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.

 

Guess Who’s A Quarter Finalist!!!

So about a month ago I entered this contest thingy on MyFamilyTravels.com for a scholarship in which I basically wrote a short piece on my long weekend in Cambridge this past May. The focus of the contest was on writing about a place where you feel at home, a place that you love and connect with, which Cambridge certainly fit into. So Saturday night it struck me that they might have made some progress in judging the entries (and there were literally THOUSANDS of entries), so I took a peek into my Spam folder just in case it happened to get shuffled away without my knowing, and sure enough, there was an email. I am officially a Quarter Finalist (top 14%) in the contest!

What does that mean, you ask?

I’ve actually got no bloody clue.

think I’m still in the running to win the actual scholarship, as they apparently haven’t picked the winners just yet, but I’m not sure.

Anyway, I thought, as a sort-of blog post, I might offer up a link to my entry. Cambridge was absolutely lovely and I’m glad I actually got the chance to write about it AND potentially be given cash for doing so. (Always a bonus.)

Happy Tuesday!

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?

Slammed

Yes, I have been slammed via homework. Midterms are NEXT WEEK OMFG WHAT DO I DO and I’ve been forced to give up the remnants of my social life in favor of studying. Which, not okay, teachers.

Anyway, I’m basically writing this to let you know that a) I’m alive, b) I actually am writing, just not what I’m supposed to be, and c) I do have plans for a lovely little post about writing-related people-watching which I’ve wanted to talk about for a while, so look forward to that.

I’m still fairly active on Twitter when I get the chance, and I’ve found time to revisit one of my fave British shows, “The Vicar of Dibley” (if you haven’t already, go watch it like NOW). Hopefully I’ll be writing that post sometime this week, but I can’t make a promise, since it’s shaping up to be pretty hellish for the next few days. Wish me luck and happy writing!

 

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!

 

To chapter 4!

This past week has been a bit unproductive writing-wise because both my best friend from Arizona and my father’s family came to town for a visit at the same time. I had a great time, but I unfortunately had very little time to write, though I did my best when I got the chance. I also finally got an iPhone (the 4S model) and I’m absolutely in love with it. <3

I’m back now, thank Buddha, and I’ve reached chapter 4 of my novel, in which my main character…okay I’m sick to death of saying “my main character” (it’s such a mouthful for me), so his name is Dastan. Anyway, Dastan’s father is captured, and I’m excited but at the same time dragging my feet again because I know the first time writing that scene is going to be hard and probably not that brilliant, but I just have to get over it, don’t I?

I’ve also seen three very inspiring movies that I highly recommend (well, Pitch Perfect wasn’t really “inspiring”, but it was pee-in-your-pants funny), Les Misérables and Perks of Being A Wallflower. Neither are necessarily writing-related, but they have given me some really great ideas that I could work into a future novel. Les Mis is a movie that I have been obsessing over since I first heard about it, being a huge fan of both the musical and the book (though the movie was not all that special), and it did not let me down; in fact, it went beyond anything I could even imagine. The cast was just brilliant, the music gave me goosebumps like every two seconds, and it is simply one of the most incredible musical films ever made in my opinion. Go see it. Now. Then you can come back and finish reading.

Perks of Being A Wallflower was at the dollar theater, and all I knew about it was that it had a cool soundtrack, Emma Watson (my ladylove), and drugs. I didn’t expect it to be what it was, and what it turned out to be was unforgettable. I just ordered the book off Amazon, and I will without a doubt be buying the movie the second it hits stores. It’s not a movie for everyone, but if you have an open mind and you want to be inspired, then this is a great one to see. I absolutely loved it.

Now, last thing (my God, this is a long post). I went to B&N Thursday and picked up another writing book/guide/instruction manual shindig called 90 Days to Your Novel by Sarah Domet. I’m on page 56 so far, and I also read the end (because I fail as a human being, yes I know), and so far it’s a great read. Domet is very frank and no-nonsense (like a good deal of college professors), and pretty much a badass sassbucket, if you take my meaning. She had me laughing from the first page, and she has a very set way of approaching the novel-writing process, which may not be for everyone, but I’m certainly enjoying the read. The book works like an actual lesson plan, with first a prologue, and then actual day-by-day assignments that help you build both an outline and a completed rough draft. I love outlining and writing exercises, so I’m looking forward to trying out her methods, perhaps over the summer when I’m less pressed for time (and energy).

Hope your New Year is going well!

 

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!