after NaNoWriMo: how to finish your novel

[ 0 ] November 29, 2011 |

"Once upon a time, the beleaguered novelist had nothing to write about..."

If National Novel Writing Month was a sport, I’d be the one who falls flat on his face as soon as he steps onto the court. It’s a friendly competition to write (or start) a 50,000 word novel in one month. Is it fun? Oh yes. But it can also be frenetic and unreasonable. I don’t know who the lunatic is that thought this up, but it’s near the end of November and I’m nowhere near done.

If you’ve signed up, chances are you aren’t done either. We’ve got busy schedules and jobs, after all – where do we get the time to write 50,000 words? Although I won’t reach the end goal, that doesn’t mean I want to stop writing my novel. So I’ve come up with a few pointers to help steer you toward the end of your story, as impossible as it may seem.

Set Your Own Goal                                         

Coming up with a standard writing ‘ritual’ is difficult; different things work for different people. But it is important for you to set goals and limits for yourself. When I signed up for NaNoWriMo I knew I wouldn’t be able to finish in time, but it would give me a great starting point.

November is quickly coming to a close. If you’re still around the 10,000 word mark, it’d be mighty unrealistic to say you’ll be finished by the 30th. Look at how far along you are and set a ‘due date’ for yourself based on how quickly you write. You’d be surprised by how motivating it can be to know that there’s an end in sight. Or, for us failed NaNoWriMo-ers, another end in sight.

Give Your Story a Kick in the Butt

I don’t mean printing out your novel and giving it a literal kick (though I’ve wanted to do this plenty of times), I mean giving your story some spice when you get stuck. I like to map out all the major plot points of my story before I write it but I often have no idea how to fill the space between those points.

That’s why I use the Terrible Things Generator. It introduces random situations to overcome and problems for your protagonist to solve. Of course, you don’t have to use any of its suggestions, especially if it’s not appropriate for your genre (one of the plot points is simply “Earthquake!”) but they might inspire you to write something great.

Write Non-Linearly

When I started writing I was so locked into the notion that everything had to be written in order. This hindered me more than anything. I found myself stalling during the ‘slow’ points of my stories. But you know what? The novel police aren’t going to show up at your door if you write in bits and pieces instead of one continuous string. There’s no rule that says you can or can’t!

If a particular scene comes to mind and it’s so vivid and clear that you can’t stop thinking about it, then write that scene. Save it in a separate document and come back when you need to fill the gaps of your novel. This really helps me because I know I have something done. Plus, editing becomes much easier when you have the clarity and perspective that comes with revisiting old writing.

Use the Right Software

I don’t believe that word processing begins and ends with Microsoft Word. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic program, but for some writers it can be either too much or too little for their needs.

For relaxing, distraction-free writing, I like Ommwriter. It’s a full-screen word processor equipped with stark, minimalist backgrounds and ambient music. You can tweak both to your liking or turn off the music completely, but it really helps me stay inspired.

I like to use Celtx when I need a program that has more robust formatting options. A lot of writers in the industry actually use it to write screenplays, but it has a full set of tools for novels, stage plays and even comic books. Who knows, new software might make penning your Great American Novel that much easier.

How far along is your NaNoWriMo novel? What do you do to stay motivated and inspired? Leave us a comment!

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