Fine, you maniac, no one can stop you from doing #NaNoWriMo

Hey, I get it: you want to write a book, a novel, and November is the month when everybody loses their mind and tries to crank one out in 30 days. Plus, #NaNoWriMo is a noble endeavor:

  • The world needs books and stories more than ever.
  • Any serious reader has a book in them, and nobody should die regretting the fact that they never tried to write it.
  • A novel is the most fun you can legally have as a writer.

So you’ve hopped on the train. It’s headed downhill, gathering speed, and nothing’s can stop it. You’re gonna do this thing, right? Oh, yeah. There are calendars marked out with expected word counts, 3×5 notecards with possible scenes, maybe even a corkboard with the major chapters mapped out. Characters have names, damn it. Settings are picked out, the climax is set in your head and Mrs. Peacock is DEFINITELY doing in Colonel Mustard in the billiard room with a lead pipe.

Because you’re jumping on that runaway train of writing glory, even if it’s destined to fly off a cliff, please take a few minutes to read this post.

Or bookmark this and come back on Nov. 15, when you’re screaming into pillows because your word count is only 15,000 and there’s no way you’ll crank out another 55,000 words in the last 15 days, not even if you quit your job, divorce your husband and employ baristas in shifts to make sure there’s never too much blood in your caffeine stream.

It’s still true you can avoid all that by not trying to climb this mountain under an insane deadline. Yet part of the fun is that the deadline is cray-cray. I get that.

So let’s chat, you and I. Because there are tons of myths about writing, and even more dangerous myths about writing anything of length, regardless of form and genre:  

  • ONE BRIDGE, ONE LIFE–a 200,000-word fantasy epic about a lonely troll who lives under a bridge and just wants to make friends, but nobody speaks his language, so whenever he opens his mouth, knights and wizards and such try to kill him. And after 400 years of this, he’s had enough and leaves the bridge to finally confront his tormentors.
  • KNITTING HATS FOR CATS VOLUME 6: CROCHET PATTERNS FOR SCAREDY CATS THIS HALLOWEEN–Hold on, because I would buy this book. Somebody please write it.
  • Dystopian non-fiction guides for kindergarteners written by Hollywood actors, such as WATERWORLD AND YOU by Kevin Costner, about learning how to sail, fish and develop gills while searching for for dry land; MAD MAX: BEYOND NUCLEAR WAR by Mel Gibson with a focus on vehicle maintenance and turning pig manure into guzzlelean; and TERMINATORS CAN BE YOUR FRIEND by Arnold Schwarzenegger, so kids learn to get along with their robot overlords being developed right now at Boston Dynamics.

 

MYTH NUMBER 1: You should write the Great American Novel chapter by chapter

Don’t think like that. It’ll only get you in trouble, and by trouble I mean 25,000 words into a blind corner with no way out.

Writing anything of length is like building a house, and the reason it takes so long isn’t because we writers type so slow, don’t spend enough time banging on the keyboard or can’t string together pretty sentences.

The trouble is storytelling, and storytelling is about structure. The blueprints, skeleton and muscle of your story: setups and payoffs, revelations and reversals, character and pacing.

All that also happens to be the good stuff.

Everything else–description, setting, dialogue–comes second. As in you can happily save going wild on most of those bits for the second draft if you like. (Sidenote: you should, except maybe for dialogue, which is the bomb.)

Writing anything paragraph by paragraph, even something as short as an oped (800 words instead of 80,000), goes smoothly when you have a solid structure.

When the blueprints are shaky or non-existent, you’re looking at a hot mess, if not a dumpster fire.

Wing it paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter, is like pouring the foundation for the foyer, framing it, putting in plumbing and electrical, hanging the drywall, painting and putting up trim. Then stopping to figure out where the kitchen might go, digging and pouring THAT foundation, framing it and so forth until inevitably–listen, it’s a rock-solid guarantee–you notice the dining room can’t connect to the kitchen and the stairs to the master bedroom open up into a closet.

