I’ve finished novels before, but usually it took over a year to get to the end, so when I finished my fantasy novel “By His Will“, in six months going from “nothing” to “135 000 words”, I looked back wondering what made me accomplish it. I knew partially it came from taking part in 365k Club, which somewhat forced me to produce words daily, but this challange is not NaNoWriMo: it doesn’t force writers to work on one novel, and I took advantage of that rule, writing short stories and blog posts along working on “By His Will”.
So what really helped me to finish the first draft relatively quickly, while I still held a full-time job and haven’t neglected life?
Writing starts with outlining
I know there are people out there who can write the first sentence, and then just keep writing until the very end, but for me not knowing the story doesn’t really work. Having the general idea of what’s going to happen, and putting down scenes in Scrivener (also adding new ones as I progressed) helped me to keep focused and know exacly where I was going. All I had to do was to figure out how I wanted to describe it.
The same goes for worldbuilding: knowing the rules of my world, its factions and their interests helped to flesh out the details and provided interesting subplots.
“I’ll fix that later” approach
I like my first draft as clean as possible, and when I see a typo or an awkward sentence, there’s no way I’m going leave it be, which might easily lead to getting stuck on one line, dialogue or scene. I still fixed things on the go, whether while re-reading some scenes to keep story details consistent or reading the chapters aloud to my partner, but if anything required more than few minutes of my time, it got treated with “I’ll fix that later.” I’d mark the words in bold or make a note in Scrivener’s “Document Notes” if the changes were extensive, and then I’d move on, writing or reading. This way one imperfect sentence didn’t prevent from writing tens of other sentences that would be perfectly fine.
Skip, skip, skip that scene
Whenever I didn’t feel like writing a particular scene or I wasn’t sure how to write it, I’d skip it and write another one. Of course, I reaped the rewards of making an outline, and adding new scenes to the Scrivener’s list whenever I came up with them, so I could jump around and follow a particular storyline or character. Or just write something I considered fun at the time. I mostly kept to chronological order, but several times, when I got stuck, skipping a scene helped me to regain momentum. And I’ll share a secret with you: there was a scene in chapter 16 than wasn’t written till the very end. I tried to write it several times, but couldn’t grasp it, so I skipped it until I had a choice: this scene or the very last one in the novel. The one that is supposed to have “The End” at the bottom. So this is when I finally wrote the missing scene.
Think before you write
I live close to the office I work in, so I walk every morning for about 10 minutes to get there. It means I have that 10 minutes to plot, to come up with dialogues and plan my words. Then I have another 10 minutes on the way home, and sometimes a bit extra: on a coffee break, getting my lunch or doing shopping in the evening. Of course, I might forget I needed to buy milk (but that’s what shopping lists are for, right?), but I’ll have my story sorted out before I even open the file. Even if these are just bits, they are enough to get me writing instead of just staring at the screen and trying to figure things out.
Don’t exhaust your ideas
In the beginning I tried to write as much as I could, both in the evenings and on the weekends, but I’ve learned that saving some ideas for the next day is a good solution. Life likes to get in a way, and I might not have enough time to think about the next scene. Sometimes I’m also tired, frustrated or stressed, and the chances are, I won’t be thinking about my story throughout the day. If I stopped mid-scene, shortly after reaching my daily goal, the next day I could still sit down and write, using “leftovers” to get in the writing zone. They say the hardest is to start (and then, when you start—to finish, but shhh!), so using the previous day’s momentum was a solution for me when the slow days happened.
Take time to relax
While I admire people who can get up at 5 am and do their daily writing before the day job, sipping on their coffee and filling pages with words, to me 5 am equals middle of a night, and waking up is hardly an option, let alone trying to produce anything worthwhile. That’s why I have to write in the evenings, after a full day at work. Inspired by my “thinking” walks, I tried to write when I came home, but it didn’t work. I needed to relax, and I did. It required a bit of planning (I needed to make sure I still have enough time to finish my 1000 words before it’s time for bed) and a bit of discipline to go and write, but it worked well. I came home, enjoyed watching a movie with my partner, playing a video game or doing arts and crafts for 1-2 hours, and only then I sat to write with somewhat fresh mind.
So these are the things that worked for me. Which one would be helpful for you? Which one wouldn’t be possible in your life circumstances? Or maybe you have some more tips?
Share your thoughts comments. After all, I will be writing another novel soon, so they’ll come in handy.
Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games.
Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English.
Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.