3 Things to Consider When Writing A Novel

These three questions aren’t in any particular order, and they certainly aren’t irrefutable nuggets of truth. My ideas about writing may not match your ideas, and that’s perfectly alright. These questions simply explore what I have experienced and felt as both a writer and a reader, and I wanted to share them.

A Note: While I’ve geared this post toward novel-writing, I’m fairly sure it’s applicable to not only other forms of writing, but really to any form of creative expression.

This is huge. HUGE. You can’t write without a reason. Or, come to think of it, you could—theoretically—but there’s a 95% chance that whatever you wrote would be crap.

There are thousands upon thousands of reasons why people write. It can be therapeutic, rewarding, entertaining, but it has to be something. You wouldn’t spend $1 million on a mosquito, would you? (For those of you who answered yes to that question, kindly escort yourself away from my blog and into a mental hospital, please and thank you.) Not unless you had a reason for buying that mosquito. Maybe the mosquito is actually a robot and you are a collector. Maybe the mosquito is the last mosquito on earth and you are a (deranged) scientist who wants to preserve the species. But there is a reason you want that mosquito.

In the same way (leaving the horrid mosquito metaphor behind), you must have a reason for writing. Maybe you’re writing to make money (good luck, mate); maybe you’re writing to distract yourself from something unpleasant in your environment; maybe you’re writing because some mad bloke is holding a gun to your head demanding you write him a sonnet.

Whatever the reason, it must exist, and it must be solid. Otherwise, you can write, but you can’t create.

Personally, I write because I enjoy it. It’s fun, it’s interesting, and I’m good at it. That’s my reason. What’s yours?

This isn’t particularly related to formatting, although that’s certainly something else to consider. But what do you want your novel to be? Do you want it to be cute and fun like Pulling Princes? Dark and dangerous like Dracula? Charming and magical like Matilda? Write with the spirit of your idea. If you’re going to write about a murderer hunting his next victim, don’t drop in slapstick humor just for the hell of it. If you’re writing a children’s book, don’t build a plot around real estate marketing or quantum physics research. Consider your content, your objective, and your own personality, and write with a certain tone already in mind. This will help you not only get to know your story better, but help you write it better too. A lot of writers don’t plot everything out from the beginning, but the good ones have at least the feel of the story and write every word to fit that particular mood.

3 Things3

This is sort of a trick question. You ought to be writing for your own sake, because you want to or you need money or some other reason that involves you. Writing is in many ways a selfish occupation, and using it for gain, healing, or entertainment is one of its primary functions for people. You must write for yourself before you can write for anyone else.

But with that note aside, consider your potential audience. You may not plan for your novel to ever see the light of day, which is perfectly alright, but if you have even a smidgen of an inkling that someone other than yourself might someday lay eyes on your work, think about that. Think about the kinds of people your book may attract and ask yourself what you would say to that group if given the chance. If you’re writing a teen romance, who might pick up that book? Teenage girls, of course. So what would you say to a teenage girl? What advice would you have to offer her? Perhaps you might want to remind her that breakups aren’t the end of the world, or her own self-worth is more important than any boy, or there are worse things in life than having zits or nagging mothers.

This isn’t something that you necessarily have to incorporate into your novel. Your theme doesn’t need to revolve around any particular gem of wisdom you have for your audience, but it will likely be influenced by how you answer this question.

The Art of Writing Bullshit

Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes I feel like writing is rather like acting. In order to be great, you have to be willing to make a fool out of yourself. Now actors, don’t be offended, but the stage and screen require a certain dose of silliness to be authentic; I find it is the same with writing. To write empathetically, to write from the heart, you have to move past fear and give yourself over to your most ridiculous fantasies. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be afraid–you bloody well ought to be–but writing is an outlet for insanity, and thus deserves to be indulged.

So, with that attitude in mind, try your best to write bullshit. Don’t allow your brain to censor your mind. Don’t be afraid to write stupid things, or impossible things, or mad things, as long as you do write. Part of the fun of writing is just that: having fun. There are no right or wrong answers on the page. There are only words, and what you choose to do with those words is your gift and your legend, so set your plans and your literary expertise aside for awhile and just let the bullshit flow. After all, there’s always time to go back and revise. But restricting your own imagination to the confines of what you feel or have been told is appropriate defeats the entire point of writing; without putting those organic, crazy, unrefined thoughts onto paper, you have no base to build on. How can you edit something physically if you’ve already edited it mentally?

