National Novel Writing Month is an annual event where amateur writers all over the world get together metaphorically and write novels. It is not a competition, but rather more like a support group. The goal is to write 50,000 words during the month of November. This is a tough challenge, assuming one does not write every single day, that is 2,000 words per day or roughly 8 pages per day. I have successfully participated in this several times, but I have only succeeded twice and the outcomes have not been what could be called actual novels, but rather streams of conscience. My biggest problem is when I get stuck or bored, I tend to write sex scenes, just so I keep going. This makes the book rather more steamy than I usually intend, the upside is, I now know how porn books get written.
The key to success though is to consider this writing the first draft. Get the key characters down, build a plot and lay down the infrastructure for each act. Don’t worry about writing a perfect or concise book, just get the basics down. Do not go back and edit your work, this can be done later as part of writing the second draft. I usually do not even go back and re-read anything I have written unless I am referring to an earlier scene and I want to make sure I am remembering what I wrote correctly. Don’t limit yourself to 2,000 words a day, 1 hour a day of writing or whatever, if things are flowing, just keep writing. Those days that you write three or four thousand words will make up for those days you could not get 500 words out or could not find the time to write at all. Once it is all done, go ahead and re-read it if you must, but don’t try to edit it. Just put it down for a week or a month, let the experience settle and congratulate yourself on completing the challenge.
Now go back and decide if you have something interesting that you can edit, expand on and turn into a real book. At this point start the second draft, I usually start by cutting out the stuff that is not really relevant, like the 15,000 words of sex scenes that do not contribute to the plot. Be vicious when cutting things, just because a scene reads well and you really love it, cut it out if it does not move the plot forward or flesh out a character in some important way, you can always use the scene in a another story. Then I try to fill in the holes, I almost always find problems with the plot, characters who do not act consistently throughout the story and things I forgot to explain, this is also a good time to expand the story if you feel it is necessary. I would hold off on rewriting any scenes at this point, that is probably best left to the third draft. This process will probably get you back up to 50,000 words and it is time to put it down for a week or two again.
Now, if you are not thoroughly tired of this shit, it is time for the 3rd draft. It is time to start rewriting all or most of the chapters with an eye towards consistency. It is now also time to clean up all your terrible grammar and spellchecker mistakes. At this point you may also consider moving things around, I have found many scenes that make more sense or have a better dramatic affect if placed later or earlier in the story. This is basically your last chance to make the book readable before sending it off for someone else to read. The temptation here is to make it more exciting, and that is fine, just be aware that you you have now been through this book 3 or 4 times and you are just bored with it, so think carefully about anything you add to the book at this point. If you suddenly find your book is at 100,000 words, you are probably suffering from this problem.
Now it time to send it off to an editor. If you are just doing this for fun, a friend is fine, just don’t expect to get a lot of good feedback. If you are thinking about publishing, hire an editor, yes, pay someone to read your book, give you an honest critique and layout a path for the next draft. Yes I said “Next Draft”, you are not done yet. Chances are good, you are not going to like what your editor has to say, tough shit, listen to them anyway. If you disagree with what they have to say, have a discussion about it, but if you find yourself pushing back and refusing to make suggested changes, it is probably time to quit and move on to the next project.Remember, your editor is there to help you smooth things out and improve your writing, so listen to what they have to say and make the changes they suggest unless there is a really compelling reason not too and the editor should agree with you after the discussion. If you can’t come to an agreement on a change, swallow your pride and go with what the editor says.
With the completion of the 4th draft that both you and your editor are happy with, it is time to shop your novel around to publishers or take a stab at self publishing. If you go with a publisher, if they accept your book for publication, they will assign you an editor and you will probably be writing a few more drafts before they finally publish. If you are going to self publish, it is probably not a bad idea to do another draft with your editor, just make sure everything is where it needs to be. That is about it, if this is your first book, the process more than likely took a year or more, if you have done this a few times and have a good editor, this process will take a lot less time.