Believe me, it’s actually a lot easier to bring in the writing wrecking ball to demolish a hot mess and start over than trying to fix it.

So you’re not gonna write Chapter 1 on the first of November, Chapter 2 when the calendar has a big 2 on it and so forth until you type THE END at the bottom of Chapter 30 on November 30, with every chapter hitting exactly 2,333 words.

Because first off, every chapter shouldn’t be exactly the same number of words. Some should be short. Others should be long, and there should even be medium ones, too. I KID YOU NOT.

Second, you won’t write the same number of words every day. Life will interfere. Certain days will be full of writing glory and others will stink no matter how long you stare at the screen.

And lastly, winging a first draft chapter by chapter, without blueprints, is just a bad idea for your first shot at scaling this mountain. 

Finally, the Great American novel is an idea that needs replacing. We’re reading amazing stuff getting produced and translated from around the globe, and whenever I hear somebody proudly say they’re writing the Great American Novel without any sense of self-deprecation, that sets off flashing warning signs that what they’re cranking out will be incredibly long, overly serious and full of purple prose. Let’s just write great novels. 

MYTH NUMBER 2: Acts and beat sheets are for silly screenplays, not Serious Novels

If you write chapter by chapter, and end when you hit your word-count goal, you’re gonna run into trouble.

Looking at a mountain of words with chapters as your only signposts makes pacing tough, if not impossible. Better to figure out how many acts your story has, and by acts I mean turning points, not “let’s end Part 1 here because that’s where we hit 20,000 words.”

There are all sorts of ways to tackle this task. Some folks swear by a three-act structure, with the beginning about 25 percent of your total pages, the middle taking up about 50 percent and the ending, your climax, finishing off the last 25 percent.

There are good reasons a three-act structure works for books and movies while plays and TV shows are pretty strict, going with one-act, two-act or three-act blueprints depending on the running time.

Pacing is key, and length determines structure.

Another option for a novel or screenplay is breaking up that long middle bit so they have four acts of roughly equal length, 25 percent apiece. The math is simple, even for we writer types, and it helps avoid the Sagging Middle.

You’ll also run into people with all sorts of variations and twists on how to structure a novel or screenplay. The same techniques apply to either form when it comes to plotting.

I don’t care how you do it as long as it gets done, because winging it can lead to Act 1’s that only run for 15 percent of the page count, chubby middles that eat up 80 percent of your words and climaxes that feel like afterthoughts by only taking up a measly 5 percent of your pages. The pacing will feel completely off.

This is why a lot of experienced writers do the end first. Because when you know the final payoffs in the climax, it’s easy to interweave all kinds of setups, red herrings and subplots in the middle bit that all pay off in the end. All that literary goodness has the added benefit of making the middle part fun and exciting instead of a sagging slog.

Having blueprints–an actual act structure and yes, maybe even a beat sheet–is just a massive, massive head start. So much that if all you do on the first three days of November is map out the basic blueprints you’re using–and yes, add your special twist–you’ll save yourself all kinds of headache and heartache the rest of #NaNoWriMo. 

Put a gun to my head and say, “Listen, mister, you’re gonna write a novel starting Nov. 1 and finish before October rolls around,” and here’s what I would do:

  • Start with the ending, the most important scene. What ginormous payoffs happen here? Which secrets get revealed and positions get reversed? How does the hero suffer, grow and change in an unexpected way, and how does the villain get karmic payback for their sins? 
  • Swing back to the beginning and start to set up all those payoffs.
  • Work on the five biggest scenes, the major set pieces: the inciting incident, the end of Act 1, the end of Act 2, the All is Lost moment and the climax.
  • Raise the stakes. If the villain wins, who cares? How could matter more to the hero, to the public and to the villain?

The rest of the chapters and scenes, in every act, should be in service to your five big monster scenes.

MYTH NUMBER 3: If you hit 50,000 words, hurray, bust out the bourbon, for a novel is born!

