Control: How to Write a Novel in a Month and a Half (Like I Did)

I, being a fearless novelist, finished my NaNoWriMo novel’s last draft yesterday. I did five drafts of my novel about young philosophers having adventures in a fantasy city-state called Lothen. The challenge, during NaNoWriMo, is to write a 50,000 word draft of a novel in a month. I managed to write a draft of The Philosopher’s Guild in just 18 days and finished the rewrite yesterday.

Writing a book starts with lots of planning and research. I read up on famous philosophers that I included as characters in the story. I read a re-telling of the Buddha story so that I could include the Buddha as a character in the story, a young man looking for wisdom. I read the book Wake Up by Jack Kerouac, an excellent story about the Buddha and his origins.

Socrates and Plato were essential to this story, too. I included them because they seemed integral to Western thought and because they were clever, fun geeks that would make for interesting characters. I re-read portions of The Republic by Plato and used that as a basis for creating the characters.

The other main branch of philosophy that interested me was existentialism so I included characters vaguely based on Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Albert Camus. I wanted to show their belief that nothing exists before the consciousness of the mind and that we create our own meaning in an absurd and meaningless world. I wanted those characters in my story.

To actually write the novel I spent eighteen days writing between two thousand and four thousand words a day. I plotted ahead of time, knowing how the story would end and a few chapters ahead of where I was in the story — but not having every last detail planned out. I mostly let these wonderful characters live their lives and watched what sorts of crazy adventures they could get themselves into.

I don’t call it a vomit draft. I don’t believe in that. I believe that every draft should be written with intelligence and dignity and should be something worth reading. Please consider that when writing something. To write something bad and assume that the rewrite will make it readable — that just isn’t something I believe in. That isn’t my philosophy. I believe that every draft should be a true, intelligent work of art.

I started out writing two thousand words a day — a reasonable amount of hard work. If — and this is a big if — you have plenty of time — you can write four thousand a day. I started to do that towards the end of the draft. I knew that I didn’t have much else going on in my life and wanted to finish the book. I had each chapter be two thousand words and each chapter have one central idea — so as to make writing easier. I also considered what happened before and what would happen after each chapter — the story should develop as the story progresses.

When the first draft was done I took a couple days off to play a wargaming tournament and relax. Then I printed out the novel and read it in physical form, writing changes in pen. I did this because I found that it made me look at the pages more carefully. These changes were the second draft.

In the second draft I focused on getting the grammar, the text, and the surface story right. I tried to make everything make sense and flow from chapter to chapter. I tried to make it into a polished, finished product. The goal was to make a novel that made sense from beginning to end and had intelligent characters with reasonable motivations and a plot which reflected their thoughts and desires. They also needed scenes of dramatic conflict between the main characters and intelligent confrontations with the villains in the story.

Typing up these changes was the third draft of the novel. I made changes to my revisions, punched up the description, wrote better dialogue, and tried to write a good story.

Draft four was a polish in which I tried to ask myself: what literary devices are at work in this novel? What am I trying to say? Where’s the irony? What is the symbolism in this scene? I tried to punch up the ideas for the story, making it deeper and more intelligent.

Draft five took a few hours — pleasantly re-reading and enjoying the book and making certain I had said everything that I wanted to say. Once that was finished the novel was done. I could relax: I had done well. I had written a 52,000 word novel in six weeks.

That’s it. That’s the process. Anyone can do it — given six weeks of free time. I highly recommend taking six weeks off whatever you have for your life and writing that novel you always intended to write. You, favored reader, can do it. I believe in you.

Thanks, and take care, friends.

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