Thursday, June 9, 2011

Novel-Writing Game Plan

It's finally here! A bit belated, but at least I got it done. I meant to write an introduction, but that introduction turned into my post on why I need a master plan. So this time, I'll jump right in. Here's how I want to approach writing my first novel:

1. Create a vision

More and more, I'm learning to appreciate the value of having a vision. I always thought I wasn't an ambitious or passionate person, but maybe that's because I didn't really know what I want. How can I get anywhere if I don't even know what my destination is? That's why I'm going to write down my dream of what I hope to accomplish, so I have something to aim for. A guiding star, so I know which direction to take. I'm not sure, yet, how detailed this vision will be, or how well I'll be able to realize it, or how much it will change with time. But this is where I'm going to start.

2. Commit to a story

Remember what I said about putting things on to-do lists that I've already finished? Yeah, this is one of them. I've accumulated lots of different story ideas over the years, and I know I need to stick to one of them — so I chose one. Once I'm done with my vision posts I'll talk more about how I get ideas and how I decided which one to pick (the reason is kind of ridiculous — but you'll see). I hope I can stick with it. I tend to like keeping my options open, which can turn into commitment-phobia, but this time I want to see it through to the end.

3. Brainstorm more brilliance

At least, I hope there will be some brilliance involved. :P Sure, I have tons of ideas, but they need to be developed before there's enough material for a novel. I need to know more about the plot, setting, and characters. I'll be asking myself a lot of questions, coming up with answers that fit with my vision and with the specific story idea I chose, and trying to weave them all together into something that sounds good to me. There will probably be a lot of free-writing and list-making in this stage. Plus a lot of being frustrated with myself for not knowing the answer...

4. Organize an outline

I do enjoy scribbling ideas down by hand in notebooks and having files of random bullet points and snippets of scenes, but I like having my ideas neatly organized even more. I'll be taking my jumble of thoughts and sorting, trimming, and reorganizing them until I can see the big picture with all the pieces where they belong. I like plans and strategies, and having an outline will help me keep track of plot elements and character arcs. Structure is important, and I want to be sure to think ahead so I don't write myself into a corner.

5. Write!

This part scares me. So much. What if I can't make it past a few thousand words? What if my outline doesn't work and I get stuck? What if all I do is open the document and then proceed to surf the web instead of actually working on it? What if I do write something but it's absolutely awful? What if it turns out I'm not cut out to be a writer because I secretly hate writing?

I don't know how I will handle the writing part. I never wrote more than a few brief scenes before. I also never had a complete outline either, so maybe that will help. I don't know. I think I will need word count goals and schedules but I think I will probably fail those and then feel discouraged and not want to write. And I will probably want to edit as I write. Well. I'll worry about it more when I get to that phase. I'm sure I'll be struggling with this a lot. At least that means I will have material to blog about, hm?

6. Repeat 2-5 with a new project

OMG IF I EVER FINISH I WILL BE SO ECSTATIC. When I'm not beating myself up because I think what I wrote is a pile of crap, that is. I'll let myself celebrate a little and resist the urge to dive back in and fix stuff by distracting myself with a new story. I hope I make it to this part.

7. Revise first novel

I'm actually looking forward to revision. How cool is it to be able to read a book and fix all the things you think are wrong with it? I will be so happy to let my inner editor run rampant (though I should probably remind her to be kind, as I don't want me to be too discouraged). I have no idea how much work I'll have to do at this point but I think it'll be fun to see what I've written and try to improve it. Or maybe I'm being delusional and I will actually want to bash my head against a wall and tear my hair out if I make it to this stage. Huh. I guess we'll see.

So, there you go! A general overview of how I'm planning to go about this writing project. Although I did leave out one important element in this plan (there's a brief mention, but nothing concrete). Well, probably more than one, but there's one specific thing I'm thinking of. I don't have a good track record regarding that aspect of planning, so I sort of dread thinking about it. But it's important, so I guess I'll force myself to talk about it in my next post. Can you tell what it is?