Take my advice: write bullshit. Get it out. Don’t try to tame your imagination. Let it do what it wants. You can worry and fuss about the details later.

 

The Power of Your Imagination

Disclaimer: I was inspired to write this partly by this video by one of my new favorite YouTubers, the fabulous Meghan Rosette. I should warn you now that I’ve decided not to restrain myself in this post; therefore, prepare for colorful swearing and uniquely-flavored punctuation.

It strikes me that as writers, we are nearly always incredibly self-conscious. It’s practically guaranteed that if you write, you have a veritable library of insecurities and doubts about yourself, your craft, your ideas, your characters, your future, etc… Why do we have these insecurities? Why do we constantly nitpick at what we may or may not be doing wrong in our writing? We worry about our POVs, our literary style, our marketability, possible traits our story may share with a famous work like Harry Potter or Twilight that would doom us to “copycat status” as authors. There’s so much pressure to be unique and sophisticated and artistic and we read articles and books on how to write when really, really truly, we already know the formula. You sit at your desk, on your bed, on your couch, in a coffee shop, wherever you like, open up your notebook or laptop, and set pen to paper or fingers to keys.

It’s not hard. And yet the simplicity of making art is such a brilliant trap. It is so easy to believe that there’s something yet to learn, another trick of the trade, another inside look at a published author’s methods. We make writing into so much more and so much less than it is. Because what is writing? What is the real, honest-to-God definition of writing? To me, writing is peace. To you, writing may be adventure. To a young boy writing a haiku in his freshman English class, writing may be work. To an old woman with a notebook always at hand, writing may be comfort.

There is always, I suppose, something to improve on when writing, but that is the catch. That’s the reason so many writers don’t make it. We are fundamentally afraid of risk. We are afraid of using that word or keeping that paragraph or making that joke and it’s so stupid. Writing is a business, yes. But first, always first, it is an outlet. You enjoy it, you exercise it, you do with it whatever you please, because if you aren’t writing what you WANT to write, you aren’t writing at all. Writing is the act of giving over to imagination and playing God with your own world, your own characters and stories and places, and there’s no point in doing it for others. Fuck the business. Business makes art dispensable. We stick prices onto what is priceless and call it an industry and that’s okay, that’s alright. But to think of all the people, all the creative energy that has snuffed itself out by second-guessing, by hesitating to upset the unwritten etiquette of writing…it makes me angry and, more than anything, sad. What great stories have we missed because of writers’ constitutional perfectionism?

My novel, if one judged merely by the bones, would be considered YA. But because I don’t want to sacrifice incredible characters and unique plotlines for the sake of an audience that doesn’t even exist yet, I am letting myself do exactly what I want. There’s sex, and taboos, and gruesome violence, and complex villains that you love as much as the protagonists, and it’s pure. It’s what I envisioned, what I saw in my head all along.

I can’t understand why people would even want to restrain themselves and reign in all the power of creation they possess. As a writer, you possess extraordinary gifts. Use them for yourself. Give yourself over to the power of your imagination and let yourself tell the story you want to write. When and if others read your words, you won’t have to wonder if you could have done better. You won’t have to worry and regret over choices you made along the way. The business can make art commercial, but what’s the point in that if you haven’t even let yourself make that art the best it can be?

To Be A Writer

So during the past week or so I’ve been having some trouble getting into gear on my draft, mostly due to my own lazy, procrastinating ways. I know I’m not the only one who does this, so I’m not exactly brokenhearted over my faults, but it does frustrate me that I always find excuses or ways to delay sitting down at my desk and trudging through the process when I feel like doing anything other than writing.

We all have those days, those weeks, those months, where things don’t go right, or we would rather go out with friends and see that movie, or we just plain don’t feel like it. And that’s fine. It happens. It’s okay. There is nothing wrong with losing your groove and falling off the writing wagon. There is nothing wrong with having chinks in your armor, in being afraid or unsure or disinterested in your project. And some people, myself included, often don’t realize that. No one is perfect, least of all a writer. By our very definition, we are made up of flaws and mistakes and our great love is to write about those flaws and mistakes and make them into a story. So it’s okay to have doubts or want to slack off.

It’s okay to even actually slack off once in a while, but when it happens, we need to remind ourselves of a few things.

