I’ve been at this novel writing endeavor for many years – more years than I’d like to admit. The lions part of the journey for me was learning the craft. Like so many others have said before me, the only way to get better at writing is to write. Yes, you can go to conventions and conferences and listen to others talk about how they do it – did that. You can read books on the craft written by others who are successfully doing it – did that. You can form and join writing groups who encourage and critique – did that. But bottom line is that what works for others doesn’t always work for you. My novel is the most complete and mature to date (this is the third time I’ve started again to write the same story among writing other things) because I think I’ve found what works for me. Of course time will tell if I’ve really got the formula completely dialed in but so far here’s what I’m doing.
- Outline. Oh boy did I spend too long thinking I didn’t need any version of this before I wrote. I have several projects that ended in the middle of nowhere with characters who I didn’t know anything about doing crazy things I couldn’t get them out of and which had nothing to do with the story I wanted to create. This time I put together a rough outline to get me from beginning to middle to end with enough vagueness to allow my romantic notions of discovery writing to still exist between the sign posts.
- Character studies. It helped so much that I spent an entire month of preparation writing about what makes my characters tick. What their motivations are. What their character flaws are. What their goals are. Then when I put them in a scene, I know enough about them to write their reactions and interactions with each other consistent with what I know about them. This also helps move the story along between the outline sign posts.
- Write like mad until the very end of the draft. I almost got the entire story down during NaNoWriMo in November. My motto was ‘write now, ask questions later’. Later comes in the editing process where I fix all the stuff that doesn’t work in the first draft and finish up the ending that’s already been worked out in my head.
- Editing with my writing group. Every two months I get feedback on two or three chapters from my most trusted alpha readers as I start to
polishre-write the first draft. The only think you do more of than writing in this process is re-writing. I’m learning that lesson currently. I take comfort in knowing that no one gets it right the first time and that the first draft is supposed to suck.
I’ve learned another thing during the current editing process. I’m resisting making many huge changes as I get through the first round of editing. Sure, there are a couple of chapters that I know need to be completely rewritten because the very beginning had my main character acting kind of out of character since she wasn’t as well developed in my mind at that point. And there are a couple of plot threads that started out pointing in one direction that I morphed to another that need to be fixed in the beginning for consistency. But other than that, the feedback I’m getting from my alpha readers are going in a “to-do” list that will wait for me to get through my first edit all the way to the end. That way, my story is the most complete version of my story it can be before major revising prompted from outside editing influences will be entertained. Why does this work better for me? I don’t know, it just does. And that, my friends, is exactly the point.