Thursday, October 3, 2013

Finishing Your Novel

Different writers struggle with different parts of writing a manuscript. Some have trouble keeping a consistent voice throughout. Some have difficulties creating a convincing character. And some write dialog that is forced and frustrating. These are all legitimate problems, but they can be solved during the revision process (and an editor can help you pick them out). The bigger issue is actually getting to the revision process. Below, you will find four tips on how to actually finish that elusive first draft of your manuscript.

1. Create an outline

An outline is like a treasure map. When you outline, you set up a story from start to finish, and you know exactly where it's going to end up. The plan may put your character on a dangerous path full of craggy mountains, goopy quicksand, and treacherous villains, but the prize lay at the end. An outline can seriously help you finish a manuscript. You can write your novel in order by following the map and eventually making it to the end. Or you can write out of order; you write the scenes that are in your head right then. Both strategies work because you know what scenes you will eventually have to work on. It's almost like a checklist. If you decide to use this tactic, taking time to consult the outline will help you stay on track, get excited about coming scenes, and work toward the end of the manuscript.

J. K. Rowling's "Writing Grid" style of outlining.

2. Don't look back

Every time you sit down at your computer to bust out another 2,000 words, do not go to the start of the novel and start reading. If you need to refresh your memory about what is going on, read the very last few paragraphs that you've written. That will remind you of the plot and tone of the story. Of course, if there are details you need to remember, you can glance back, but try not to. The reason for this is that you could get stuck in another chapter. You may begin reading and editing and revising and changing. And then you'll look at the clock and think, Wow! I just spent three hours on chapter one! This may not seem like a big deal, but if you spend every day reading and editing and revising and changing chapter one, you'll never get to the actual writing of chapter five. So here's what to do: Don't go back. If you see errors, just leave them. Or make a comment about it. But make your focus the actual writing of the book. Revision time will come. But right now, it's writing time.

3. Have a reader

This can be extremely beneficial to a novelist. Find someone you trust and talk to them about your novel. Get them excited about it, and then ask them if they'll read it. Tell them that this is a first draft and that you aren't editing or revising just yet. Ask them to make comments about what they like and don't like, but ask them not to edit or suggest changes (yet). Then write! Send your friend whatever you have whenever it's done. Don't think about the errors, typos, or other issues, just send it off! Since your reader is excited about your story, they will pester you: "Hey, I haven't seen a chapter in the past few days. You should send it to me!" Or "Have you written more lately? I can't wait to find out what happens next." Or even, "It's been two weeks, and I'm growing impatient. What's going on?" This pestering will motivate you to keep writing because someone actually cares and wants to know where the story is going and, more importantly, how the story will end.

4. Look into NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month happens every year during November. Basically, you commit to writing a complete novel of 50,000 words in 30 days. The rules state that you cannot begin writing your manuscript until November 1, but you can outline and prepare as much as you want before that time. NaNo helps you finish a novel because it is a challenge. If you register through the website and finish the 50K before December 1, you get cool coupons that writers want. Though the coupons are exciting, the feeling of completion is even better. By the end of ONE MONTH, you've actually written 50,000 WORDS! Your novel may be finished at 50K, and that's great. You've hit the finish line! But if your story isn't over at the 50K mark and there's more writing to be done, just keep writing into December and January and February and forever! Not only does NaNo motivate you to write every single day (or at least 2K a day, six days a week), it helps you build a habit of writing every single day. When November ends, your writing doesn't have to. You can keep going. And, more than likely, your habit will push you to do it every day until you do write the last few words of that manuscript.

These tips can help you reach that coveted accomplishment as a writer: a completed manuscript. Of course, the revision process comes next. But before you dive right into revising and reworking your precious first draft, take a moment to savor what you've just done! You reached the finish line! You wrote a book! Yes, the road to publishing is full of bumps and bruises, but this is a shining moment that you should be proud of.

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