Sure, the common goal of NaNoWriMo is 50k. Just don’t think that’s it, you’re done, polish that sucker up and get it printed.

Listen to editors at publishing houses and literary agents like Janet Reid, who laid it out like this: 

100K isn’t “way too much” for most genres. It’s right on the mark for many, and too few for a couple others. 

Here’s the rundown:

Sweeping, epic fantasy: 150K at a minimum. You can’t do it right in less. 
Sweeping, epic, historical fiction: 120 at a minimum. More is better.
Science fiction novels: 75-125K
Romance novels: 65-100K
Women’s fiction: 100K and up
Crime novels: 80-100K
Thrillers: 80-100K
Noir novels: 65K and up but only double digits here, not triple.
YA: 65-100K
MG: 50K
Picture books: fewer than 2000 words

While NaNoMo sets a goal of 50K, that’s for your FIRST DRAFT. Get that draft on paper and then go back and see where you need to develop the story, develop the character. If you can’t see where you need to expand, give it to a beta reader and ask where they have questions, or felt like they hadn’t gotten enough story. The bottom line is word count isn’t something you want to worry about till revisions. Use enough words, and no more, to tell the story fully and completely. You have to be WAY WAY outside the paramenters on word count before it’s an auto rejection. And even then, if your pages are well written and taut, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt.  Worry less about how many words you’ve got than do you have the RIGHT words.

Janet the Reid isn’t an outlier. You’ll see numbers in this range from different literary folks–believe them.

Sure, shoot for a rough draft of at least 50k, even if the final draft will probably be 70k or 100k. Just don’t freak out if you only hit 30k.

And don’t bust out the champagne if you somehow write 3,000 words a day, every day, and hit 90k. The final number isn’t really the thing. You could crank out 110k of a hot mess and listen, nobody smart would say hurray, you won #NaNoWriMo–or you could put together just 15,000 words of a brilliant, Hollywood-style treatment that includes all the right storytelling ingredients and believe me, nobody smart would say you lost. 

MYTH NUMBER 4: If you already write for a living, hey, this will be fun and easy

Every year, a new crop of journalism-school graduates heads off to work at newspapers, magazines, blogs and television stations.

They love their job. And they love words–so why not write a novel?

Hey, I’ve been there. Journalism graduate. Former reporter. Writing to pay the bills since I was 17, and just like millions of other writers, I had zero doubts. We all took creative writing classes and wrote feature stories, right? We have DEGREES in this and are professional writers, damn it. Don’t tell us we can’t write something. Watch this.

Here’s the thing: fiction–short stories, plays, novels, screenplays–are a completely different animal than journalism. Writing a novel is also way, way different than what speechwriters, copywriters and other professionals do all day.

It’s like pro athletes. The fact you play quarterback for the Bears doesn’t mean you can pitch for the Cubs–or wake up tomorrow and be an NBA power forward, MMA fighter or ultra-marathoner.

Sure, the switch is easier for a world-class athlete than for an average schmoe off the street. That doesn’t mean the switch isn’t extremely tough, especially compared to folks who’ve dedicated their life to a sport you’re dabbling in.

Some switches are easier than others. Others are clearly harder.

Journalism to novels is tough–Reporters are drilled to write short pieces using the inverted pyramid, with the most important information first and additional details going down in importance until the end. This works to inform people quickly and helps editors cut stories to fit available space and time. It’s also the worst possible blueprint for anything of length. Fiction has the opposite structure: the most important information comes dead last, with a complex roller coaster structure instead of the dead-simple pyramid. So it’s like a power-lifter trying to switch to MMA fighting and facing a crash course in grappling, kickboxing, Muay Thai and jujitsu. The fact you can bench press a VW Jetta will not help your cause when some dude turns you into a pretzel and chokes you out. 

