I joined a writer’s group on LinkedIn the other day. One of the first questions I received in my email was about how to keep writing when you really don’t feel like writing. It seems the questioner had a short story he was trying to turn into a full blown novel, but he just wasn’t getting anywhere. He has been working on it for a couple of years but just keeps erasing it all and starting over.
Eeek! The horror of that might give me nightmares for life! Erasing it all and starting over is one of the worst things a writer could ever do. It is akin to a baker putting the flour and sugar into a bowl, then deciding to toss it in the trash because he wants a chocolate cake rather that a vanilla one. What a waste!
When I first began to write novels I too was unsure how to begin–and how to progress. I read every book about writing I could get my hands on and became even more confused. Each person who wrote about writing seemed to have a different process, a unique method that took her from idea to finished product.
And so began the long tedious trial-and-error period, a period I hope never to see again. I did my share of polishing each individual word as I wrote, writing chapters as individual stories so I could shuffle them around, writing whatever came to my head, and so on. I used index cards, a bulletin board, and multiple computer programs that are designed to help the author maintain the structure of the story.
It was a struggle. I was like a blindfolded driver with a sick child that needed to get to the store as quickly as possible to buy medicine so that I could lower my child’s fever before the excessive heat of the fever could cause permanent damage to my child. I felt I needed to rush, but I had no clue, absolutely no clue, where to go or how to get there.
I perservered and finally uncovered my own method. Here goes:
MS Word is my tool of choice, not any of those fancy writing programs.
Step 1 – Create a vague outline that runs to full length of the book. Result is usually 1 page long.
Step 2 – Flesh out outlilne, creating chapters. Make sure there is a logical beginning, middle, and end.
Step 3 – Start with 1st chapter. Write a few paragraphs about what will happen in chapter. Go to next chapter.
Step 4 – Continue building chapters. As each chapter is finished, it will not be revisited until the next stage unless a change is made in the story that makes it absolutely necessary. (Change of character, etc.)
Step 5 -Finish last chapter and quickly look over the entire thing, making sure it makes sense. All chapters now have a couple of paragraphs of explanation, and the result is 5 – 10 pages long.
Step 6 -Time to begin really writing. Start with first chapter. Read the couple of paragraphs of explanation, and make it into a story. I let the movie in my head play, and write down what I see. Do not get up until the first chapter is done.
Step 7 – Each day of writing equals a chapter. I complete the chapter, highlight where I left off, and start the next writing session at the highlighted area. I do not revisit writing I have already done because I need to keep moving forward. Can only go back to change a detail like a name, date, time, etc.
Step 8 – Worked all the way through and have completed last chapter. Set aside for a few days to give brain a rest.
Step 9 – Begin again at the beginning. Always attempt to complete a full chapter in each setting. Focus on details and flow. Refine dialogue. I again see the movie in my head…I write the movie in my head.
Step 10 – Plug through. Persistence is the key. The book will never be finished if it is not worked on.
Step 11 – This round done. Set aside for at least a week.
Step 12 – Read all the way through. Set aside.
Step 13 – Begin the entire process again with chapter 1.
Step 14 – Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Remember to keep moving forward.
Step 15 – Done! Read, check again for flow and mistakes. Get feedback from someone. Begin the rewriting process again if necessary.
Step 16 – Enough already. I am now thoroughly sick of this book and ready to move on to the next.
The length of time this process takes varies by book, as does the number of rewrites. Braumaru took 2 years (extra time needed to work out the process). Cerulea and Viridia each took 1 year. DTA (Department of Temporal Adjustment) took nearly 3 years. Gray Zone has taken about 1 year so far. I do my work primarily on Saturday mornings and holidays, since I either have a full time job or am pursuing one.
Just an FYI–this works for me. But if it sounds overwhelming, just remember to keep moving forward. Always forward!