National Novel Writing Monthis an annual novel-writing project that brings together writers from all over the world and challenges them to write 50,000 words in the month of November. Author Julia Crouch is one of NaNoWriMo’s success stories – her first book, CUCKOO, was a ‘NaNovel’, and was published in paperback by Headline last month. For those who are even the slightest bit tempted to have a go themselves, Julia has shared some hints and tips to help you on your way.
What to do after NaNoWriMo
You’ve ‘won’ NaNoWriMo? Congratulations! You’ve actually written a novel! You have done something that so many people mean to do and never get around to.
That may be enough for you, and if so, that’s absolutely fine. You can just feel that extra spring in your step and get on with your life again. But you may have a nagging feeling that it’s not over yet. If so, here are some pointers that may be useful in the months to come.
1. Don’t show it to anyone else! You need to glean your own critical feedback before you get anyone else’s. A NaNovel is only for the eyes of its creator on 1 December. However:
2. Don’t read it yet! Give yourself a bit of a breather: go about your daily life; reconnect with the friends you missed for the past month; see those films you didn’t get to see (I’m up for Wuthering Heights and of course I have to ‘take my daughter’ to see the latest Twilight film); enjoy the Christmas drinks.
While you’re waiting, you could do worse than to read a couple of books about what you’re embarking on. I heartily recommend On Writing by Stephen King, Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, and the very practical workbook, Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell.
3. On January 1, 2012, run a spell check on your NaNovel, just to satisfy your nitpickery, so the inevitable typos don’t get in your way. Then set it in 12-point type, double space it and print it out on one side only. (Use recycled paper, because, if you carry on with this writing lark, you’ll be getting through a lot of trees.)
4. Hide yourself away from family and, pen in hand, read it through, scrawling comments wherever you see fit. Don’t just crit the bad bits. ‘I like this!’ if deserved, is a great note to self. But be prepared to cringe as well. There will be execrable passages, pages even.
5. Give it a bit of a break, go for a walk, sleep a bit. Keep your notebook or voice memo thingamabob to hand for any Brilliant Thoughts that strike.
6. Then ask yourself the Big Questions.
a. Does the story work? (it probably won’t, not entirely). If it doesn’t, why not? What’s missing? What’s a diversion?
b. Have you told the story the right way – through the right character(s), in the right tense(s), in the right order?
c. What needs to be different – setting, characters, themes?
7. Fix your structure. There are many ways to do this. I like to write each scene of my novel on different index cards, colour coding them with dots, stars, different pens (bring on the stationery…)to differentiate between back and current story, different character points of view, pace, turning points, climaxes and so on. Then I lock the cats out of my shed and shuffle the cards/post-its around until I come up with something that works. This is my favourite part of the process – I can let my imagination really fly, using what I’ve already got as a starting point. The trick is to keep asking yourself what if? And don’t be scared of the answers you come up with. At this point it’s only a card. You can screw it up and toss it in the bin if it doesn’t work.
8. Then I write a synopsis, to really make sure the story works. Perhaps I’ll write a really short synopsis too.
9. Then I rewrite the whole novel, using my new structure. This is the bit that takes the longest. The second draft of CUCKOO took nearly a year (and then there was the third draft. And the fourth).I always re-write, using my first draft as a reference only. I never, ever, cut and paste.
So that’s it. By 31 October 2012, you should have something ready to show to someone else. And while you’re waiting for them to read it, you’ll have a new NaNovel to keep your mind occupied.
(And keep me company. Follow the progress of my 2011 NaNovel on my blog).
CUCKOO is available now in paperback, and Julia’s next novel, EVERY VOW YOU BREAK, will be published in March next year.