Understand My Writing Process

National Novel Writing Month in Review

This entry is part 9 of 9 in the series National Novel Writing Month 2017

November is dead.

Long live December.

The weather gets colder. The skies get darker. And tomorrow I will be putting up my Christmas tree even though my mother says it is too early.

I will also be spending at least the next month redrafting the book I wrote in October., so that’s exciting.

But irrelevant.

Today I’m here to talk about National Novel Writing Month. My thoughts on that and on the first draft I’ve just written.

I don’t know what I’m going to say yet, though, so this will all be a little informal.

Maybe even nonsensical.

So let’s do that.


As I said in the introduction to this series, I don’t often go in for Nano month.

I’ve done it once before, but I am usually either not writing at all or halfway through a draft when it begins.

I’ve never seen the need to shift my schedule to match National Novel Writing Month.

If I’m honest (which I’m not) they should shift their month to meet me.

This year, though, the stars seemed to align.

I finished the first draft of Project Perry in October and planned to start Project House this month anyway.

So I thought, why not?

And it’s been good.

NaNoWriMo is a great way to get you focused and writing, even when you don’t fancy it.

This can be a double-edged sword, as I’ve said in previous blogs, but on the whole, it’s positive. Especially if you are not good at forcing yourself to write of a typical month.

I’ve never had a problem with that, myself. But I did like the stats based aspect of Nano. It enhanced the fun and gave me something to blog about, and extra incentive to get words done.

Sure, I had a couple of zero-days, and a couple of forgettable ones where I wrote less than a thousand, but mostly I did okay.

Averaging over 3,000 words a day, I hit the 50,000 word Nano target by day 18 and finished the book by day 26.

So that was pleasing, and from the stats in my local area alone, I can tell a lot of people found it as useful as me.

So it’s great to get you writing. But does this finished draft give me anything to work with?

The Draft

The dreaded first draft.

Most writers will say the first draft is their favourite, but I’m not sure.

I guess the best way to put it is that it’s the furthest from being my least favourite.

But ‘favourite’ as a word has too many positive connotations, and I’m not comfortable with that.

It’s always a mess, that’s the problem.

You do your plan, and that’s exciting. Then you start, hitting the ground running, and that’s brilliant.

Then, about 10,000 words in, we reach thorny territory.

Nothing is working. Your character isn’t right. The plot no longer makes sense.

Panic sets in.

Pens are thrown. Keyboards smashed.

People give up. Writers everywhere choose this moment to bin their mess of a start and run off crying until they have a new idea.

One that will actually work.

One that people will want to read.

Because no one would have read the first draft you were working on, would they?

Well, no, that’s the point, isn’t it?

Not that I was any different.

I chucked away hundreds of unfinished drafts for that reason. Like writers everywhere, I was missing the point.

First drafts are about discovery, change. Not perfection.

Think of it like Science (hey, remember Science?)

Your plan is your hypothesis.

This is what you expect to happen. How you expect the individual elements of character and plot to react together.

The first draft, then, is the experiment. You’re not sitting down to follow your plan but to test it. To get those words on the page and see if your hypothesis is correct.

Spoiler alert, it probably isn’t

We are bad scientists. We can theorise all we want but once that character hits the ground and starts making decisions… well, things are going to change.

The best way to figure out who your characters are is to start writing them. It’s in doing this that you will realise the best version of them.

It’s the same with the story, which may look great on paper but needs to be adaptable.

Use your first draft to test, and to tweak. To do a complete 180 if you need to.

DO NOT allow that plan to limit your creativity.

Change as you go, and never go back to change what came before.

By the time you’re done, that first draft will be a disastrous mess.

But that’s okay.

That’s what second drafts are for.

Take my NaNoWriMo Draft (which is what I’m supposed to be talking about anyway.) I went in with specific ideas. Ideas that began to desert me as I wrote.

I realised my main character needed to change. Realised she needed to change and, as I realised this, I also saw that the plot had to change too.

By the time I finished, the first and last act sounded as though they came from completely different books.

But that doesn’t matter.

I’ve worked it all out now.

When I come to do that second draft, I’ll be editing from a position of strength. I know who my characters are and what needs to happen. I can rewrite and tell the story in the way it needs to be told.

That’s exciting, and that’s the best thing about first drafts.

That’s why things like NaNoWriMo exist. Because in forcing you to get through this first draft it forces you to see the potential.

So if you gave up halfway through National Novel Writing Month because it wasn’t working.

Go back to it!

In the end, you won’t regret it.

Next Steps

Speaking of first drafts going their own way. I didn’t intend this blog to end up more instructional than reflective, but there you go.

National Novel Writing Month is over now. I hope anyone who took part enjoyed it.

For me, I’m going to stop trying to get out a blog every couple of days for at least the next month.

I need to focus on the redraft of Project Perry, so I’ll keep on doing my book reviews, but that may well be it.

But, sometime in the next few months, I would like to come back and talk more about my writing plans and how things are going.

I may even do another writing challenge.

Whatever, I’ll keep you updated.

So, see you then.

Series Navigation<< National Novel Writing Month: Victory
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International worst-selling author Mark Ayre has been writing since before he could pick up a pen (somehow). An author of mystery and suspense novels including the James Perry Series of mysteries.

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