If you notice anything else I've overlooked or have any advice or words of wisdom for me, please share! I'm open to suggestions for revising my plan and I would love to learn from your experience. :)


  1. Revisions are my favorite part or writing. You already have the book done, so it's just a matter of polishing. I find that part so relaxing (compared to the actual writing stage).  Good luck!

  2. Thanks! I know some writers are more excited about the exploratory aspect of
    drafting, but I like having things neat and tidy. :)

  3. "What if I do write something but it's absolutely awful?"

    Then you wait until #7 and revise the hell out of it :)

    Good luck with your writing plan! If you are dreading the writing part you may want to look into NaNoWriMo ( Get it done as quick and dirty as possible, with friends! :)

  4. Thanks, Becka! I know the first draft is supposed to be awful and that
    revision is there... but I think some part of me still hates the idea of
    creating crap. I guess it's unavoidable, though. :P I've never been really
    good with NaNoWriMo, but maybe this year will be the year? I'll try to plot
    everything out first...

  5. The best advice I can give is to do exactly what you said you're going to do - commit to an idea and finish it. As writers, we learn a lot by actually finishing a draft and it makes the next one better and easier.

    If you're afraid you won't actually write, set a daily/weekly word goal and assign a reward for if you finish and a consequence for if you don't. Hugely motivational ;) But for the word goals (you said you were afraid you'd set them and fail), make them little at first. Like 500 words a day or 2000 words a week. That's a great way to increase confidence.

    And if you get stuck, ask for help (either on Twitter at #MyWANA, by posting on your blog, or by contacting other authors via Facebook). Sometimes someone else has faced the same thing you are and knows how to beat it. Or they'll help you brainstorm a solution.

    I'm a full-time freelancer, and sometimes even I hate writing. But I love the feeling of having written. It's kind of like exercise. I hate working out, but I love fitting into my clothes.

    That's my two cents. Hope it wasn't too much :)

    Twitter @MarcyKennedy:twitter

  6. Thanks so much, Marcy! I am so grateful you took the time to offer your
    advice. :)

    It's true, I'm deathly afraid of failure... I just have to remember I can't
    succeed without it. Starting small is a great idea. I hate exercising too,
    unfortunately -- but you're right that it feels great afterward, haha.

  7. Good luck, Linda! In my opinion, you're already on the right path because you've thought through your steps. Developing a writing process is a process in itself so give yourself plenty of room for learning what works, and doesn't work, for you. Once you get through with book #1, do the same as you plan for book #2 (and there will have to be a book #2!), and then by book #3 you'll really start working out the kinks.

    It's part of the fun, I promise! Can't wait to follow along with you. I wish I had been so thoughtful when I was 20! :)

  8. Thanks for believing I'll get that far! I don't think I even have that much
    faith in myself, haha. But I'm excited to try and see how it goes. :) Thanks
    for the encouragement!

  9. Less talk, more action! :P

    I do identify with this post because I share your need for having context and a sense of direction. Have you read the story "The Library of Babel" by Jorge Luis Borges, Linda? If not, something tells me you'd like it. Penguin published a great translation of that story in "Collected Fictions." I am loathe to recommend books to anyone, so please don't hunt me down and shoot me if it doesn't end up tickling your fancy. I just think it's relevant because the protagonist of "The Library of Babel" is literally trying to find his way through a labyrinth made of words. I think most fiction writers can identify with that search for meaning and justification of the journey.

    One quick, much more practical tip: try outlining on index cards. Nabokov wrote his novels on index cards, and I've come to love the medium for everything from songwriting to longer pieces of fiction. They allow you to write a definite sequence and rubber band them all together. You can quickly and easily reorder plot elements. You can remove anything, rewrite it, and put it back. You can isolate one section of the outline and alter it until it's perfect. 

    It's also just really satisfying to accumulate a brick of cards. 

    I don't know if that's helpful to you, but I've found index cards great for creating an outline that breathes and adapts quickly to the surprises that accompany writing.

    Keep us updated!

  10. Nope, haven't read it, but I'll put it on my list! Hehe I definitely won't
    shoot you if I don't like it, though I may hunt you down so we can discuss
    it, whether I liked it or not. :P

    Great idea about index cards! It does sound like fun.

    Thanks for the rec and for the tip! :D I really appreciate your comments.