Drafting A Novel: The Fast And Furious Approach, by Pamela Cook
I’ve been writing for more than a decade now, as well as teaching creative writing, and in that time I’ve discovered there are many ways to write a novel but most of them fall into one of two categories: slowly and carefully or fast and furious. Having tried both, I’m planting my feet firmly in the fast and furious camp.
My first novel was a labour of love, written over five years, revised in sections, re-drafted, and revised over and over again before I finally felt brave enough to send it out. I loved that novel – and still do. It taught me about word choice, style, sentence construction, description and went a fair way to teaching me about character, plot and structure.
While that novel was in one of its brewing phases I participated in National Novel Writing Month: a challenge to write a 50,000 word manuscript in a month. Having spent over five years writing just under 90,000 words, I found the whole idea of Nano quite absurd but decided it would be an interesting experiment if nothing else. I beavered away at the computer for the thirty days of November in 2009, averaging around 1700 words a day and becoming a “winner” when I hit the 50,000 word mark at the end of the month.
This kind of fast and furious writing is along the same lines as freewriting, which I have been a proponent of for years as a means of unlocking the subconscious, allowing ideas to flow freely and without censorship. Writing guru Natalie Goldberg (who calls it writing practice or automatic writing) describes this type of writing as a “crack through which you can crawl into a bigger world, into your wild mind” (p 40, Wild Mind). Completing a first draft of a novel in this way forces you to keep moving forward, prevents you from indulging your inner critic and allows you to explore all kinds of crazy plot possibilities you might not otherwise consider if you write in a more organized, rational fashion. You have to keep reminding yourself each time you sit down to write that this is a first draft. Nobody else is going to see it in this form and it can (and probably will) be hideously awful. Only then will you give yourself permission to write without censorship. While there will undoubtedly be lines, or entire sections of the novel, that really are hideously awful, you may be surprised to find that by loosening the shackles your words and ideas will flow and your voice will be more authentic.
My first shot at National Novel Writing Month produced what later became my debut novel, Blackwattle Lake. When I returned to the original draft a year or so later I was pleasantly surprised to find that, while there was definitely room for improvement and expansion, there was a solid story to build on. Writing the novel from beginning to end without stopping to revise forced me to focus on plot developments instead of agonising over each word, line and paragraph. The agonising came later, during the revision process and then, after the novel was accepted for publication, the editing and proofing phases. But giving myself permission to just write in that first draft period was hugely liberating.
When it came time to write my next novel I decided to follow the same process, not quite as intensely but I did write around 90,000 words in three months when drafting Essie’s Way. Again I found the time pressure prevented me from nit-picking, resulting in a manuscript which could then be moulded and edited.
Apart from the unleashing of creativity that this process seems to foster, the daily commitment to my writing means that I stay in the dream of your story – you become more immersed in the world you have created than you might be if you adopt a more stop-start process. It also helps develop a stronger discipline, which is important if you’re really serious about writing.
In my time as a writer, and as a writing teacher, I’ve seen many friends and students spend years working on one project, often abandoning it when it hits a dead end or they become bored with it. I have also seen others who have created beautiful stories that have been lovingly nurtured and polished over a longer period of time. Some stories do take time. Not every novel can be written in one or two or three months. But if you’ve never tried writing this way I highly recommend it. At best, it will give you a manuscript to then keep working on. At worst, if it bombs, you’ve only spent a month or two of your life on it.
Pamela Cook’s author website: www.pamelacookauthor.wordpress.com
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