Monday, June 19, 2017

Yet more proof that there is no single process for writing a novel

While I was writing my first novel, I spent an inordinate amount of time looking for books on "how to write a novel." Most of them concentrated on the early stages, like getting inspiration, while offering tips on how to find time and/or make a habit of writing, so you could produce the seemingly vast quantities of material required to constitute the finished product.

This was well and fine, but I already had inspiration. And, at that time anyway, I had enough time and self-discipline to create enough material. What I wanted to know was something like--how do you build a plot? Do you outline or not? What if the outline changes every day? How do you know if some thread is worth pursuing or not?

The short answer to all these questions, I discovered later, is "Don't worry about it." Not only does everyone have a different process, I suspect that everyone has a different process for each book. There are many maps; all can get you home.

For example, in the past, I've thought it a bad idea to show my writing group (or anyone) chapters as I wrote them. I thought it best to wait till at least one full draft and probably one revision was done, so that I knew what I was doing before receiving critiques. I didn't want to spend all my time second-guessing and revising; I needed to keep moving forward.

But now, here's why I think the opposite can be true. When you are still planning and plotting and inching forward, chapter by chapter, showing people chapters as you go can give you a good idea of what's coming across, what's interesting, what's likely (though not necessarily) going to cause trouble, which characters they "get" and which they don't.

The risk with this approach is that you may want to immediately start revising the previous chapters based on this feedback. And then you'll never write more than fifty pages--rather, you'll write the same 50 pages 20 times and then (if you're me) collapse in frustration. 

But if you can just *take note of* the feedback, say in something called a "notebook," and keep going, that feedback can provide guidance for moving forward. Not absolute direction--you are not handing control of your manuscript over to anyone else--but guidance. What do you need to keep an eye out for as you move forward? What *might* this interesting but still-unformed character turn into and contribute? What plot twist might readers absolutely never accept unless you do it extremely, extremely well? In the early going of my latest venture, this has proven extremely useful. Maybe it wouldn't have been for another novel, but for this one, I think it's only helping. And the encouragement to keep going is damn essential.

This is all to say, as many have said before me, there is no one way or right way to write a novel. Whatever keeps you moving forward is what you need to do.

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