Recently, I took the opportunity of Camp July Nanowrimo (a non-profit organization where you can set your own goals and find a community of writers) to finish my third young adult novel draft. Though I’m not an expert, I want to share some hard-learned lessons. Remember, everyone’s writing process is different; these are just some things I picked up along the way.
1. Start fresh
Past experiences have proven that if I put a project down and start another, I’ll never go back to it. Keep writing and finish your first draft, unless you know that it is not going to work. The first draft is always crappy, but you will learn from it.
Most of us don’t know our schedule ahead of time, but at the beginning of each week, you can approximate which days will be busier than the others and adjust your daily writing goals accordingly. Life happens (and often at the least convenient times), but if you’re like me, simply knowing how much you are going to write each day alleviates the feeling of uncertainty.
3. If you’re a plotter/planner, make an outline.
A large part about writing is self-discovery. Some people identify as pantsers (someone who writes without an outline) for years, only to realise the number of writers’ blocks they have without an outline. Do whatever you need to prepare for your novel. I’m a character-driven writer and I always know everything about my characters: their flaws, their desires, their needs. I find myself much more motivated to write when I sit down after plotting a book, and writing happens easier when I know what happens next. As a result, outlines consist of a list of scenes and I have lots of freedom to move around. On the other hand, if you are a pantser, don’t feel pressure to plan. Everyone’s process is different, do what’s right for you! There is no “better way.”
4. Make writing a routine
As M.R. Graham said in one of the National Novel Writing Month prep talks, “Life can’t get in the way of writing if you make writing part of your life.” It’s easy to get caught up with other responsibilities. I struggled to find the motivation to write after a long school day (and homework!), especially when my mental health wasn’t the best. My advice is to set aside a certain time or even place every day, so your brain will associate the familiar feeling with writing and it will take less time to get into “the zone”. It gets easier after you start.
5. Live your life
Sometimes, chatting with friends can be stress-relieving. Sometimes, it gives you inspiration. Cutting people off to focus on writing might leave you feeling guilty. I’m not talking about putting others before yourself -- if you plan to write on Saturday, politely letting down your friend’s invitation to the mall is totally valid. But isolation is unhealthy and not necessarily beneficial to your overall productivity. Throughout the month of July, my close friends would greet me with “how’s Nano going?” instead of “what’s up”, and personally I always found it hilarious and very encouraging.
6. Talk to other novelists!
Sure, writing is a solitary journey. But sometimes it can get lonely. On the nanowrimo website, you can meet thousands of other like-minded writers who are just as insane as you are to commit to writing a novel in a month. Befriend fellow writers, discuss writing techniques (or just random stuff like what did you eat for breakfast), and share your experience! However, scrolling down the forums can be an excuse to procrastinate. I’ll leave the judgment to you.
7. Attend local (or virtual*) write-ins
I know, real-world connections, unbelievable! Living in a small town, I sometimes feel like the only (teen) writer out here, but it’s time to refute that statement. I attended two write-ins at the local library, and the support I received from other writers is unmeasurable. I actually talked to people (maybe even made friends!), which is a huge accomplishment for an anxious introvert like me. The word spirits and fun games are just the cherry on the cake.
* (Obviously, quarantine makes things a little different. I encourage you to attend virtual meetings instead of physical write-ins.)
8. Don’t stress
Don’t worry about getting everything perfect in your first draft. Maybe a specific subplot doesn’t make sense. Maybe a scene doesn’t have any description. Maybe the world building needs a little (or a lot) more work. You can fix all of them during your revision process, but as Jodi Picoult said, you can’t edit a blank page.
9. Don’t forget how awesome you are!
When you’re swimming in your word count, it’s easy to dismiss how significant what you are doing is. You’re creating characters, telling stories, and building worlds! Writing a novel as a teenager is a huge accomplishment in itself. You now have something more than a blank page. Remember, at the end of the day, the most important thing is that you’re doing what you love.
Each genre of writing has their own vocabularies. Whatever genre you’re writing in, you must love the genre (or at least I hope so). If you’re considering publishing, reading other books in your genre will give you a sense of what the readers want and what is popular in the market (or, on the contrary, what is lacking). I’m a huge advocate that you should write for yourself, but marketability is definitely something to consider.