So…. this is my 200th blog post!! (It feels like 400th, but whatevs. ;) I want to thank you all for reading and following. It’s a lot more fun to write these posts knowing there’s someone on the other side reading them. :)
Now, on to the main event…
Since I started writing my current (and first) novel some years ago, I’ve been a pantser. I realized the other day that while it hasn’t been particularly efficient — each draft is remarkably different from the previous one as I figure out my story — it did help me learn the craft of long writing.
You know — long writing; as in books.
Over the last two days, I’ve been deleting old files on my computer. Old. As in back to 1997. I read some before I got rid of them which reminded me that until I started this novel, I’ve always done short writing: poetry and short stories. Even my school papers were in comparison, short. And I excelled at them, because I’d been doing those types of writing for years — since high school.
I’ve never written a full-length novel. I know the basics of going about it but knowing and actually executing that knowledge…. well those are worlds apart, aren’t they?
All of this dovetails with something else I’ve been thinking about lately: why don’t I outline my novel? That’s something else I excelled at in college thanks to my years of training. I realized that when I wrote papers, I did the research, then outlined, then wrote. The way a lot of novelists write, in fact. The problem for me is, I really had no idea what my novel — my story — was about, so outlining at the start just didn’t work for me. In fact, spending those years doing the exploratory writing don’t feel wasted as I learned the craft of writing fiction that’s longer than a few pages. And in a way, that exploratory writing was the research part of my writing process.
But now, I’m finally ready to outline thanks to three helpful resources:
Alan Gratz: Why you should be outlining — In this article from the Highlights Foundation, Alan Gratz talks about the importance of outlining. What really struck me was this:
“I created an outline. I broke the story down by chapter, writing a paragraph-long summary of each chapter on a different page in a Word document. Then I went back through my notes one line at a time, and every time I came across a bit of research that told me, for example, what a shinto shrine looked like, I moved that bit to my chapter one page, which takes place in a shinto shrine. […] When I was finished, I had a notebook full of chapters telling me exactly what happened, followed by all the historical research I needed to tell just that part of the story. When the time came to actually write the novel, I was able to open my notebook in the morning, turn to the next chapter, read what was going to happen, and then start writing.
“Separating what happens from how to tell it—that is, separating the story—planning processfrom the story writing process—has been the biggest technical leap forward in my career. Those are two very different processes, but most writers try to tackle them both at the same time.”
Then I saw this post from Ilana Waters: How to Make Writing Fun. She quotes Dean Wesley Smith who says: ‘”Stop calling your writing work. Stop thinking of writing as a grind. In other words, CHANGE YOUR ATTITUDE“‘ and later she adds:
“Maintaining your perspective when writing is crucial to the “fun” process. Sometimes, working on a book too long can actually harm the story. Writers tend to overthink things. We may change what was awesome, original, and gratifying because of some imagined flaw.”
Then I read this in the book 2K to 10K: Writing Faster, Writing Better, And Writing More of What You Love. She had this to say about having fun writing; or rather not…:
“The days when I broke 10K were the days when I was writing scenes I’d been dying to write since I planned the book. They were they candy bar scenes, the ones I wrote all that other stuff to get to. By contrast, my slow days (days when I was struggling to break 5K) corresponded to the scenes I wasn’t crazy about.
“This was a duh moment for me, but it also brought up a troubling new problem. If I had scenes so boring I didn’t want to write them, then there was no way anyone would want to read them. This was my novel, after all. If I didn’t love it, no one would.”
These three great thoughts swirled around in my head, mixing and remaking themselves until I was ready to start a full outline of my novel, several numbered paragraphs per chapter; I’m up to Chapter 8 and am feeling interest and joy in my book again. And when I get to something that I’m finding boring to write even in short-form, out it goes. That’s what the delete key is for, after all!