This year I took another stab at National Novel Writing Month, determined to finish after last year’s poor performance. 50,123 words later, I’ve written down some personal good practices that I’ve discovered along the way.
Your working conditions and lifestyle will be key to finishing a novel. You’ll need to find your productivity hotspot during the day and guard it - mine is the morning before work, so I try to get all of my serious thinking and writing done then. Also, don’t drink before writing. It really is more of a hindrance than a help, and it seems several writers get lost in the sauce before climbing their way out. A desk with a bit of mess is fine; don’t let the LifeHacker crowd guilt you into having the perfect desk. You will spend a significant amount of time sitting on your butt, so having a good chair and comfortable keyboard will keep your mind on the book, not on your back pain. Be sure to take stretch breaks too - stretching time is thinking time.
When you’re writing, set a weekly word count goal after finding out how many words you write in an hour on average. This way, you won’t get depressed by being overly ambitious. Don’t keep checking your word count every half hour, only check it when the amount of time to write is up since it’s not like you’ll write faster or slower knowing the word count.
Use a distraction-free writing program. The fewer features in the program, the better off you are - you don’t need spell check until you are finished. I use PyRoom, which is a step above Notepad but a step below a rich text editor. Don’t get distracted by having a TV going, or allow people to disrupt your train of thought. A music playlist can be alright (look for music without lyrics), and see if you can find something that matches the tone you’re looking for in writing. Keep a ‘junk-drawer’ notebook of quotes, characters, and different story ideas, so when you’re in front of the keyboard, always have something or someone to write about. When you’re writing your book, have a list of character names and little details on a single page. It really helps with continuity, and keeps you from having to run back and forth between pages.
Focus is seriously hard, and you will need to work on your focus to get the book done. You will get other good ideas while you write. Write down the idea in a different file or on scrap paper, and then let it go. Work on writing one book at a time. Don’t feel bad if you’re not a social writer, and don’t feel like you have to share your work if you don’t want to. Read some of your favourite author’s Paris Review interviews. Take notes, as there are some serious gems about the process of writing in it. But don’t spend all of your time reading about writing. WRITE
For editing, take some of Stephen King’s advice and try to cut 10% off your first draft. This will excise a lot of fluff and filler, and removing the mediocre will make your story shine. Your rewrite will be stronger when the focus is on the story. Go through your first draft with a red pen, and start whittling down your work. If you’ve done a good job, the page should be dripping with red ink. Pay attention to your particularly excellent results, and figure out what makes the story and your characters work and why. This will be handy for the rewrite.
These good practices are hardly law, and may not even be right for you, but I’ve found them helpful to my self. With conscious effort and care, there’s no reason why you can’t finish a book of your own in a month. Find out what makes you tick as a writer, and you’ll have a paper doorstop of your very own.