I’ve been writing novels for most of my life, but the last few years have been more prolific for me than ever, and I think it’s because I’ve found a method which works perfectly for me.
I have ideas for stories and I write them down, but besides keeping idea notes or bits of random scenes, I won’t actually start writing on a manuscript until I know how I want it to end. This forces me to know what the point of the story is, and to foreshadow clues to the ending all the way through.
I will create a loose outline of the story, and I’ll have some notes on the main characters — all of which are subject to change. As new characters introduce themselves I keep notes on them after they appear that I can refer to later if needed — this becomes important later.
I use my phone’s camera a lot to take pictures of interesting settings I wander into in daily life. I may never use them, but they go into a stash which I can pull from later.
As the story progresses, I will face blank pages where I don’t exactly know how to get the characters from point A to B, or more likely A to G, because my outline is so open and vague. I’ll draw inspiration from my actual surroundings or, if I’m sitting at home at my desk, I’ll either draw inspiration from Google Maps street view (in the case of something set on Earth) or from where I teleport to randomly in virtual reality (Second Life or Open Sim, etc.) or, more often than not, I either use a memory from my own life, or I pull from the stash of settings photos I’ve taken with my phone camera.
I will also pull actual events from my own past, modified to fit the context of the story, so that there is always autobiographical bits and pieces included. Conflicts and sex scenes especially. This way my so-called misspent youth was not entirely misspent, and the story is well and truly my own.
As the writing progresses, usually at about the 2/3rd point where I used to bog down, I throw away my outline and create a new one that is more in line with what I’ve actually written. By this point the ending may have also changed — though by now I have fully established a theme, which I do not change. It used to be I’d always bog down at the 2/3rd point because I would be struggling to reconcile the direction of the outline, which had grown stale, with the direction my story was trying to go. Now I go back through the manuscript and and refer heavily to what has transpired to inform my new outline and new ending. This keeps it fresh and exciting for me, as writer, as I expand on what is now familiar territory. Also I’m now no longer forcing anything for the sake of plot. The flow remains natural, and it makes sense.
The ending of the story will jump out and tackle me as I write it, much like a cat leaping out from around a corner to grab my feet. And then, I’m done. I type “The End” and feel really good about it.
I let the manuscript sit for at least three months without looking at it, while I work on other things (lately, it’s while I work on the next manuscript). But after I’ve let it sit for those 90 days, it allows me to forget many of the details, so that when I go back and do the rewriting I can be more objective, as if I’m refining someone else’s work — because, really, I am. None of us are the same person we were 90 days ago. We’re very similar, but we’re no longer the same person. Time changes us.
Huh … there’s a new story idea right there. The God of Time changes us into new people. Hmm…
I think I’ll put that in my notes.
Dedicating only one hour a day to your fiction writing doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s a lot easier to do than several hours, and much easier to maintain.
You’ll find that you’ll make more progress with that simple one hour a day than you will with sporadic binge writing.
Also, one hour a day of writing will give you a heck of a lot more progress than zero hours a day writing.
You may (or may not have) heard that Google now gives away their professional version of Google Earth:
You don’t even have to fill out the form. Just download, install, and sign in with your email address and the password GEPFREE
This is a great tool for fiction writers who want to explore the setting of a scene in a place that you may not have visited in a while (or have never visited). The Pro version includes street view, but here’s where it’s a plus: the street view pictures are very high resolution. Example below…
That’s the tree I grew up in, in front of the house that burned down a week before my dad died. There was quite an elaborate tree house in that tree back in the 1970’s. The resolution of this photo is 24 megapixels, the same as if I’d snapped the picture with my very own DSLR.
While I no longer believe Google is going by it’s “Don’t be evil” mantra, at least they’re still giving us some pretty cool tools.
This goes out to anyone who dreams of being a writer, and especially to those tortured souls doing NaNoWriMo each November.
Follow the Great Nike Way: Just do it.
If you write something, even if it’s unpubished or unpublishable, you are still writing. That’s what writers primarily do. They write.