1. Why we write.

2. What we love about our stories.

3. How we will feel when we finally have a completed manuscript in our hands.

I write because in writing, I find my confidence, and in writing I feel hope for tomorrow and the life ahead of me. I love my story’s characters, its rich setting, and the possibilities it holds. When (not if) I hold that completed manuscript, to be honest, I’ll probably be more brain-dead than anything else. But later, when I lay in bed at night or when I’m driving or eating breakfast, I’ll remember the journey of that manuscript and what it took to get the final product in my hands. That will be the proudest moment of my life.

I can’t wait for that day and I hope, I pray, I dream that I don’t forget a single second of what brought me there.

The Hot Dog Technique

So in the past week I haven’t written a word of chapter 4. That isn’t to say I haven’t been writing; I have, just not what I’m technically supposed to be. I’ve been doing exercises, free-writes, diagrams, charts, lists, but nothing concrete to say for the actual rough draft. I think doing these exercises has helped a lot with de-blocking me for chapter 4…but wait, I should probably explain said blockage, huh?

Okay, so last week when I reached the fourth chapter I was feeling accomplished and great and overall writer-spiffy, but chapter 4 holds some important plotty events which I hadn’t quite worked out the technical aspects of at the time. So I got stuck, trying to dig out how exactly to write what happens. Enter in the Hot Dog Technique.

(Okay, so it isn’t really called that, but I like the name so what the hell.)

I read it somewhere a while back (sorry, but I honestly don’t remember a website or book to point y’all in the right direction), and at first I didn’t think much of it, but then I tried it just because, and wow. What you do is simply this: with no punctuation or fretting about sentence structure/grammar/spelling WHATSOEVER (that’s pretty much the most important aspect of the exercise), write to the middle of the page and when you get there go to the next line. It helps to fold the paper in half, hot dog style (the vast majority of people will remember this from elementary school) and only write to the crease of the fold, then to the next line, then the next. Like so:032
This technique helped a ton because its purpose is to free you from distractions like over-thinking  The only true rule there is to follow is to only write to the middle of the page, and even that isn’t required. It gets you out of those holes you dig yourself into, and it also loosens you up and forces you to stop thinking and just write. If you haven’t tried it before, I highly recommend it.

So now I’m sort of unblocked, and hopefully this chapter won’t be too rough on my nerves. I hope everyone else is having a great week!

 

Books books books!

So, with holiday money racking up (always lovely) I’ve had the chance to purchase a few goodies for my bookshelf. At the moment, I’m in the middle of a wonderful book called The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray and Bret Norris. While reading it for the past week or so whenever I caught a free moment, I’ve had several epiphanies about my own novel series that I’m both excited and irritated about. I’m sure most if not all writers have experienced the moments when, completely out of the blue, an idea hits you that will pulverize both your plot and your sanity which, while not necessarily a bad thing, tends to be a bit like pulling the rug out from under you. That’s what’s happened to me. Three times. In five days. I’m hanging on by a coffee-soaked thread.

For one, I found out that my leading character, whom I originally thought was unknowingly adopted as a baby and never told his true parents’ identities, was in fact raised by his father. In the woods.

I also found out that the novel does not take off with the death of the MC‘s adopted mother, but with the capture and kidnapping of his biological father. Naturally and unsurprisingly, I have yet to be informed of exactly how said father is captured and ‘napped.

And the quaint forest village where he was originally raised turned into a city fortress built into the side of a mountain.

Lovely.

However, I think, despite my exasperation with this strange new direction the story is taking me, I quite like the idea of writing it.

But back to the book. I highly recommend it to any writer, especially those who have trouble finding time to write. I do have some warnings about it, though not everyone may necessarily be bothered by the same things I am. The style and structure of the book can be restricting in some ways; it reads like a week-by-week lesson plan, with specific exercises and lots of plotting and character work. Each chapter is intended for a certain number of weekends, and while you can skip certain sections that aren’t interesting or valid to you personally, you would do well to read all of the chapters so that you can understand the book thoroughly. I enjoy the plotting exercises especially because I happen to be a bit of a plotter and I enjoy working out the kinks in a story and fleshing out ideas. Using this book’s suggestions and an old sketch book I found lying around the house, I’ve been having quite a time exploring the ideas of Ray and Norris and it’s really benefited both me and my novel. They both seem to be very seasoned writers and it shows in the way they approach writing. One thing that they focus heavily on which I’m not crazy about is “objects”. A good number of lessons focus on developing objects to associate with characters and situations, which in itself is a great thing to mention; however, 40+ pages are spent on this topic and after a while it gets tedious. I found myself skimming a lot of it.

