How to write the great American novel. Well, not really…
By Heidi Loney
I wrote 3 novels in 13 months. Here is how I did it:
Book #1: I had a great premise for a novel. I sat with butt in chair most mornings and wrote organically for almost two months until I got stuck. Something was wrong, and I couldn’t get past a certain plot point. I discovered “Story Engineering”, a “how to” book on story structure. I decided to “back burner” the entire book.
Book #2: After reading “Story Engineering” while on a road trip to New Brunswick (18 hours in a car with my husband and two kids), I decided to plan my second book, “Ravenous”, before actually writing it. After a 16 page synopsis and a beat sheet or point by point scene breakdown, I plowed into the story. Following two total restructures and major edits, I had a final draft. Next, some beta reading and consulting a professional editor, and bingo: I have a finished product.
Book #3: Before I completed book #2, I discovered NaNoWriMo. I kept seeing it pop up all over the place; on writer’s blogs, on literary agent’s websites and so forth. Finally, I discovered that it is a short form for National Novel Writing Month, a 30 day writing challenge where pros and aspiring authors come together once a year to push out original 50,000 word books, or die trying. Their slogan is “Thirty days and nights of literary abandon”. It’s free, although they accept and encourage donations. It’s open to anyone age 13 or older, however, there is also a junior program for younger writers. Word count is all that matters, and you can write pretty much any genre, as long as you meet the 50,000 word count by midnight, November 30th. What you get in return beside a pretty little badge is a book or least a draft for a book and the knowledge that you created something that most people in their entire lifetime will never achieve. How great is that!
What I found so cool about the premise is that anyone can write a novel, given the chance. The timeline and word count are helpful because most of us can accept a 30 day challenge. The worst that can happen is not meeting the target. But that’s OK too. I like a challenge, and decided to go for it. I had a new idea for a story that came up one afternoon in conversation with my husband. It was really a joke, but I asked what the world would be like if corporations ran our school system? I thought that I’d love to explore that concept. Story Engineering author Larry Brooks even gave me his Nanowrimo “how to” book, compiled from various blog posts he wrote on his own site storyfix.com. Based on Larry’s wise advice, I decided to plot my book in October, before I even got to November 1st. Story planning before the start date is well within the rules and I knew that if I waited until November 1st to write my first word, I would be doomed. On a side note, there are a group of writers on NaNo known as rebels. These folks decided to break the rules by writing memoirs, a collection of short stories or partially written stories. They have their own forum that’s just plain fun.
NaNoWriMo wants you to succeed and asks for your commitment for one solid month. Through pep talks and forums, a community of writers encourages you all the way. I found a local Toronto forum of writers on NaNoWriMo that meet all through November for write-ins, get togethers and fun events. (Toronto, by the way, is always in the top ten cities for word count.) Being a mother of two young boys prevented me from attending, but I was able to chat with other locals in the forums.
By the end of November, I completed a rough draft of my novel “Love and Cola Wars”. I left it alone to breathe until February, when I pulled it out and read the thing straight through. It looked good – not ready for print good, but certainly the best first draft I ever wrote. I’m still editing it, planning on a September 1st release date.
The follow up on NaNoWriMo’s site is fantastic. There are dedicated forums to help with editing, query letters, beta reader search and more. Also, there is a plethora of information about self-publishing, an idea that I didn’t originally embrace but now endorse.
Book #4: This July, I plan to write the sequel to my dystopian novel “Ravenous” during Camp NaNoWriMo, a summer event with the same concept as NaNoWriMo. I’m in the story planning stage, not waiting until three weeks before to get my beat sheet prepared, so that come July 1st, I will be raring to go. As the Camp NaNoWriMo slogan states, this will be “an idyllic writers retreat, smack-dab in the middle of your crazy life”.
About the Author
Heidi Loney is a Young Adult author of Ravenous (Ancestor, Book 1), coming June 1st to Kobo. She is also completing her novel Love and Cola Wars, a high school satire set in her home town of Toronto, Canada. Heidi blogs about Toronto city politics on her tongue in cheek website, leftwingpinko.ca. When not writing, she spends most of her time raising her two young boys with her husband Jack.
Heidi lives in the city with her husband Jack and two (mostly) darling children.