Screenwriting to novels is easier–This is a lot closer because they use the same storytelling structures. The format is completely different, though. A screenplay might run 120 pages with a lot of blank space. We’re talking 15,000 words vs. a novel of 70k to 100k. The tough part here is making the switch to fill that space without (a) meandering or (b) cramming in three movies or novels worth of plot. It’s like a world-class sprinter switching to marathons. Both involve running. That style difference, though, is massive. 

This isn’t to say, “Don’t try.” Not at all. Even though words pay your bills–and you have a diploma or three on your wall, along with all kinds of awards–be humble and search out good advice and coaching. Writing a book or novel is the most fun you can legally have as a writer, and you should maximize your chances of having a good time, especially as you embark on 30 days of insanity.

MYTH NUMBER 5: The best advice comes from the best authors

On the surface, this is common sense, right? Look to the best in the world for the best advice.

Nope.

I’m not slamming the world’s best writers, people I adore and admire. 

This a function of craft. 

There’s a reason writing tips from folks like Stephen King seem like simple truisms. When you’re a world-class writer, rock star or NFL quarterback, you’ve internalized a lifetime of practice, coaching and performing. Nobody needs to teach you how to play chords on the guitar or throw an out route against two-deep coverage.

At the highest level, the tweaks that pros are mostly about what they need to focus on, and how they tune their mind and bodies to peak performance. Those tweaks tend to sound simple because they already spent years of painfully learning all the hard, technical bits and don’t need to relearn them.

I still remember a bestselling author (forget the name, and no, the googles didn’t help) asked by a new writer whether she outlined her books. Her response was telling: Oh, she didn’t do that anymore. But the person asking that question definitely should. 

She wasn’t being cheeky or sarcastic. The author meant it: Don’t wing plot and structure until you’re experienced enough to draw the blueprints in your head. And yeah, that may take five or 10 or 20 years.

The old apprentice-journeyman-master system is the best model here. Skilled trades do a great job with this. When you’re just starting out, you learn the basics from journeymen. The masters don’t give you the time of day, not out of spite, but because you’re not ready for what they teach yet. It’s a waste of your time and theirs. Only after years of being an apprentice do you become a journeyman, teaching newcomers the craft and learning from masters. 

Doctors have a similar system. They don’t hand you the diploma and say hey, you’re done, Doctor, go save lives and deliver babies and do some open heart surgery. There’s tons and tons and tons of work after medical school before you’re set loose.

My orthopedic surgeon told me this story: He’s in his mid-thirties and working poverty wages as a surgical resident, coming off a 24-hour shift in the hospital, and he walks out of the ER for a break and oh, that’s not a sunrise, that’s a car on fire in the parking lot. Not just any car, but his piece of crap car. That man didn’t get a late start. He went straight through: K-12, four years of college, med school, then years of surgical residencies and orthopedic surgery residencies. 

A lot of professions are set up this way, with doctors, dentists, lawyers, architects, engineers, all learning from each other and going to seminars and CLEs and conferences their entire career.

Writers don’t have formal systems like that. Maybe you get a BA in journalism or an MFA in creative writing, then off you go. But that degree isn’t required. There’s no test we have to pass, no bar association determining who can and can’t be a writer, no apprenticeships and required continuing education.

There might be a writing group nearby, or a conference you fly off to attend. It’s all optional.

I’m not saying writers need to form guilds with staff meetings and TPS reports. My allergy to meetings is severe.  

What I’m saying is this: If you’re doing #NaNoWriMo, or attempting your first novel in a month that doesn’t start with the letter N, look past stuff written by masters like Stephen King and search out books, seminars and lessons from journeymen. If you’ve never heard of them, that’s probably a good thing. Journeymen are who can teach you the foundations of the craft, the building blocks every writer needs to hone and practice for years.

Pick the right journeymen. 

My library contains Every Book on Writing Known to Man, from journalism to speechwriting to fiction, and listen, 99 percent of those books are only useful for kindling during the zombie apocalypse. Not because the people who wrote them stink. Their focus is just typically on (a) a special system that works for them, (b) micro issues like grammar, dialogue or description or (c) one long, thinly disguised advertisement for you to hire them to learn the REAL secrets.

