Thursday, July 31, 2014

Writing a Novel (Part 3): Actually Writing

Catch up on Part 1: Ducks and Part 2: Line and Reel.

After you've plotted out your manuscript, it's time to set some goals...and go meet them. That means, at long last, sitting at your desk and beginning to type.

Some people start writing at the beginning of the story. Others start in the middle and jump around. My experience with starting in the middle was two unfinished novels. Starting at the beginning and writing scene-by-scene without letting myself skip ahead was what got me to finally finish (in 6 weeks, too).

The problem with the jump-around method of writing is that at some point you'll finish all the exciting scenes and have to go back to write the in-between stuff. You'll have to connect everything, hoping you didn't leave anything out or forget important details and causations. It won't necessarily make your story disjointed, but it won't have as much smooth detailing building up from scene to scene.

When you don't skip ahead, you force yourself to get those less exciting scenes written. You're so excited for the climactic battle at the end that you get the other stuff over with quickly. Everything has a flow and all the ends tie up.

That said, this is just how my brain works. Don't follow any advice, mine included, without experimenting. Figure out what works for you, because there are as many ways to write as there are writers.

Relatedly, some people argue for vomit writing: getting everything out there without editing until the story is finished. It may be crap, but you get the satisfaction of completion, and you're going to edit it to death anyway. Others have a daily routine of editing yesterday's work before writing today's.

Both work, though I recommend vomit writing for your first novel. Here's a secret: your book is going to be crap, whether you edited during writing or not. It will require multiple reworkings and rewritings. You'll edit it into something else completely. So don't bother making the first draft pretty; you'll do that later anyway.

When you write your first draft, finish as fast as you can. You'll lose steam quickly if you don't. Having the book completed was such a good feeling. If we're honest, all of us doubt ourselves...until we see the words THE END. Suddenly, we have superpowers.

A daily writing goal is the #1 way to ensure completion. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) was a great experience for me in meeting goals, writing guilt-free, and discovering I can do it. Nano gives you daily goals, pep talks, and tools if you've got writer's block. It doesn't matter how big your daily goal is; it's not a competition. Just have one.

Ignore this advice at your peril. Yes, some people don't write daily and still finish novels. But a majority of the people who never finish do so because they aren't vomiting on the page each day. If you don't write continually, you run the risk of being nothing more than another might-have-been. You're better than that. You can do this; you just don't believe it yet.

You'll need cheerleaders. You'll need your spouse or significant other on your side. You'll need someone asking you, "What happens next?" That gentle external pressure is enough to keep you writing when you'd rather cuddle up with Netflix.

Writing, like any other pursuit, involves sacrifice. Whenever you spend time doing something, you're not spending time on something else. Writing means less gaming, less TV, less reading, or less time with friends. Cut something, and remember it's only for as long as it takes to finish.

Last of all, quite simply, don't stop. Writing a novel is not impossible. Everyone could do it; everyone could work hard and finish a novel. The reason most people don't is that they don't. You can break all the rules; you can write one day per year, or edit twice for every word your write. You could still finish the novel before you die. The only thing truly stopping you is you.

Read Part 4: editing the hardest work yet. Don't forget to read Part 3.2 if you're struggling with writer's block.

Word count: 663.