November is National Novel Writing Month and tens of thousands of people sign up on https://nanowrimo.org/. They have committed to writing a 50,000 word novel.
I’ve been writing creatively for myself since I was a teenager to relieve stress and just tell stories. I’ve published 0 works. Why? Because it’s more for me than the world. The fine folks at NaNoWriMo tell people otherwise. Their tagline is ‘The World Needs Your Novel’. Eh, no.
Beginning in 2012, I started doing the NaNoWriMo challenge. With the exception 2013 and 2017, I hit my 50000 word count mark and continued the plot line until they topped 70,000 and even 100,000. I missed 2013 because of poor planning and personal stuff. I missed 2017 because I was in Australia and New Zealand for most of Nov and had little time to write. See my previous posts for what I was doing that month.
Here are some tips and tricks I have learned over the years. Some I am borrowing from advice for writers. Others I came up with.
1. Write what you know.
John Grisham wrote legal thrillers because he went to law school and practiced law before changing careers.
Kathy Reichs wrote crime thrillers whose protagonist is a doctor and forensic anthropologist because she too is a forensic anthropologist. Reichs is also the executive producer for the TV series Bones.
Many military scifi writers served in the military as well. Larry Bond, David Drake, John Ringo, and Tom Kratman, Marko Kloos, to name a few – all vets. Note: Marko served in the German Army.
Actually, I have to qualify that based on some other author’s advice. Craig Alanson, creator of the ever hilarious Joe Bishop and Skippy the Magnificent, snarky AI from Expeditionary Force, pointed out that no one has ever carried a laser pistol or been on a starship. Thus, you don’t really have to write what you do know. Don’t let that stop you.
2. Originality is overrated
Don’t let the idea that you have to be original stop you. Go to https://tvtropes.org/ Here you will find every trope that ever exists.
I can also name at least 5 book or TV series in which the plot is “One Lone Ship Versus The World/Alien Horde” in a matter of minutes. Ten series if you give me 5 more minutes. Each author has a slightly different twist on how to resolve the story and each clearly tries hard to differentiate himself. But the need to be super original never stopped them.
My brother got me started on this book series called Galaxy’s Edge, written by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole. The book series was described as “Star Wars: Clone Wars” on steroids. Anspach and Cole created characters that remind me of Jango Fett and several clone commanders, but with the gritty realism of corrupt politicians on C-span. You can see clearly where the inspiration was.
Moral: be inspired by others, share the same high level premise, but don’t ever plagiarize. That gets you in bigger trouble. Fanfiction is tricky and that’s a different topic.
3. Drop the “aspiring” part.
This is a piece of advice from someone. I forgot whom so I’m going to have to give credit where it is due once I find the proper article.
Basically, don’t call yourself “an aspiring author.” You are. Or not. If you write, you’re an author. Period. Sure, the stuff you write might be bad – spelling mistakes, plot holes, but that’s just the FIRST draft. Very, very few people have a novel ready to go on their first try. They have editors and family members (sometimes the same).
4. Word count is just a number
To reach 50000 words in 30 days, NaNoWriMo counted it takes an average of 1667 words to complete on time. That’s just an number. For whatever reason, if you can’t get that number in a day, there’s always tomorrow and the weekend. In the last 7 years, I notice that because of work and other things that happen, I wrote less during the weekdays and wrote more during the weekends. Either way, I came out ahead. Don’t focus on the number. Focus on the story.
5. Love, Laugh, Cry, Live
Over the years, I realize I could be clinical when I write, almost like a historian instead of a story teller. I was more focused on getting the events right that I forget to think about how people in a story feel. If they got punched in the face, I forgot to insert the pain and anger. If they are about to begin a new mission, I forgot to describe the butterflies in the stomach. Even trained agents like Bourne and Jack Reacher have to deal with angst and the guilt behind their decisions and actions.
When in doubt, make sure you have your characters feel.