Even though the frenzy of April’s Camp NaNoWriMo session has passed, that doesn’t mean you need to stop writing! If you’re feeling like you want to continue your noveling adventures but you’re not quite sure where to go with them, participant Larisa Hunter shares some tips for researching and organizing your first draft:
Free writing is exactly how it sounds: you sit down and just write. It doesn’t seem like it would be a good tool to organize your thoughts, because it’s somewhat chaotic, but I find it very useful. You don’t have to write about a specific thing; you just take thoughts that are all over the place and put them down.
I’m usually a very organized person. I used to be extremely organized until I became a mom, at which point it began to be more trouble than it was worth. You can’t always predict what kids will do, and planning for everything is virtually impossible (as children, if nothing else, are great at finding the one thing you didn’t prepare for). I began to realize that not much was under my control. Life is often fraught with unexpected events, so trying to organize everything is virtually impossible. In completing a writing project, I’ve found that a mix of free writing and organization work best for me.
Step One: Organizing Research
If you’re writing nonfiction, you have to do research. There’s no way to avoid this, as getting facts wrong can be devastating to your reputation as a writer. When writing nonfiction, you’ll also usually need many sources to research any topic.
To organize my sources, I find it easier to research one topic at a time and list notes for each section. Each note includes essential information about my source, including the author, title, year, publisher, and page numbers for direct quotes. Making my bibliography is super easy with those notes. I always make sure my sources are backed up by both internet and physical books to ensure I have correct, up-to-date information. It’s vital to ensure your sources are accurate and that you’re sticking to the rules of the style guide you’re using.
With fiction, research can be helpful if you’re looking for background information. It can help you create believable settings and characters. If you’re writing about a fire fighter, you’d want to find out as much as you can about a fire fighter’s life. Don’t be afraid to ask someone who has direct experience if they’d be willing to give you the details of what their job entails.
Think about fiction research as a way to be a kind of detective: you’re discovering material that you can use to push the story forward. You can research locations locations by physically going to them and noting what you see, and you can read stories similar to the one you want to write.
Step Two: Free Writing
After I compile my research (or at least have an idea of what exactly I’m going to write), I then go into my free writing sessions. I personally prefer to just sit down at my keyboard and start typing. I don’t really have an idea of where I’m going in the beginning, but I often find the idea when writing it down. Sometimes just putting your fingers on the keys and allowing your mind to pour out its ideas becomes a very good way to finish your project—or at least begin to work it out.
Don’t worry at all about structure with free writing. Don’t worry about grammar, spelling, or anything related to editing and formal writing. Free writing is an exercise to get your inspiration going. I find it extremely helpful to just roll with it, to allow yourself to go places in your mind and to write your story in whatever way you want.
It’s helpful to set a time limit on the free writing block—say, twenty minutes—then sit and self-reflect. Review what you’ve written and take a critical eye to it. This may require you to give it to someone else because we often can’t criticize our own work fairly—we tend to be way too harsh on ourselves, or self-deprecating of our own talent.
Writing is an art, and art takes time to craft. You have to have a lot of patience with yourself. Sometimes pressure can override your ability to have a clean piece of writing that will turn into the product that you want it to be. I think that patience is the hardest part of writing to learn, because writers often get caught up in our own heads. When this happens, take a break. Breathe, relax, go outside, do something else to get a break from yourself. These things will help organize your project in a way that is not overwhelming or stressful.
Writing should never be a chore or a task, but an expression of ourselves on the page. Remember that this is your time, your space, your page, fill how you choose. Don’t let yourself feel that this page is your enemy, but a friend waiting to hear your secrets.
Larisa Hunter has spent most of her life on the East Coast of Canada. She is the owner of a small publishing house called Saga Press, and has been involved in publishing for about 6 years.
Top image licensed under Creative Commons from Rick Payette on Flickr.