“Write a book” is one of those things that is on most everyone’s list of things they’d like to do at some point in their life, so much so that it’s almost become cliche, itself. Well as most everyone knows by now, I’ve written a few, and while I can’t claim to speak for the professional side of things seeing as I have not yet been published or anything, a lot of people still seem to be interested in the process I’ve gone through because they want to do NaNoWriMo or whatever. So here is my list of five things I wish I’d known beforehand, in the event that it helps anyone else! <3
1.) NaNo/Deadlines are AWESOME
When I was about, oh, 14 years old or so, my parents gave me a watch. It was accompanied by a little ceremonial sort of thing wherein I was informed that the present was because they knew I always made good use of my time. I don’t remember anything about said watch, I don’t recall what it looked like or even where it is now, but it was my first real “grown up” watch and I wore it everywhere, and thus launched both an obsession as well as the terrible feeling of nakedness I have if I am not wearing one.
Going without a wristwatch for a week while waiting for this thing to arrive was utter torture.
I digress, though. The point is that looking back on it I have no idea what my parents were on about when they said I made good use of my time. I really don’t. I mean yeah, I generally have a good idea of what time it is, because I am an incessant clockwatcher, but then I procrastinate… and procrastinate… and procrastinate…
Enter NaNoWriMo, which not only throws a deadline at you, but peer pressure, too. I dunno about you, but for me, this is a dangerously effective combination. NaNoWriMo’s little daily-word-count graph prodded me into writing 50,000 words in 28 days, all while I was working a full time job and trying to keep up with my WoW blog. In contrast, the seed of “Windshifter” had been percolating in my brain for at least a decade, through countless summer vacations before I even had a job. All that time to write, and I didn’t, because I had no motivation.
It’s funny because I had heard of NaNo before but never participated, primarily because I didn’t like the idea of having one’s creativity confined to a timeline. It sort of bothered my inner free-spirit-artist. Never again will I doubt, though.
Now, I will say that NaNo does not work for everyone. I know of some people for whom the deadline is a serious hindrance or distraction. But keep in mind that I felt that way, too, until I actually tried it. Any aspiring writer who has trouble with motivation should give this a shot at least once, in my opinion. If it works for you, the results will be amazing.
2.) Have an Outline
When I wrote my book for NaNo I quite honestly made it up as I went along. While a few of the characters had technically existed in my brain for years, they were completely revamped for this book, as was the entire story and even the setting of the story. The idea of my book when I started writing was very different than how it ended up being.
…somehow it managed to turn out all right (hopefully), but a lot of editing was needed to hammer everything into place. This all would have been a much smoother process if I’d had a basic outline (even just a couple sentences) that I was working off of, instead of just a nebulous concept.
3.) (If you want to be published) Don’t Just Write For “Everyone”
If you are one of those people who is of the mindset that your book is for whoever wants to read it, regardless of age, then congratulations, you are just like me and like tons of respected authors. The trick, though, is that publishers and literary agents don’t see it that way (did you know there are a such thing as “literary agents”? I sure didn’t, until I had actually finished my book. GG, me!)
I have come to the conclusion that you have to sort of balance the belief that your book can be for everyone but can still be marketed to a specific audience, because that latter one there is what the publisher is looking for. This is more complicated than one might expect, because for example, did you know that there is a type of novel known as “middle grade”? Yeah I didn’t know that either, until a couple months ago. From what I understand it’s the type of stuff you read in middle school. Well I look back at the type of stuff I read in middle school (Watership Down, His Dark Materials, etc.) and most of it falls into the “But that was a pretty deep book that I still enjoy as an adult” category, further muddling things up. As you can see, this whole thing can be pretty complicated.
As such, I wish I had known all of this before I started writing. I don’t think it would substantially change my book, but it might have helped to focus it a bit and perhaps given me some inspiration from similar books.
Man, this book is just an allegory for Linux! Pike must've written it.
4.) Your Main Character Needs Some Sort of Tangible Personal Problem/Character Arc
For the first draft of my book I went off of the idea that my main character was sort of a socially awkward geekface, and that would be his character flaw. Unfortunately I got some feedback that this didn’t work very well, because while being a socially awkward geekface is all well and good, it’s not really a tangible flaw, unless he stops being a socially awkward geekface at the end (which he really didn’t.)
Readers don’t really buy it unless the character has an actual flaw that manifests itself throughout the book and which said character learns from or corrects by the end. It sounds pedestrian and like something you’d see on saturday morning cartoons but there is a reason it’s pedestrian, and that’s because that’s really how stories work.
I managed to get away with this problem in the first draft because I had a secondary character (who I think could be argued as the “true” main character of the story) with lots of Emotional Baggage so I think I was able to keep the audience’s interest that way, but that is tricky to pull off and I think it’s best to make the most prominent character of your story have his own character arc.
And so here I am again doing tons of editing with a big ol’ scalpel which could have been prevented if I had planned this from the start!
5.) Ask Your Characters Questions
This is one of those ones that probably sounds either silly or insane, but it is endlessly useful. Learn how to pretend that your characters are real and that you are interviewing or chatting with them. Ask why they are helping your hero, or what their motivation is for doing some plot point that happens seemingly out of nowhere. This will help tons in the long run not only for making realistic characters but also for making your inevitable deus ex machinas seem not quite so deus ex machina-ish.
Welp, I hope that list was of some use to someone out there. NaNoWriMo is coming quick and it’s never too early to get a headstart on thinking about it. Regardless on if you plan on participating or not (and yes, I fully intend on doing it again… I want to make this a yearly thing from here on out, seriously), happy writing! <3