The first week of National Novel Writing month is now behind us, and I hope it treated you well! I’ll be honest and start by saying that this experience is much more challenging than I expected. Coming into November, I thought I had a pretty solid idea for my book. But by the time I started writing, I realized that there were still a few holes in my story. I found myself typing out a page, only to delete it and change direction. I would forget what I named certain characters and confuse myself, constantly needing to check back and see what I put on the page before.
As I got further along in the writing process, I realized that I was not applying what I learned at Kathryn Johnson’s class last Saturday! Instead of focusing on mostly meaningless details right away, I needed to pay attention to the big picture and overall concept of what I’m writing. Not just for coherency, but for my own enjoyment and sanity. So I pulled out my notes from the class, followed up on her advice, came up with some tools of my own, and it has made all the difference.
Are you still struggling with getting started or just looking for a way to get more organized? Here are the top five tips that helped me solidify my concept and get writing:
- Find inspiration all around you.
Turns out, coming up with a plot that I can stick with for 50,000 words has taken some time and background knowledge on the subjects I’m covering. At her lecture, Kathryn Johnson assured us that a touching novel can be written in any setting. So write about what you know. What places are you familiar with? What your favorite piece of art would say if it could talk? Can you place familiar events in exotic places? There are no limits. So find something interesting to you and make it a part of the story.
- Pick your audience.
Your audience determines a lot about how you write. For example, if you’re writing for children, you might want to keep your story shorter than if you’re writing for a college crowd. Pick an audience and make sure that your style and content will appeal to them. Conversely, don’t pick an audience who your story won’t appeal to!
- Be able to describe your book in one sentence.
Kathryn Johnson recommended this as a way to sell your novel to publishers, but I also think that it’s a great way to stay on topic while writing the story. I wrote my one-sentence synopsis on top of a piece of paper. Every time the story starts veering too far from the main purpose, I can easily put it back on track.
- Create an outline with characters, important events, and any message you hope to get across.
Right beneath my one-sentence summary, I have an outline of key characters and plot points that I want to incorporate into the book. If you’re writing to teach a moral or particular message, include this in the outline as well. This way, if you’re a little unsure of where you’re going at the current point in the story, you can skip ahead to the next important plot element and figure out how to connect the two later. This has helped me to make sure I cover everything that I want and has kept me from going off on tangents.
- Creativity loves constraint.
This is actually a phrase that I picked up from a marketing class, but I think it’s just as relevant for writing. Though some of these tips may sound a little restraining, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Read these statements and think about which prompts a more interesting answer:
How are you doing?
Describe your day to me in five words.
Chances are, if someone asked me the first question, I would probably just say “good.” But, when given the task of using only five words to describe my whole day, I immediately start thinking of the highlights and interesting vocabulary to describe them. By placing specific restraints on writing, such as a target audience and certain events to include, you help your brain to start thinking creatively and more interesting work will come from it.
So, hopefully this will help you if you’re still trying to get a solid grasp on your novel! What other tips or techniques have worked for you? Feel free to leave them in the comments section!