promise.
- Re-read what you’ve written already. This is a bit of a last resort for me, because it means I will start re-editing and at this stage I don’t want to fall into that (time-consuming) pit. But needs must, and if there is part of the manuscript I particularly like, I return to that and hope that my inspiration returns.
Finally, a word on writing software…
The software you use for writing can speed up the process as much as the planning ahead can. I have recently started using Scrivener, as opposed to Word, and I have to say it has been a revelation. This software allows me to write a lot quicker. I can review my work more efficiently, and there are areas for research, characters and settings, which you can fill in when you think of them and then refer to easily. Previously, I had all of this on pieces of paper, or saved somewhere in a folder on my laptop, or just bookmarked on my browser. I could never find anything!
But remember, whatever software you use, the words you produce for your first draft aren’t going to be those that will be in the final print (or ebook) copy. Let you inner critic have a holiday and just write, write and write. That critic can have his or her field day as soon as the editing process begins.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of Advice for New Writers so far. The next instalment, ‘5 Ways to Learn Your Craft’ will be out in the New Year.
Until then, happy writing and please subscribe to my newsletter here for all book offers, news and more!
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