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Sunday, November 13, 2011

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

So it's that time of year again - National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) - and I've been looking over some of the tips and advice metered out to those willing to give it a go. I thought today I would highlight five of the more useful ones I've seen and get feedback on what advice other people have found helpful - because most of this is just as applicable to writers surging ahead with NaNoWriMo as to those of us plodding along at our own pace:)

1. Remove all distractions that clutter both your mind and your desk.

I think one of the hardest things for most aspiring writers to do is to make time to write - and once you have committed to doing this you really have to remove all the things that provide the temptation to procrastinate, get distracted or avoid writing. During NaNoWriMo I notice lots of tips that focus on preparation and inspiration but I think it's also important not to get caught up in mind maps, name generators, role playing or brainstorming to the point where you aren't actually writing!

2. Learn from your mistakes (and you'll make them)

Everyone writes crappy first drafts, includes a few cliches and loses the plot at some time or other. Give yourself permission to make mistakes and turn off that 'inner editor' until the first draft is done. I like one of last year's tips by author Elif Batuman who said 'everyone has a certain amount of bad writing to get out of their system' - so get it out!

3. Raise questions early, resolve later on

One of the dullest things you can do is inundate your readers with too much information/answers too early on. You need to entice and intrigue and the best way to do this is by raising questions early on in the book so readers have to keep reading to find out the answers. Of course, this has to be balanced with a well grounded narrative structure, voice, characters and sense of place otherwise readers will merely wonder what the hell is going on:)

3. Constantly raise the stakes

I've heard Donald Maas talk about this at writing conferences in terms of making a 'bigger' book in which the stakes are the highest they can possibly be for the characters you have developed. A good writer constantly raises the stakes -in each scene and each chapter - to really create a scenario that truly grips the reader. It also helps provide great opportunities for character development - there's nothing like seeing a character react to a life and death situation to reveal what really makes them tick!

4. Keep the momentum going

Everyone gets stuck at some point in the writing process - whether it be finding inspiration, nutting out a tricky plot question or just trying to find words that don't totally suck! NaNoWriMo strikes me as the perfect laboratory for exploring all the techniques you need to overcome writer's inertia. For me inspiration usually comes from rereading the last few chapters so I can get back into the flow or, failing that, take the dog for a walk and free up my imagination. The key is not to spend so much time reinvigorating yourself that you don't actually sit back down again and write!

5. Don't Finish

I saw this on GalleyCat's list from last year and thought this was great advice - "Don't finish, make it the start of something."

NaNoWriMo is a great jumping off point for people to make great headway on their novel but then the real hard work of editing and polishing begins. I like to think that for many aspiring writers NaNoWriMo is the start of a beautiful long term relationship with writing rather than just a mere fling:)

So are you doing NaNoWriMo this month? If so, how is it going? What piece of advice has worked best for you?


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