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.

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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.

 

Let It Be

*ignoring the fact that I’ve been gone for months* So one of my very best friends, who also happens to be a writer, decided some time ago to turn her novel into her senior project for high school graduation. This basically means she spent twenty hours with her fantastic mentor Greg Wilkey, (a local writer whose books and other funsies can be found here), completed and revised her novel over the summer (well actually she’s still working on it even though school starts on Thursday), and is supposed to present the final product this fall to judges. It’s apparently the wussy version of the big-bad-bullying college theses. But the reason I bring up my friend’s situation is because the fact that she actually has a literal NOVEL under her belt (albeit not entirely polished) really pisses me off if I’m honest. Authors generally have overcome the inherent laziness that plagues most writers (especially moi), and my friend seems to be coming along respectably well. And you would think her success would be motivation for my competitive self to catch a fast train and attack my baby manuscript with determination.

Ha. Ha. Ha.

My competitiveness only extends as far as my mouth. I want badly to show everyone else up, and like most people, I have a dreadful tendency to brag on the occasion I do take the lead. I love feeling superior. But I am, for the majority of the time, unwilling to act on my ambitions. A major flaw? I definitely think so.

My novel originally started as a tale about a little girl who could turn herself into a lioness. It became a story about five young people who come from completely different worlds who are chosen to fight for the freedom their lands have lost. And the sheer amount of characters, plotlines, backgrounds, and culture is incredibly intimidating at times. Most people would probably frown and question why I’m making everything so difficult for myself. But I suppose when you have a story that you feel has greatness in it, the kind of characters you wish to God were real, the kind of places you could spend forever exploring, there’s not much to do but let that story grow in your mind. Sometimes the best poems, the best stories, the best art, the best music, come from people who are by no means experts in the craft, but who allow themselves to reach high from the beginning.

Of course, I could laud the magic of amateur creativity for days, but still there lies a far-from-finished novel sitting in my hard drive and it’s frustrating, I won’t lie. But I have to keep believing in it. Even if it takes me years to actually get off my ass and write it, I refuse to simply want myself to complete the final product. I expect it. I owe it to myself to write the story in my head and heart. You owe it to yourself. These stories aren’t just bits of our brain that we’ve plucked out; they can live, they can breathe, they can be, if we can find it in ourselves to let them.

As for me, I’m working on it.

I’m Not Dead, I Promise…

I’ve just been a little bit busy the past few weeks. I hope you’ve all been reading and writing wonderful things; I know I have. I’m currently lost in City of Bones, the first book in The Mortal Instruments series, which I’ll most likely review once I’m done with it (yes, I know I’m terribly late to the TMI party, shhh). I’m also working on doing a bit of plot-tweaking and solving a few somewhat big issues on my own project, so wish me good luck!

In more blog-related news, I’m considering writing a post about POVs. I’m having a mid-novel crisis about them at the moment, and I hope writing a post about will serve to help me sort it out and/or clear things up for you in some way. Let me know if this is something you’d be interested in (input is love after all).

Anyhow, I just thought I’d write a quick note to reaffirm my status as “alive and not dead/missing”. I hope you all are having a great February, and happy belated Love Day!

 

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!

 

Chapter 3!!!

Remember back when I got to Chapter 2 yesterday? Well, NOW I’M ON CHAPTER 3!!!

And chapter 3 is getting to be a real fun chapter. It’s got a lot of drama and dialogue and action, and it’s getting close to the real start-point, where the MC’s padre gets ‘napped by the bad guys and shit hits the fan. Wooooo.

My chapters are turning out to be short, like a few pages each, which I’m not sure how I feel about. I mean, there’s not necessarily anything wrong with short chapters, but I know that if I keep this up, the novel will end up being like 200 pages, which is not good at all. Do short chapters bother anyone else, or am I just the lone, picky wolf? Of course, I’m definitely not writing as well as I can, I’m just pounding out the words and making plenty of mistakes, because I want to make this rough draft as messy and fun to fix as possible, which goes against the grain to be honest. Even now, I’m fighting the urge to print out what I’ve got and take my vindictive, bitchy red pen to the whole mess until I feel like it’s bookstore-ready. I’m doing my best to not look at what I’ve written, and I’m going to try and do that until I’m done with the rough draft so I don’t give my inner critic any more ammo than she already has.

But on another topic, I’m almost done with The Weekend Novelist, and I’m looking for other books on writing to dive into before school starts destroying my brain cells again. I’m really interested in things concerning plot, the writing of the first draft, and especially time management since I’m a student and it can be really difficult to balance writing with schoolwork. If you have any recommendations, please comment and let me know!

Chapter 2!!!!

I am so beyond thrilled that in the course of a few days I have gotten to Chapter 2, and I’m actually liking where it’s going. I feel like not only has my story grown, but it actually makes a smidgen of sense.

So that’s that. Just, er, ordinary life o’ Ms. Bond. (NOT REALLY I CANNOT CONTAIN MY EXCITEMENT ABOUT THIS)

But what I really wanted to write about today is one of my big fears. I think letting it out might help with getting rid of said fear, so here it goes.

I have many fears about my writing. What writer doesn’t? If you don’t have fears, well frankly, you’re doing something wrong. I have a very specific fear, which results in a problem that has developed over time.

I have doubts. I’m very goal-oriented, and I know that my ultimate goal is to be published. Not self-publishing, because to me, I wouldn’t feel quite the same level of “I did it!” But when I write, I write with that goal in mind. And it gets in my way. I start wondering if there’s even a market for what I’m writing, if people will think it’s just a rip-off of other novels (it’s not, I promise, though obviously I have been inspired by some great stories like LOTR and the Inheritance series), if my writing is good enough, if people will get what I’m trying to say, if people will like what I’m saying, if it’s exciting enough, if the characters are good enough, if the plot is interesting enough.

What if everything is bad, and I spend hours and days and weeks and months and years writing and finishing and editing and creating this huge, complex story and no one wants it, no one cares, no one thinks it’s good?

That is one of my biggest fears, because what I’m working on is just massive. I have dozens of characters, plotlines,  backstories, cultures, spanning across 5 books of at least 500 pages each, and I’m creating languages, languages, for three different cultures, and I’m making calendars and weather patterns and maps and spreadsheets and diagrams.

And what if I get to the end, and I can’t sell it? What if I get to the end, and I’m the only one who cares?

It’s a fear that I’m constantly trying to overcome, because I don’t want it to be about what will or won’t sell, what I can or can’t publish. I want it to be about writing, and this beautiful story with adventures and passion and journeys and duty and love and friendship and fate and choosing to do what’s right instead of what’s easy.

That’s what writing should be. Nothing more, nothing less. It should be you, with a pen, with a keyboard, with a piece of chalk, telling a story.