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3 November 2017 ·

NaNoWriMo is here

NaNoWriMo is nearly here! Are you ready for that big push to write 50,000 words of first draft in a month?

Since I’ve got a second-draft deadline for the starting date here’s a second-draft of the blog I posted last year, with a couple of extra thoughts.

Don’t forget your writer’s notebook.

Don’t forget your writer’s notebook.

1) Don’t forget your writer’s notebook.

Whether you’re reading this before or after you start the actual writing, that writer’s notebook should be at hand all the time. Of course you can use Notes on your phone, but it’s not the same – writing a thought by hand is more likely to lead to another one. Jot down your thoughts about characters, setting and plot even if they don’t seem relevant: the way a ponytail flips, the rainbow spray of the sea crashing on rocks, the tension of a moment leading up to the climax…

Rough map for planning Dragonfly Song

Rough map for planning Dragonfly Song

Maps – you might want to draw detailed maps before you start or as you go, if that helps you organise your thoughts. I prefer to draw as I discover things, or just make a note: house is on east side of bay, etc, and then draw them properly while preparing the next draft.

Organising the notebook by character, setting, and other themes will make it easier to pull out items for the book’s bible: the definitive list of characteristics, time line, maps, etc, but for this first draft, I wouldn’t consolidate things or waste time getting perfect lists, as things are likely to change.

Once you start writing:

1) Send your inner critic on holiday. (I use EFT for this, but you can use any self talk that works for you. Feel free to ask if you want to know more about how I use it.) The meanie voice – my editor’s technical term – can help edit, but it can destroy creativity.
If the critic creeps back and points out that what you’ve just spent the last three days writing is complete garbage, tell it you don’t care. Every bit of garbage you write teaches you more about your story. Even if you throw out every word in subsequent drafts, your first draft will have done its job.

2) ) While you’re writing, close email, turn off social media notifications and put your phone on Do Not Disturb. Each distraction might only seem momentary, but if it jolts you out of your own world, it takes much more than that out of your writing time. You need to be able to relax into your story to let it flow.

3) However! Do take quick breaks from the screen – stand up and stretch every half hour, walk around a bit. You don’t have to stop thinking about your story, just move those muscles before they freeze. Go for a walk outdoors every day, without using your phone. Meditate, do yoga or tai chi. Your draft will be better if you’re physically and mentally healthy.

4) If you’re stuck in one spot, keep on going anyway. There’s always a chance that scene doesn’t belong or needs greater changes that you can’t see yet.
If you don’t know a minor character’s name, call it Joe* or Jane* or just plain X or *. The name is likely to be much more obvious when you’ve written more of the story.
If a whole scene is stalling you, just skip it. Put in a chapter marking and whatever thoughts you have, even if it’s just ‘Linking Scene or Passage of time??’
The brighter side is – if you have a scene that is exceptionally clear in your head or demands to be written because it is in line with your own mood at the moment – just do it. If it’s that clear, it’s probably a pivotal point in the book. Writing it may help clarify all the steps towards it.

5) If you’re halfway through and decide that it really should be written in the first person instead of the third, or the past tense instead of the present, just go ahead and try. If it feels right, you can change the beginning when you redraft later. If it doesn’t you can revert to the person and tense that you started with.

Footnotes on changes for next draft of current ms

Footnotes on changes for next draft of current ms

6) Use footnotes when you wonder that the earlier scene would have more impact here, or realise that something needs to be inserted in an early chapter for this scene to make sense. Moving it usually takes more revising than it seems at first thought, so I just make a footnote ‘would this revelation be better here?’ or ‘change what she’s wearing earlier’.

7) Asterisks are great as a reminder that facts need to be checked – whether real facts or facts of this story.

So – to sum up:

1) Remember that this first draft is for fun, exploration, and the wastepaper basket.

2) Keep moving forward, no matter what.

3) Have faith that you will find the best way to tell this story; even if it takes more drafts and experiments than you hoped, each step and misstep will take you closer to that best.



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Wendy Orr is a Canadian-born Australian writer. Her books for children and adults have been published in 27 countries and won awards around the world. Nim’s Island and Nim at Sea have also become feature films, starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (Nim’s Island) and Bindi Irwin (Return to Nim’s Island.) Her latest book is Dragonfly Song, a novel in free verse and prose of an outcast girl who becomes a bull-leaper in Bronze Age Crete. Read full bio