Most of the books on writing feel like guides to drywall when what you really want to do is build a house. Yeah, drywall is important. If you screwed it up, the house would look funky. But if you’re an expert on hanging drywall and clueless about pouring the foundation of a home, framing it and getting the plumbing and electrical right, I don’t care how pretty the drywall looks. That house is gonna fall down, flood or catch fire.

This is why I tell folks to check out the following four books on those foundational, big-picture skills:

  1. SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder (or SAVE THE CAT WRITES A NOVEL by Jessica Brody)
  2. STORY by Robert McKee
  3. THE FIRST FIVE PAGES by Noah Lukeman
  4. WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL by Donald Maass

There are other good books out there. I can vouch for those four. Get ’em all four for what, $70-something? Or snag them for free at this magical place they call the library. DO IT NOW.

Read those and take notes. Make some cheat sheets. And if you are a pro writer from another field, hear me now and believe me later in the week: the structures and lessons in those four books will start showing up in your day job. You’ll be surprised, if not shocked, at how much better a writer you’ll become.

MYTH NUMBER 6: If I block out a ton more hours of writing time, I’ll write a ton more

Oh, it’s easy to see how this seems like common sense. Having zero time per day to write definitely means zero words. Let’s burn some vacation time, then, during #NaNoWriMo, and block out a few weekends, and get up at 4 a.m. instead of 5 a.m. to crank an extra hour.

Stockpiling hours means piling up the words, right?

Part of this myth, that more time equals more words, or better words, is just flat-out wrong. There’s only so much juice in the tank. It’s just like any other job: longer and longer hours produce fewer and fewer results. 

Inspiration works best when you’re fresh and happy, not tired and upset about not meeting an arbitrary quota of words for that day.

And my God, if we’re shooting for the bare minimum of a 70,000-word novel we gotta hit a quota of 2,333 words a day, which is nuts.

Even the rough draft goal of 50,000 words means cranking out 1,666 words per day for 30 days.

Nobody writes that much with dead-certain consistency, day after day, month after month. I’ve talked to full-time writers of all sorts: reporters, screenwriters, novelists, speechwriters, you name it. And here’s the deal: 500 words is a good daily minimum, 1,000 words is better and anything more than 2,000 words is a beautiful day.

You can’t pencil into your calendar that Monday will be 700, Tuesday is 2300 and Friday we’re doing 3,000. Creativity doesn’t work like that. The muse doesn’t respond to mandates from on high. She watches you plot out wordcounts and cackles the evil cackle of glee.

Literary giants like Hemingway recognized this fact. Hemingway counted actual, physical words coming out of these things they called typewriters and stopped when he hit 500 in a day. Done. He went off to spend the rest of the day watching bullfights and drinking whiskey. That’s because 500 a day, steadily, is actually a ton. That’s 182,500 words a year.

Two or three books. Plenty.

You can crank out 500 words in a half hour, easy. Ten minutes if you’re inspired and the coffee is any good.

The longer you go, though, the harder it gets to create new things on the page. That’s because this isn’t a factory where you punch in at 8 a.m., make widgets all day and punch out at 5 p.m.

Editing is different. I can line edit all day. That’s not creative work; it’s quality control, and yeah, you can kinda treat that like a widget factory.

Developmental editing is a lot tougher. Maybe four hours a day before you start to bleed a little too much red on the page and need to stop before you punch your way through a concrete wall.

The bottom line is this: Yes, write every day. Always. Even if it’s scribbling on a legal pad while flying from LA to NYC or bringing a little notebook to your kid’s soccer game.

Just don’t think that you’ll write the same number of words, day after day, or that blocking off a full eight hours on Sunday will means you can crank out 8,000 words to make up for lost time.

