Tips on Writing: Prepping For the Novel, Part One–Tools

So, I've written three novels now.  The first was a crappy mystery that never went anywhere (though


recently when I found a copy of it, I realized it was better than I remembered.) The second was my MFA novel and its not half bad, it's just got a plot that doesn't quite work.  I promised my daughter and daughter-in-law that I'd publish copies for them, so stay tuned, it may just appear here soon.  And the third novel is the first one I've finished that not only hangs together, I think its pretty damn good.  It is currently making the rounds in New York.

In all that novel writing, I've learned a thing or two.  And that is this: a bit of prepping goes a long way.  So that's what this post is about.  But first, a thing or two about the novel I'm currently writing.  I've been in a bit of a dry spell when it comes to fiction.  I kept coming up with ideas and working on them for a few chapters and then realizing they weren't going to pan out, for whatever reason.  Finally, this new novel, which I'm temporarily calling Jemima B, popped into my head (actually, when I was doing some free writing, proof that it works).

Good Enough?

But, here's the deal–with all my wandering through novels that didn't work, I had lost my ability to discern.  And I wasn't sure if this new novel was "good" enough to keep going with.  So I just wrote, didn't do any prepping or anything.  Finally, last week I mustered up my courage and took the three chapters into my writing group.  And, while I got specific comments about things that need to change, I also got that people liked it a lot.  So now, finally, I feel well and truly started on a project.  And I can go back and do the prep work for it. 

The Commitment

This is a statement of sorts.  It is saying, yes I commit to this novel.  Yes, I'm going to do what it takes to carry through to the end.  Yes, I'm ready to do it.

Are you?  This post is the first in a series.  I'm also thinking about putting this together as either a program or a one-on-one coaching product.  (If you're interested, email me and I'll put you on a list for the announcement.)  But you can easily follow along with the action ideas listed at the end of each post and get yourself ready to write a novel.  So, today, let's start with tools.


Here's what I consider essential, beyond a computer and pens:

1. A small spiral notebook, in which to collect all your notes.  Even if you originally note them on a scrap of paper, try to transfer them to this journal so they will all stay together. 

2.  A bigger spiral notebook, like 8 1/2 by 11 size, in which to do free writes, which are a great way to learn more about your characters and story.

3.  A binder in which to keep research and images related to the story.  This may also hold a completed draft if you so desire.

4.  A vision board.  You can make this so that it hangs on the wall near your desk, or you can put it into your binder.  But either way, do work with images for your book, it is amazing how helpful it is.  (You can download my free Ebook on how to create a vision board for your book by signing up to the right.)

5.  A stack of 3 by 5 cards.  These come in handy for all kinds of things, like to note scenes or character traits on, to name two.

Okay, that's it for now.  We're starting slow and easy.

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Gather your tools.  Make it fun.  Go to the office supply store and prowl the alley.  Buy spirals and binders that you love, or take them home and decorate them. 

And, please comment: what do you consider the essential tools for writing a novel (or a book)?

Photograph by Hey Paul.

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12 Responses to Tips on Writing: Prepping For the Novel, Part One–Tools

  1. Jessica Baverstock 02/20/2012 at 01:57 #

    I completely agree with your list, although I have one notebook for all my free writes. I tag the pages specific to each project, but I find there are so many new ideas that pop up in free writes that I’d be continually changing notebooks if they were separate.

    I’ve usually kept my manuscripts together using bulldog clips, but after seeing your beautiful manuscript in a ring binder(with all those little tags!) I’ve been wanting to do the same to mine ever since. However, I don’t want to punch holes in every single sheet. Any shortcuts?

  2. Charlotte Dixon 02/20/2012 at 07:03 #

    Jessica, you can buy paper that is pre-punched. It is more expensive, but not by much. Of course, my problem is then figuring out which way to load it! Not sure what the availability of such things is in China.

    I’m always debating whether or not to go with one big journal for everything or journals for each project. At the moment, the separate journals have won out for the sake of convenience, but I do get your point!

  3. Jessica Baverstock 02/20/2012 at 16:03 #

    Pre-punched paper. What a concept! *Eyes go wide*

    I’ve never seen that, in Australia or in China.

    I was thinking that perhaps I could take my manuscript down to the local photocopy/print shop and ask them to punch holes… That’s what I would have done in Australia and they would have those machines which drill holes in your stack of paper. In China…I dunno what they’d have. Sounds like an adventure!

  4. Debbie Maxwell Allen 02/20/2012 at 16:41 #

    I love hearing what other writers use! Great post.


  5. Charlotte Dixon 02/20/2012 at 17:12 #

    I think much of your life in China is an adventure, Jessica. You’re lucky! And intrepid. Let us know how the search for punching goes.

  6. Charlotte Dixon 02/20/2012 at 17:13 #

    Thanks, Debbie. I agree, its fascinating to hear about what tools other writers use. I think because we don’t have that many, really. At heart, all it takes is a pen and paper, so tools have always been extraordinarily appealing to me.

  7. Patrick Ross 02/21/2012 at 10:56 #

    Charlotte, best of luck with that novel that’s circulating! My fingers are crossed.

  8. Charlotte Dixon 02/21/2012 at 11:22 #

    Ahh, thanks Patrick! It’s nerve racking, but better than having the manuscript sitting in a drawer.

  9. Sandra / Always Well Within 02/22/2012 at 19:15 #

    This is incredibly useful! I’m not planning on writing a novel, but these tips seem they could be handy for any longish writing project. Commitment is huge in and of itself. Thanks so much!

  10. Charlotte Dixon 02/23/2012 at 07:00 #

    Sandra, yes these tools do translate to any writing project. Good luck as you embark on writing your book!

  11. Suzanne C. Robertson 03/01/2012 at 07:52 #

    Charlotte, I am late catching up to this post, but want to follow the series in order. So glad to see it! Thank you.

    I can attest to the 3×5 card suggestion — because years ago you made me do that — and it was EXTREMELY helpful in reordering scenes when they weren’t quite working. Then when they still didn’t work and I was desperate I tossed them in the air to see if THAT order was any better. (I am not a huge risk-taker so I numbered them before I did that scary thing.) Also, my storyline involved two time periods so I used different colored cards to distinguish them, which really helped when looking at the stack so I could see how often the time-frame changed. You could do that with POV also. Of course, had I worked the structure out better in advance none of this would’ve been necessary (as you probably pointed out to me at the time), but the visual of change of time or voice is still good.

    Thanks, Charlotte, for the great ideas from long ago and now. Can’t wait to read the rest of your series (and beyond)!

  12. Charlotte Dixon 03/01/2012 at 09:30 #

    Thanks, Suzanne! I remember when you and I worked on the cards together. And your two time period storyline inspired my post called “The Two Nows Structure,” which continues to get a lot of visitors to this day. So you got me going, too.

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