Monday, July 23, 2007

So, You Want to Write a Novel?

Guest blog post by Elena Bowman. Check out here website here.

f your work has been written, bound, and someone else is the audience, does anyone really have to be paid for their work to be published? Is it less valued if the work has been for one's family rather than the marketplace? Or is it valued because someone simply believed that what you have written is worth reading?

Stop dreaming about being a writer. Stop thinking about being a writer. Stop talking about writing. Just write. Use paper and pen, word processor, typewriter or tape recorder, but start. Then follow through until you've said what you must. Remember, there's always editing tomorrow.

You should have an idea or two that you'd like to write about. Some authors like to create an outline before beginning a story or a book. I tried it once, but found it to be restrictive, so I no longer outline, I prefer to let the creative juices run their own course. You don't have to be structured at this point, because as you write, you may decide to reposition some of your paragraphs or chapters to other parts of the book. Once you've started to put the first words on paper (or a file in the computer), just continue to write. Try to do at least 10 pages, 20 is better, (double-spaced) a day. Always finish the sentence or paragraph you are working on before you stop writing. If possible jot down a few notes on where you think you'll be going with the story before you leave it so you won't start out cold the next time. You don't really have to know the ending before you start. It will come in time.

When you begin again, reread what you have written the previous time, and continue on. You'd be surprised how much you can accomplish by doing this. You don't have to know the ins and outs of a particular place from a first hand experience as long as you do research on the subject or area you are writing about. Writers, artists, and crafts people learn from their mistakes as well as creating good work. No creative person created a masterpiece without many words, brush strokes, or stitches in their needlework. It is the sum total of a person's work that allows her to become skilled. One must write every day and evaluate and rewrite later. There can always be rework of the original, but there must be an original.

Remember it's only the first draft it's not cast in stone. Make time to write. Early morning or late at night. I started writing after the kids went to bed and continued to two or three in the morning before my husband turned out the lights. (I had to go to work the next day). Like exercise, it is hard to get started and hard to be self-disciplined, but the process becomes the reward. It simply feels good doing it. The pleasure and absorption of the creative person is its own reward.

I found myself writing during working hours when something popped into my head. If it's not possible to do this (write during working hours) try using a recorder. A thought here, a sentence there, and when you reread your notes, you can come up with a chapter or two. This is important because one can never recapture those fleeting thoughts, even if one thinks so. Once gone, it seldom re-emerges. Always carry a tape recorder or small notebook with you so you can jot down these precious gems when they make themselves known.
When writing don't think about the big picture. Concentrate only on one chapter at a time. If the opening paragraph stumps you go to the next and go on from there. Before you know it, looking back, you've accomplished far more that you could have imagined possible. As a race-horse must wear blinders to keep himself from being frightened by distractions, so too must writers keep their focus on smaller portions of their environment to enable concentration and creativity. Remember, for writers, the key to success in writing is focus, focus, focus.

Don't get hung up on words. If you can't come up with the right word you want to use to begin with, place something similar in that spot that will trigger your memory and research it later. When I'm stuck on a particular thought or paragraph, I put a couple of asterisks in bold letters in the problem area and continue working elsewhere. Initials will work too. When I'm ready to go back and tackle the problem, or insert missing data or details, I use the search and replace feature on my word processor to find those asterisks and get going again. Always keep a Thesaurus or Synonym Finder by your side as you write. I do.

Always get to know your characters. Define your characters by filling out a character chart on each one. Detail everything you'd like your character to be and how you expect your character to behave. This way, when the character in question does something or acts out of character you'll know something isn't right.

Setting is most significant in a mystery story. But it's just as important in other stories as well. If you can't visit various sites for atmosphere, research.

Certain moments in real life seem to imprint themselves on one's brain. Why these particular scenes are locked in is unclear but analyzing them and describing them can be useful to your stories, either the one you're working on or another at some other time.

What's the first thing you do when you put together a jigsaw puzzle? Several answers are suggested -- find the corner pieces, find the straight edges, do the top, bottom, and sides, etc. But the answer really is: The first things you do is pour out all the pieces on the table, and then you sort them out.

Now when writing an article or articulating an idea write — without any thought to form or structure. Pour out all your ideas for the piece into your computer. After that, rearrange your thoughts. Print a draft copy so you can refer back to particular phrases after you start changing the sequence of your original thoughts. This simple puzzle idea really helps keep one on track.

The technique of clustering to record the first flush of unorganized ideas about a subject helps to quickly jot down fleeting thoughts about people and places.

All stories must have conflict — good versus evil, a triumph over a problem. Always ask yourself — what's the conflict in my story. How did my subject overcome it?

Research, research, research information you wish to include in your story. Even in fiction writing, when using any historical incidents, be sure they are accurate. There is nothing worse than a writer including in their work inaccurate historical references that can easily be dismissed by the reader, who may then do the same with your work.

Before you sit down to write, make sure (as much as possible) that all distractions have been eliminated so your creativity isn't disrupted. Always wear comfortable clothing; have something to drink nearby (ex. water, juice, coffee, hard stuff please) so you won't have to stop working to quench your thirst. The same applies to snacks and/or lunches — if you're working through.

So what if after all of the above, you can't get past the first three chapters of a novel? Don't despair. Put it aside and start something else. Perhaps they weren't meant to be a book on their own, only short stories, or, those chapters may come to fruition in another novel and at another time.

After printing out the first chapter, because everything always looks different when actually printed in black and white, re-read it, make corrections and changes in red (so it can be easily seen) then re-type, with emphasis on smoothness and continuity, before going on to the next chapter.

When all the chapters have been written, edited and printed out, and your story or book is finally complete, re-read the entire project making changes as you do. Re-type and repeat the process until you feel comfortable with what you have written before you let anyone else see or read it. Because if you get hung up on a sentence or section, so will the reader.

After my critic's have commented on my work and I have made the suggested changes and all seems well, I send it out to publishing houses and/or agents and wait. I try to keep three copies of a story out at one time. When rejections arrive, I immediately send my work out again to the next name on the list. But that was before I acquired an Agent, (which I no longer have). Still, I always keep duplicates of my work. Copies have been known to go astray before (and even after) reaching the editor's desk.

The most important factor to remember is, keep positive and keep writing. Perseverance will win out.


Cheryl said...

Excellent post with lots of great advice. I wonder what took me so long to get to the point where I finally put pen to paper. I guess I didn't want it badly enough then.

I like how you tied in your post to help fiction and nonfiction writers alike.

You've touched upon so many helpful things that I can't pick out the most useful piece of advice, but I guess it is all moot if we don't put pen to paper.

Thanks for sharing your insights with the members of StoryCrafters.

Cheryl M.

Anonymous said...

This is some of the best advice I've seen so far. Thank you so much for posting it. Sharon

Elena Dorothy Bowman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elena Dorothy Bowman said...

Hi, Cheryl and Sharon:

Thank you so much for posting your comments to my post. Thought this might help others, as it was advice I picked up along the way through trial and error.

Elena Dorothy Bowman
Journey to the Rim of Space and Beyond