There is no reason to wait for November to bang through a novel draft. Nope. No reason at all. And while NaNoWriMo excels in getting writers to go butt-in-chair and pound the keys each Turkey Season, you should feel free to do your own draft writing months whenever you have the time. (Because seriously? November? Thanksgiving week messes up my word count every time I NaNoWriMo. Anyone else have this problem?)
To send you on your way, here are some tips to run your own fast draft any time you want:
1. Perfection is unrealistic. You’re rolling your eyes, aren’t you? You know that you can’t write perfectly if you fast draft, and yet I have to type this. And it has to be number one. And when you hit page eighty and the muse is off taking a cat nap, you need to remember this. It’s not only that your writing won’t be perfect, but your scenes won’t be either. Neither will your plot. Your goal is to get to the end so that you know if this novel is a shoe or a houseboat. A barn or a skyscraper.
2. Don’t write the stuff you don’t want to write. I often hear my writing coaching clients say, “I couldn’t get myself to sit down and work because the character had to go to grandma’s funeral and I didn’t want to write that part.” So? Skip it. You heard me. Skip to the next chapter, summarize or leave yourself bullet point notes if you must, but keep typing. Keep going!
3. There is no such thing as a Plotter or a Pantser. The only way to keep your story from being underplotted or overplotted is to both plot and fly by the seat of your pants. So, try to write down all the important plot events on one piece of paper while drafting, but don’t get married to those plot events. This will give you the limitation you need to keep being creative as well as the permission to let your story evolve.
4. Writer’s Block isn’t real. It should be called Character’s Block, because it’s not the writer who has hit a wall, but the character. If you get stuck, back up at least twenty pages. You’re not going to want to because you want to keep moving forward, but almost every case of writer’s block I encounter is because the character made the wrong narrative choice several scenes earlier. Fix the choice and keep writing!
5. Leave the beginning alone. I can’t tell you how often I work with writers who have re-written the beginning seventeen times and the ending twice. That’s because whenever the writer learns something new about their character, the writer tends to double back to make sure that said epiphany is in the beginning. But you really don’t want to do that. Keep a running list next to your workspace of all the things you’d like to change about the beginning, but don’t backslide and go fix it. Writers who can’t avoid heading back to the beginning over and over tend to overwrite and stiffen up their opening into oblivion until it’s become unusable.
6. Set yourself a goal and don’t let it go. The reason that NaNoWriMo gets novels written is that there is a support network. You can go on your social media and say, “Can’t talk now. I’m NaNoWriMoing.” So when you set up your own fast draft season, make sure you have your schedule and intentions arranged upfront. Meet those intentions no matter what, and make sure that the people in your lives know that you’re drafting and therefore busy with a capital B.
Remember that the first draft—the fast draft or shitty draft—is about embracing the calamity of inspiration. Let it be a mess, and it will launch you on your way. All you have to do is let it.
Cori McCarthy is the author of four young adult novels and the middle grade category winner of the 2014 Katherine Patterson Award for her novel in verse. Cori’s books include the space thriller The Color of Rain (Running Press Teens, 2013), the near-futuristic thriller Breaking Sky (Sourcebooks, 2015), the contemporary mixed format novel You Were Here(Sourcebooks, 2016), and the forthcoming Now A Major Motion Picture (Sourcebooks, 2018). Breaking Sky is in development at Sony Pictures to become a feature length film. Cori holds three degrees in writing: a BA in Creative Writing from Ohio University (emphasis in poetry and memoir writing), as well as a graduate certificate in screenwriting from UCLA, and an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Cori lives in the Midwest and is the cofounder of the charitable initiative Rainbow Boxes. She has been writing fiction, nonfiction, screenplays, and poetry for 15+ years, and editing all genres for 5+ years. For more information on Cori, please check out her website www.CoriMcCarthy.com.
AREAS OF SPECIALTY: Speculative fiction, science fiction, fantasy fiction (including high fantasy), poetry, novels in verse, contemporary fiction, humorous fiction, middle grade & young adult novels, screenplays, thrillers, unique memoirs, graphic novels, adaptations of fairy tales.
AVAILABLE FOR: Manuscript critiques, query letter editing, content editing, developmental editing, writing coaching.