Now, I’ve heard folks say. “Well, famous authors have no other job, and my favorite novelist goes to their special mountain cabin with no internet, friends or family to bother them as they spend two months in solitude, chopping wood for the fireplace, eating dried venison and only reappearing with a long beard and a ream of paper upon which they’ve written the next Great American Novel.”

There are writers like that out there. Lee Child has done something like that, and I adore his books. Yet tons of other authors, including successful bestsellers of today and yesteryear, keep their day jobs. Scott Turow, Barry Eisler and Bob Dugoni are attorneys. Aurthur Conan Doyle was a surgeon who wrote in between seeing patients. Kurt Vonnegut worked all kinds of jobs, including advertising, teaching English and selling cars. I think half the reason for this is people need steady paychecks and health insurance–and the other half is because you don’t actually write that much more when you have all day to play with instead of 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. before the rest of the house wakes up and asks where the coffee is hiding.

Two hours is kinda all you need, if you’re steady with it. Give me a full two hours, with no interruptions, and I’ll empty my creative tank.

And I can tell you that when there’s no one else in the house, the Hound of the Baskervilles and I get restless after only three hours. We have to walk around town, drink of the coffee, talk to humans and bark at cute dogs. To recharge before coming back.

Chaining yourself to the desk for extremely long stretches just doesn’t work. Don’t schedule it, and don’t count on it saving your literary bacon.

MYTH NUMBER 7: The first draft is the longest, hardest part of writing a novel

Oh, it can take a long time. Fire up the googles and you can find all sorts of authors who spent five years, ten years or more writing a book.

Here’s the cold, honest truth: It can take three times as long to fix a bad first draft as it would to rewrite that thing from scratch. I kid you not.

And most first drafts are bad.

Doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a novel, a speech or a screenplay. First drafts typically stink and that’s typically fine. Because what you’re really shooting for is an interesting situation with interesting characters. All the rest can get fixed up or switched around.

Let’s peel back the curtain for a second. I just wrote the final chapter of a new novel this Sunday.

Good times, right? IS VERY EXCITING.

The first time I tried writing a novel, I was fresh out of journalism school and working at a newspaper while my wife went to law school. We had one beater car and ate a lot of Top Ramen, and on special nights, we’d splurge by spending $3 on the cheapest available frozen shrimp to turn that Top Ramen into a feast.

So writing a novel while she studied torts, hey, that’s cheap entertainment. 

My first draft of that first novel was, as you can imagine, a hot mess. It was a victory just to complete the marathon and learn a few lessons from it.

Later novels had a lot more promise, but it still a lot of hard work to finish that first draft and even harder work to edit it–because pretty words were never the problem. Storytelling and structure were the tough bits, and whenever I’ve seen a flawed first draft–a long newspaper story, a speech, one of my own novels or an author who had me do developmental editing–it has almost always, always been easier to start back with a blank sheet of paper and redraw the blueprints than try to get in there with a bulldozer and redo the foundation and framing while still keeping the thing from falling down on your head.

This first draft I just finished is right around 60,000 words and it’s not even Nov. 1, so I can declare victory. Hey, what could be better than winning #NaNoWriMo before it even started?

No.

It has a four act structure, with 9 chapters in each act, and for pacing the final total should be around 80k. Let’s say 20k per act, roughly, for pacing. Here we are as of Sunday, Oct. 21:

  • Act 1 already sits pretty around 20k.
  • Act 2 weighs in at 12k.
  • Act 3 is light at 9k.
  • Act 4 hops on the scale at a nifty 20k.

I didn’t blow past the middle acts–all 36 chapters are written. The middle two acts simply need to get filled out, with a lot of chapters at about 1k instead of 2k or 3k. But it’s all there. Those chapters will easily beef up to full weight with more description and dialogue.

How long did it take? The first act took a bit, with most of the real work being figuring out the blueprints. The last three acts were quick–about two months and change.