This book has been really handy for plotting and character work, but I’m more than halfway through it and they haven’t even begun approaching the actual writing of the novel, which seems a bit odd to me considering they claimed in the introduction that, using the book’s methods, the reader is supposed to have a completed rough draft. I’m not particularly trying for a completed draft in 52 weekends, but it would be nice if the book didn’t seem to stray so much from its original purpose.

Having spewed out that mini-rant, I would still definitely recommend it as an addition to your bookshelf. There are many exercises in it which have helped to get me out of a tight spot, and it’s very easy to follow, with examples from both published books and samples from the authors’ own writing.

I hope everyone has had a wonderful holiday season surrounded by those you love and those who love you, and fingers crossed that this coming year is a great one!

 

Writing Tidbits/The Writer’s Memoirs 5-1-2012

So, seeing as how I was a complete fail at posting this past week, I’ve decided to sort of mesh two posts into one. I’ve been completely exhausted for the past week, and next week isn’t looking much better, seeing as finals are just around the corner. My writing has definitely taken a backseat to school, which frustrates me because I really feel ready to dive headfirst into this novel.

But in other news, my muse has suddenly started cranking out all these other ideas, so whenever I’m actually able to spare a few minutes to write, my mind isn’t focused on Glenbrooke Hall, but on my other half-assed ideas. I’m working on channeling all that creativity into my WIP, but my brain is being difficult about it, so fingers crossed that it does what I tell it to do. I might buy a book to help me.

So, while I’m on the subject, how do we “channel our creativity”? One thing that always helps me (though this only pertains to my *cough*fanfiction*cough*) is to go back and reread my story reviews or the emails between me and my crit partner. This always makes me happy and smiley and ready to try getting a few more compliments out of my readers (yes, I’m shamelessly needy when it comes to compliments, they always make my day). But, unfortunately, too often I find myself closing the doc, either not in the mood or just too distracted to write. And it frustrates me because I know my story, I know my plot, I know my characters, and I love its potential, but I can’t seem to find my way out of this funk or discipline myself enough just to write, even if what I write is utter crap.

Do you have a special method/technique/ancient remedy that you use? If so, I’d love to hear it. I’m getting just a wee bit desperate. :(

Writing Tidbits 4-14-2012

Music and Writing

Over the years I have heard many different opinions on listening to music during writing sessions. Some say it “gets you in the mood”, while others say it is distracting and/or unhelpful. Personally, I tend to lean towards as little noise as possible. There are a few times when I listen to music, usually instrumental, but for the most part, I just make sure all the TVs are off and none of my neighbors are mowing their lawns.

I used to take a page from Stephenie Meyer’s book and create a soundtrack for my books, but I’ve fallen out of the practice, mostly because I tend to get so engrossed in picking the right songs that I forget about the actual story. I’m very easily distracted, and I find that I can’t make any stops, so to speak, on the story’s road. In order to be productive, I can’t afford to let myself be swept away by anything other than outlining or writing.

This is one of those practices that varies by author, and I’m very curious to know what other writers do. Is music a part of your writing session, or do you prefer a different environment?

Writing Tidbits 3-31-2012

Naming Your Characters

So recently I’ve been getting back in the swing of heavy writing/outlining/character-sketching, and one of the issues that has come up multiple times involves names. Sometimes you don’t realize how hard it is to actually sit down and find that perfect name for your character until you actually do it.

When I first came up with the basic idea of my novel a few years ago, I had everyone’s names ready to go. Now, after a bit of time and distance, I’ve come back to the story with a new way of thinking and an evolved plotline and new characters. New characters that need new names. Sigh…

One of my all-time favorite methods of name-finding is simply checking out a site like http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames/, entering my character’s birth year, and seeing what comes up. Oftentimes the results are just what I’m looking for.

But then there are those blasted other times, when for the life of me I can’t think of a single name on the planet that could properly fit this character. And unfortunately, there is no tried-and-true method of naming your characters. It’s sort of a YOYO (You’re-On-Your-Own) thing.

Sites like http://babynames.com/ can be very helpful if you’re looking for names based on something like ethnicity or meaning (though I’d be very careful with naming characters based on meaning, as the name should still be memorable and not too off-the-beaten-path unless there’s a valid reason for it). This website actually has a page linked on the home page just for writers (http://www.babynames.com/character-names.php), with some great advice on it.

Make sure, as you continue your search, to jot down any and all possible names that you come across, even if you’re not sure about them. Gather them together and see if anything sticks out to you. If so, great; if not, keep looking. You’ll find one eventually.