Before I actually managed to write a novel, I scoured the Internet and posts by people who had somehow managed to successfully write one (or many!) to see how on earth they did it. Naturally, now that I have successfully completed a novel (whoot!), it is time for me to write That Post.
You see, it was a fascinating process, one I’m convinced each of us must go through until we figure out what the heck works for us. Trial and error of this method and that method, taking one writer’s advice, desperately trying to pin down The Winning Formula. Here are the things that did and didn’t work for me, to perhaps give someone else new ideas, or make others feel less guilty for That Thing That Everyone Swears By But Totally Didn’t Work For Me.
- I cannot force myself to write every day. I tried, I did–I’m a (failed) veteran of NaNoWriMo twice over–and the reality is, some of us just can’t write on a schedule. If I know I have to write, I won’t do it. For me, writing on a schedule is incompatible with my life and style.
- That said, I tried not to let too many days go in between sessions. At three days I would sometimes force myself to sit down again and write, because it’s very easy for three days to turn into six months (that has happened to me).
- You could not pay me (literally) to get up at the crack of dawn and write. (you also could not pay me to get up at the crack of dawn and go to the gym. I am simply Not That Person) I ended up finding my stride late at night. 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. ended up something of a Magic Hour for writing. I would get home around 7, eat dinner, watch a little TV, shower (and brainstorm in the shower!) and then write for approximately an hour, then go to bed.
- It is perfectly acceptable to be a slowwwwww writer. At first I set myself the expectation that I’d seen many a writer say was A Good Number Of Words To Write Per Day. 2,500, 1,000… NOPE. I gave myself props for writing more or anything under 1,000. Any words on any given day were good. At the height of writing my novel, I averaged approximately 20,000 words a month. You don’t have to be a 50K-novel-in-a-month kind of writer.
- You can outline AND pants your novel, simultaneously. I say do whatever you have to organically do to vomit up your first novel, as the writing (and revising) of said first novel will teach you what you need to do to write further books, so I won’t preach outlining vs. not outlining etc. When I tried hardcore outlining, it killed the book. But I couldn’t have made it through book one without some idea of what I was doing… and then the freedom to change it. Ultimately, for me, the magic formula is: structured outline (beginning, midpoint, end, etc.)… and then pants from there on out.
- I figure out my characters as I go along. For better or for worse, I cannot plan my characters out too far in advance of writing. I read so many blogs/saw worksheets, etc. for figuring out character (100 questions for your character!), but getting bogged down in all that detail kills the creative process. Of course, this can mean more work in revisions, but that’s a-ok by me!
- 30K in, assess and make any major changes before moving on. I know everyone and their mother says “just write! Write until it’s done!” Personally, I’d rather be sure-footed before charging on. In my case, 30K in, I decided to change the tense and wanted to know that the novel was working. So I enlisted some CP feedback. This was critical for me. I can’t imagine having changed the tense retroactively, or writing it half/half. (and also changing the tense helped push me past the hump of the midpoint)
- Wine. Lots of red wine. Seriously, I kind of became a wino while writing this book (and revising it). My “diet” also went down the tubes. But you need to find what works and do it, and for me, that was red wine to loosen up, and junk food because I’m an appalling stress eater (ALAS). And then I hibernated.
- I turn into an anti-social hermit. Seriously, I became a hermit to write (and also revise) this book. And the people most useful to me during this time were the ones who didn’t mind my talking through my book All. The. Time. CPs on GTalk constantly, I LOVE YOU. If you’re an extrovert, writing a novel might kill your soul. But if you’re an introvert, GIVE INTO YOUR DARKEST NATURE, dig in and write your damn book.
- Eat, sleep, breathe your novel. I thought about my book in the shower, before bed, on the bus, at work, getting lunch, etc. Whether it was playing out a scene in my head or running “character exercises” (imagining scenarios I’ll never put in print), thinking about the book constantly helped me write the book. Often I would write scenes mentally first, then rush to a computer to get them down (many frenzied lunch hours were spent this way!). And for me, I had to walk through my book mentally for MONTHS before I could actually write it. This is probably why writers get so darn attached to their novels.
- And finally: Scrivener. This program saved my life. If you’ve tried to write a novel in Mircosoft Word, you’ll know how frustrating it can be. So much scrolling! Scrivener basically enables you to create separate files for every scene in your novel (with a corkboard visual!), and you can drag & drop them around, invaluable for when you have to revise and move something from the end of your novel to the middle (HAPPENED!). I think Scrivener is especially helpful for anyone with pantsing tendencies, though equally it’s good for planners–Scrivener basically enables you to micro-organize your book. Godsend.
So, basically, personally I had to turn into a daydreaming hermit wino to write this book. And once I hit my stride, it was a ton of fun. And torturous. Sigh. And that’s how I did it! (don’t worry, in between revisions I didn’t drink at all)