If you are writing, and you say you are a writer, then you are a writer. You don’t need a permit, or certificate, or a degree that states you are a writer. You don’t need anyone’s approval — in fact I would hazard to say the more disapproval you get from others, the more legitimate your claim. You are a writer because you say you are a writer, and you actively write things.
If you want to be a writer, then just start writing. Anything. It doesn’t have to be good. It doesn’t even have to make sense. It could be fanfiction — it doesn’t matter.
That’s what the yearly NaNoWriMo craziness is especially useful for: jumpstarting your lifelong love/hate relationship with writing things.
If I never audaciously made the claim, to just about everyone’s amusement and scorn, that I am a writer, I would never have been published, and I wouldn’t be making my living right now as a working writer. It’s not my title, but it’s a big part of what I do, and I wouldn’t be able to do it if I were not, in fact, a writer.
But even if I wasn’t earning my keep as a writer, I would still say I’m a writer because that’s what I am.
It’s a chicken and egg thing. One of the two has to have come first, otherwise there would not be any chickens. You will not become a writer until you decide you are one. Once you decide you are one, start typing words. And then make the commitment and tell someone, “I’m a writer.”
Expect people to guffaw. “Really? Are you published?”
That’s usually when your face turns red. But guess what? It matters not. If you keep writing you will be published. And, an unpublished writer is still a writer. Publishing, especially in this day and age, is inevitable, because you now have a number of options, only one of which is traditional publishing. Your goals should only be two-fold at this point:
- Start writing and keep writing.
- Do everything you can to keep learning how to make your writing ever more enjoyable for your reader.
Notice I didn’t say anything about making your writing better. “Better” is extremely subjective. No matter what you do, someone will hate your writing. Accept it. Shrug it off. It’s true in everything in this weird thing we call “life.” You can never please everyone. Someone will always look down their nose at you.
You goal cannot be to please everyone otherwise you are guaranteeing failure. Your goal is to find and cultivate a core group of people who “get” your writing, and make it ever more enjoyable for them to read you.
I’ll cover that, and lots of other stuff, in future blogs … so stay tuned!
Better yet, enter your email address at the top left of this website, and subscribe!
When my ADD is in full swing, like it has been over the past week, I fall back to using a method called the Pomodoro Technique. It really works for me if I can force myself to do it.
The practice is very simple. Using a timer, you set it for 25 minutes and work on something (in my case, a novel) without allowing anything to interrupt. No email, no checking Ello, no texting my girlfriend — nothing in those 25 minutes but work on my novel. After the 25 minutes is done, I set the timer again to 5 minutes and can do whatever the hell I want. This is my payoff. Then it’s another 25 minutes followed by another 5, etc. After four periods of 25 minutes (these time periods are called pomodori) I give myself 30 minutes to do whatever I want.
The big payoff.
Somehow, knowing you’re getting these payoff time periods helps circumvent interrupting yourself to check email, etc., while trying to work on the thing your ADD is trying to keep you from working on.
I thought I’d share this in case anyone else has this problem, and hasn’t heard of the technique.
There’s a plethora of apps for it, by the way, many of them free. It helps automate the process.
A common mistake fiction writers make is to over-identify with a main character, and endow him or her with all the traits the writer would wish for personally. They never make mistakes, always have a snappy comeback, and often exhibit superhuman intellect. Characters of the opposite sex will fall at their feet in worship.
This is the writer’s ego character.
No matter how much fun you have writing this character, beware of it. More times than not your readers will find the character embarrassing and awkward to read. As a fiction writer, you want your readers to identify and cheer your characters on, but this will not happen when they do everything right and never make mistakes.
People don’t fall in love with the perfection in people, they fall in love with the imperfections. The mightiest heroes have flaws and weaknesses. Sherlock Holms was always broke and suffered addictions. Superman succumbed to kryptonite and had romantic problems. Captain Kirk was an egomaniac and a sex addict.
The best thing you can do for your character is give them lots of faults and problems, and have them succeed despite their handicaps. Remember, everyone loves a Cinderella story. Everyone loves an underdog.
Note: This was originally posted here on October 16, 2006. I brought it back up to the top feeling it was relevant for National Novel Writer’s Month.