If you've always wanted to write a novel but didn't know where to start or how long it would take to finish (if, indeed, you did finish!), this article is for you. It gives you the tips you need to finish a draft in 30 days. How can you do this? One page at time, and it's easier than you think.
1) Know the kind of book you want to write
You probably do already; after all, you've been thinking about it for what seems like forever. Is it a historical or contemporary literary novel? Does it fall into genre category: western, mystery, science fiction, romance, horror, true crime, suspense, etc.?
2) Know your lead character(s)
Again, you probably have thought through at least one or two characters already. If you have more, all the better. Your opening scene should contain your lead character(s), so your readers know who is central to the story.
3) Keep a project notebook
Designate this notebook for your novel work alone. Pick one you are drawn to (e.g., one with a bright cover, one from high school or college that meant something special to you). Carry it with you whenever and wherever you can. (If you can't, carry a reporter's notebook or pad, so you can jot down thoughts to transfer to your notebook later.)
Once you start your novel, you'll quickly learn that you'll be thinking about your story all the time. Ideas and scenes will come to you. So, too, will traits about your character(s)—things like eye color, hair length, quirky clothing, tone of voice, etc. You may like to think you'll remember them all later, but you might not.
The best thing, then, is to write these "flashes" down when they come to you or as soon thereafter. When you're not writing, you can organize your notes into sections.
4) Plunge in!
To give yourself momentum, open the book with a strong scene that grabs your readers and brings them directly into the actions and thoughts of the protagonist. Write a great first sentence that catapults your hero or heroine in a new direction, and which sets the tone and pace for your book. This sentence will get your creative juices flowing. Example: "His bed was in the street!" Those few words set up several story questions: Whose bed? Why is it in the street? Who did it? How did it get there? What's he going to do about it?
5) Write a set number of pages daily
Understand this: You will have nothing to expand on, edit, polish or turn into a salable manuscript if you don't first get your story on paper. So aim to write a set number of pages daily. Exceed that number whenever you can, but try not to write less, no matter how difficult the writing is.
As a point of reference: If you write one page a day for 30 days, you'll have a 30-page draft. If you write five pages a day, you'll have a 150-page draft. If you write 10 pages a day, you'll have a 300-page draft.
No matter what works for you, you will have a story at the end of the period—if you meet your quota.
6) Write a quick-and-dirty draft
Step #5 above will be of great help here, as you give yourself permission to just write, to simply tell the story. Don't judge yourself or your writing here. Resist self-editing! For example, don't be concerned with chapter length. Let chapter breaks occur naturally. Just write and write until you have followed your novel to the end.
Later, in the revision stage, you will develop and flesh out scenes—or discard some altogether. Don't be concerned with or afraid of any of that. At this stage you are in full control ... until, that is, your characters take over and start surprising and guiding you!
7) Keep your novel to yourself to maintain your excitement and momentum
Resist the urge to tell others you're writing a novel. They'll ask you what it's about, you'll tell them, and then they'll tell you that the idea won't work, or that they've already read a book just like it, or any number of things that will deflate your ego and dissipate the energy you and your project require.
If you must tell someone what you're doing in order to protect your writing time (e.g., a significant other), then do it in as cursory a way as possible.
Further, resist showing what you've written to anyone else. This stage of your writing is for you and you alone.
8) Identify your best time to write
If you can manage it, do your writing at this time. This will ensure the Muse knows where to find you, for contrary to popular opinion, writers don't wait for the Muse to tap them on the shoulder and say: "I'm ready now."
If you're in the same place at the same time every day, with your hands on the keyboard or your pencil and yellow pad poised, your Muse will be grateful for the place to perch!
Taking down notes and thoughts can happen at any time throughout the day, which is why you carry a notebook. Writing your daily pages cannot, which is why you need to create your own schedule.
9) Don't stop to research
Research can be one of the most enjoyable elements of writing a novel. Downright fun, even. But researching is not writing!
Don't let a lack of information stop your writing flow. Example: You may need to know what gauges are spread in front of your pilot protagonist if he or she is in an unfamiliar aircraft. Maybe you have a vague idea but need to know the exact placement of the airspeed indicator. As you're writing, just insert a phrase enclosed by brackets, such as [need detail here]. Later, during your "off-writing time," when you have finished researching what you need, you can go back to flesh out the details.
10) Understand—and use—manuscript format, even at the draft stage
Know that manuscript format means you use:
- an 8-1/2 X 11 page
- 1-inch margins all around
- double spacing
- a clear type font in 10 or 12 pitch
- opening chapter paragraphs that start halfway down the page
- 25 lines to a full page (could be a line or two less. Generally, a 25-line page equals 250 words. This is important information to have when, later, an editor asks you for a word count.)
- a header at the top left of every page that includes your last name and a slash mark followed by your title (in this down-and-dirty stage you can replace a working title with "Best-selling Novel" for motivation, if you wish)
- page number on the right.
Using proper formatting—along with writing a set number of pages at a set time—helps you develop the good habits that will carry over to all other aspects of your writing. Further, it will help you see your progress in a professional form, so you'll more deeply appreciate the incredible work you're doing.
About the Author
Garda Parker is the author of nine contemporary and historical novels, and two novellas. She's a member of Novelists, Inc., Women Writing the West and Romance Writers of America. Garda has taught elements of fiction writing and given workshops at various national and regional conferences, and coaches aspiring and established romance writers. She can be contacted via Beth@WriteDirections.com.
Copyright 2001-2009 Garda Parker. All rights reserved in all media.
The content of this article may be forwarded in full without special permission provided it is used for not-for-profit purposes and full attribution and copyright notice are given. For all other purposes, contact Beth Mende Conny Beth@WriteDirections.com.
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