Under the Covers: Writing

Happy NaNoWriMo!

“Nano-what,” you ask? NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel-Writing Month, and it happens every November. While most of the US worries about politicking, football games, holiday-release entertainment, and where to get the best deal on a turkey that barely fits in the shopping cart, more and more writers are frantically attacking their keyboards in an effort to crank out a 50,000-word novel before December 1. In celebration of NaNoWriMo, we’ve gathered a few tips to help you write your next masterpiece.

Start Writing, and Keep Writing

It may seem obvious, but no one ever wrote a bestseller by merely thinking about it. No author knows exactly how a book will go before it’s started. Many people find outlines extremely helpful; if you’re one of them, write an outline. But don’t get hung up on not knowing all the details.

Once you start writing, keep going. If you get stuck, write through it. Yes, that’s much harder than it sounds, but if you put it aside to finish later, who knows when “later” will come? NaNoWriMo.org provides some great tips for first-time participants. One of our favorites is this one: “Do not edit as you go… Even if it’s hard at first, leave ugly prose and poorly written passages on the page to be cleaned up later. Your inner editor will be very grumpy about this, but your inner editor is a nitpicky jerk who foolishly believes that it is possible to write a brilliant first draft if you write it slowly enough. It isn’t. Every book you’ve ever loved started out as a beautifully flawed first draft.”

Join a Group

NaNoWriMo is a great example of a worldwide writers’ community. Every year, thousands of people participate, pursuing a common goal. Setting a goal can be a great way to motivate yourself; having friends with the same goal can be even better. NaNoWriMo combines the size and interactivity of an online social network with the camaraderie of a local group, since writers can list their home region and find Meetup.com-style events there for face-to-face encouragement (or commiseration, as the case may be).

Speaking of Meetup.com, it is another great place to look for a local writing group. Since Meetup groups are not focused on a one-month writing project, they tend to be more feedback-oriented. Aside from encouraging you to write in the first place, the most helpful job of a writing group is to provide feedback. Would this idea make a good story? Does a certain plot device seem illogical? Is that dialogue believable? Can the main character become more rounded? Groups can help you find problems and fix them before your manuscript hits the editor’s desk.

Find a Developmental Editor

While most writing groups are free (or cost a cup of coffee at the local café), a developmental editor requires you to put your money where your mouth (or manuscript) is. This editor looks at the bones and muscles of your story to cure what ails it. (In fact, some dev. editors even call themselves Book Doctors.) If you have trouble figuring out why Mr. X did y, or you need help filling in the plot holes on the road from a to b, the dev. editor is the person for the job.

For nonfiction, this editor will help you focus and make sure that your point comes through clearly. Writing a memoir is all well and good, but is it necessary to include your entire work history? A story that you love to tell might be one that will distract a reader from your overall narrative. Are you writing a hiking guide? The editor will see where you might lose the reader. Even if your manuscript has passed muster at your writing group, a professional developmental editor will make sure it’s ship-shape for publishing.

So where do you find these gurus of good writing? Some writing organizations (our friends at She Writes, for example) maintain close ties with experienced editors. You can find companies that specialize in providing editorial services, and there are also organizations of freelance editors. (For authors in the Pacific Northwest, we recommend the Northwest Independent Editors Guild.) The most important thing to keep in mind as you look for a developmental editor is that this will be someone you’ll work closely with for many months, so be sure you get along well.

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