Wednesday, December 30, 2009
The Writing Process
Since it's the New Year, I'm sure many writers have included finishing a novel for their 2010 goals, including your intrepid host.
Due to the disastrous process of my first two complete (keyword, complete and I only tried to publish one of those) novels, I decided to do my third novel "by the book." In other words, I used Strunk & White's ELEMENTS OF STYLE, Stephen King's ON WRITING, and multiple web resources (Go Twitter!) to create my first regency paranormal romance in a structured manner. I am very pleased with the results and actually had fun with this book all the way to the submission process.
Here is my system. I confess to ripping off a lot of it from King's ON WRITING, of course I don't know if it's really ripping him off since I am crediting him. Seriously, buy that book. It is a gem!
1.) If you have your opening scene in your head: Write it! I know that sounds ridiculous in its simplicity but this your first draft. Don't worry about if it sucks or not or whether this or that is established in your head. This is not the time to worry about it. Just get the damn book started or you'll have no hope of finishing it.
2.) If you don't have the opening scene in your head: Figure out who your main character(s) is/are. What do they want? What is going to happen to them that makes you have to write the story in the first place? Make notes, play around, but not too seriously. That will come soon enough. Then write your first scene to introduce them. Then refer to step one.
3.) Make a rough outline. Stephen King is anti-outline, but I like them for 2 reasons: One is that they help to fend off writer's block. If I know the basis of how the story is going to go, then I am able to have ideas for the foreshadowing and action to get the characters there. The other is that I can put in the scenes in my head that I'm dying to write like the proverbial carrot-on-a-stick to keep me writing. I'm not too worried about my story becoming stale and systematic because the story often turns different from the outline. Outlines are there to have something to deviate from.
4.) Write the story all the way through. Write every day if possible, taking a maximum of one day off. Stephen King said that, and damn, he was right. Why do this? Because it keeps the story fresh in your head. Also, if you are writing every day then you are getting something done and you will be more realistic about seeing your novel going somewhere.
5.) Have FUN researching. Nearly every novel requires some research. I spent hours researching things from regency England for my last novel. For my next one I get to research nineteenth century France. Just remember the keyword: Fun. If you are going to go in depth about what you researched in your novel, it better be fun, otherwise, your boredome will show in your writing. King just says to do the research. This is what I learned from doing it.
6.) Try to follow a daily writing goal. Whether it's 250 or 3000 words a day, you have to do something. Not only will your goal give you a feasible deadline to finish the novel, but it is very motivational and good for you. To complete your word goal is to have a triumph every day.
7.) Get a support system. The days of the anti-social writer stereotype are gone. Writing works so much better when you have people cheering you on, especially if they are other writers. I owe much of the success of my novel's completion to my writer pals on twitter. It felt wonderful to have people there to not only cheer me on, but to sympathize when I was agonizing about certain parts. Not only that, but it felt so wonderful to hear people saying my book sounded as good and fun as it did to me. There is also the competition factor. My word goal started at 500, but when other writers were talking about goals in the thousands, competitiveness set in and I bumped it up to 2000 words a day with occasional 3K days.
8.) When Writer's block sets in: Write another outline. C'mon, I know you deviated miles from the one you started with.=) Give yourself something else for you and your characters to rebel against. If that doesn't work, do some more research and see if an inspiring detail will pop up. Listen to music, meditate. If none of those work, write "blah blah blah" and skip to the next scene you've been dying to write. Then next time you have writer's block you can go back fill in the "blah blah blah" and usually the other thing you were stuck on will come clear. If none of those work, look up other witer's blogs about writer's block. There are a million tips out there and at least one should work for you.
9.) When you've finished the book: Put it away for at least six weeks. I'll admit, six weeks was all I could take and even that was unbearable. Celebrate the first day. Then read for pleasure. While struggling to resist peeking at your manuscript, go out and find at 3-5 people that are willing to read and critique the book for you at a certain date and under a certain timeline. If you did well with finding your support system, this shouldn't be a big deal. And if you are lucky, you can find a former teacher or two to add in their opinion. But don't, under any circumstance, allow anyone to see your work until after the second draft. Start writing a short story or playing with ideas for your next project. Unless you are Harper Lee, there should be a next project.
More to come on my next post, which will be.....surprise! The editing process.