Hear me now and believe me later in #NaNoWriMo: I write crazy fast, even when I’ve only got an hour of free time a day, and will be thrilled to death November only brings me another 20k, adding to the 60k already in the can. Thrilled. Because this is the first draft I can remember where we’re not doing any major renovations, no foundation work, no heavy equipment rentals at all. Don’t need to switch the POV from first to third, combine three characters into one or eliminate the C plot in favor of a sturdier B plot.

That miracle will not happen very often. I won’t count on it happening again. 

Roughly, oh, 99 percent of the time, the first draft will need big structural fixes you didn’t see coming. Heavy lifting. Even if you get lucky, editing is still the longest, toughest and most important part or writing anything of length, especially a novel. 

Which leads to the last myth.

MYTH NUMBER 8: My friends, coworkers and family are the best editors available

Available because they’re nearby and the most likely to say yes without asking to get paid for their efforts.

The best because they like you, if not love you, and have the purest possible motivation to do a good job on something you clearly treasure and sweated hard to create.

This myth is deadly to you as a writer and to your relationships.

Deadly because some of them will say no, which will be hurtful, and some will say yes, which only delays the hurt. Let’s go through the possibilities if they say yes:

  1. Most people will quit before they slog through the entire first draft, because let’s be honest, readers don’t finish every book they got from bookstores after they paid good money for a novel written, edited and published by professionals, and those finished, polished books are not first drafts.
  2. Some who quit long before the last page will lie to make you happy.
  3. When asked for actual edits, the ones who quit just say it’s great, because they like or love you.
  4. A few will take their duties as an editor seriously and bust out an entire packet of red pens to bleed on all 350 pages of your talking cat cozy or dystopian YA romantic suspense thriller. They may tell you, in great detail, how unlikeable your hero is and how many dangling modifiers you have on every page. Or they’ll want to meet every morning to discuss their ideas for reworking the plot to include vampires.  

There’s just no real chance this turns out well. 

Even if you already write for a living, don’t bug a friend or colleague who also writes for a living to do this. Unless they edit fiction for a living, it’s not their specialty, and this is a special kind of editing.

And it’s asking too much. Maybe–maybe–you ask your friend who’s a mechanic to look at your Toyota while he’s over at your house for steak and whiskey, and you hand him a bottle of Riesling for telling you the back tire is going flat because there’s a nail in there. But you don’t him to rebore your engine as a favor during his free time. You wouldn’t ask a plumber buddy to replace your septic tank or tell your cousin, a CPA, that it’d be great if she did your taxes for free.

Editing a novel is a gigantic job that takes a ton of time. Even doing a beta read is a stonking big commitment of time and energy.  

If money is tough, trade with folks who aren’t your coworkers, family or friends.

Swap beta reads with somebody who did #NaNoWriMo just like you.

Look for a journeyman author who might trade copy editing their draft if they do some developmental notes–just a few thoughts on plot and character, not the detailed, brutal job of developmental editing.

Trade writing favors with other writers. 

And if you’re at all serious about this, instead of doing it as a lark, spend a little money. Fire up the googles to find professional fiction editors who’ll take their pen to the first chapter, or first 50 pages. There are editors who do this for an affordable, introductory fee.

You will be shocked by how much you learn about the art of writing fiction, and writing in general, after even a little work somebody who edits fiction for a living. They are Mystical Glowing Beings.

A joy instead of a grind

If you’re doing #NaNoWriMo for the first time or the seventh, I hope it’s fun and exciting, that you wake up every morning to put on a pot of coffee and hop right into it. 

Don’t let it be a grind. Don’t become a slave to deadlines and word counts.

Writing should be a joy.

Throw all kinds of crazy ideas at the wall. Make your situations and characters do things normal people would never imagine. 

Write the first draft of a book you’d want to read, something that you haven’t quite found on the shelves of a bookstore, not even Powell’s City of Books in Portland, where I always get lost.

If you do it with joy and a sense of wonder, the exact number of words you’ve collected on Nov. 30 won’t mean squat. 

Because you’ll have won the only thing that matters.

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