Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hold your nose and type. How to write a novel in three days. The aaargh! draft.

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I originally wrote this post about the up side of writing fast for Romance University but, as NaNoWriMo approaches, I thought it might be relevant to re-post. I'm also including a link to an inspiring post by Michael Moorcock, the prolific and highly influential English writer of fantasy and sci-fi, with nitty-gritty advice on how to write a novel in three days. I hope these two posts will help jump start your NaNoWriMo participation & get you off to a great start—and a brilliant finish.


As we head for NaNoWriMo, I’m going to talk about another (much less frequently suggested) but equally anatomically impossible act: the plusses of holding your nose & typing. But, you ask, won’t I add to the “tsunami of crap”? The answer is yes, of course, but let me remind you that writing slowly & agonizingly can also result in unspeakable crap. (Ask me how I know. ;-)) So, you choose.

By writing fast, you warm up the engine and get it running. You quash the inner scold, that mahatma of negativity that rains on your parade. By writing fast, you don’t have time to censor or second-guess yourself and you avoid  wasting time obsessing over whether your hero should be blond, brunette or a power-baldy à la Bruce Willis. You can always figure that out later and, more often than not, as the character engages and develops, hair color (or lack of hair) will become obvious.

Writing fast increases your chances of “getting into the flow” and gaining access to your sub-conscious or what Steven King calls “the boys downstairs.” Those “boys”—or girls if you’re of the female persuasion—are the source of inspiration. They are the ones who come up with the unexpected (even to the writer!) plot twist and help you get the work done.

As the words and the pages pile up, you give yourself the gift of a sense of accomplishment. Where there was nothing, there is now something and the mere fact that there’s “something” where once there was nothing builds confidence.

Last—but hardly least—of all, writing fast is professionally crucial in these days of self-publishing because a new book helps sell the old books. Just ask Joe Konrath or Dean Wesley Smith.

Now that I’ve persuaded you (I have, haven't I?) of the plusses of writing fast, one obvious question rises:  How do you make yourself write when you’re tired, distracted, uninspired or just plain “not in the mood?”
  • My friend Rona Jaffe used to “read something good.” Which meant one of her already-published books. For Rona, reading her own work reminded her of what she did well & what she’d been successful at.
  • Other writers read something by an author whose work they admire.
  • Coffee works for some. Propulsive rock for others. Vivaldi’s The Seasons for still others.
  • An external deadline can help: a contract or even a promise to someone else—including the dog who is in need of a walk.
  • Setting a word target, a time target, a scene target adds focus in the form of an achievable goal.
  • Do you respond better to the kiss or the whip? If the first, promise yourself a Dove Bar at the end of your just-get-it-down writing session. If the whip, then no dessert for you tonight unless you get your quota filled!
Shut the door, turn off the phone, the internet, do whatever you have to do to get the job done.  Adapt Nora Roberts’ approach: you will tolerate interruption only in the case of “blood or fire.”

Just dive in and power through because once you’ve got something—almost anything—down on paper or, these days, on the screen, you have a point of departure. You can always fix it later. If you don’t have something down, there’s nothing to fix. duh.

In the Universe of Writing Fast, there are a number of possible outcomes:
  • Might be much better than you think & just needs a light edit. Yay!
  • Might be pretty good but needs a careful edit. OK, editing is just part of the job of being a writer so get on with it.
  • Might be dull, drab & needs major, butt-in-chair revision. That’s OK, too, because revision is also part of the job.
  • The aaargh! draft: So what you wrote is real crapola & needs a four-corners rewrite. Don’t let that get you down. As I always say, It ain’t the writing it’s the rewriting. Professionals know it & the aaargh! draft is the perfect case in point.
  • Even worse than the aaargh draft is draft so putrid that it threatens the integrity of the time-space continuum. We’ve all been there, done that & that’s why keyboards come with delete buttons. Just because you wrote it doesn’t mean you have to publish it or even that anyone else has to see it. Just trash it & move on.
  • Saving best for last: OMG! Did I write that? It’s just about the best feeling a writer can have and, when you write fast, you outrun your insecurities & second guesses, your tendency to “fix” & diddle, you’re also raising the odds of the OMG!-Did-I-write-? moment.
When this post appeared on RomU, my blog partner, Anne R. Allen, made a highly relevant comment:

"Last month I forced myself to pound out a daily word count on a book due next week. Now that I’m revising, I’m finding it’s much easier than if I had nothing on the page. Another big plus–I simply outlined some scenes that I thought would need heavy research and now I’m finding I don’t need the scenes! Saved myself a bunch of time."

Anne is making a major point. I cannot tell you how much time I have spent (wasted) polishing/editing/researching/revising chapters that I find out later need to be cut. Seriously.

So write fast & write on and maybe even write a novel in three days!


  1. This is such a great post. Useful for NaNoWriMos and ordinary mortals alike.

    I think a lot of writers may be like me and waste too much time researching. It's so much better to pound out the first draft and then figure later out how much of that research really needs to be done.

  2. Anne, I do—and don't—agree re research. A book like Zuri is heavily dependent on research—on poaching, animal communication (a hugely fascinating subject), veterinarian careers, zoos (the pros & cons), animal husbandry, rhino, elephant & goat behavior, African weddings & cooking etc, etc.

    Some of my best ideas come from research & I find research a great help when I'm stuck.

    OTOH (you're absolutely right about this), getting bogged down in research is counter-productive.

    To write Zuri, I wrote AND researched simultaneously, going back & forth from the manuscript to the oceans of available research. So far, all 5-star reviews so it came out OK & I loved writing it!