Tips on Writing: Prepping For the Novel, Part Two–The Idea and the Process



On Monday, I began this series on prepping to write a novel.  In the first post, I talked about the tools you'll need to get going, and if you head on over to that post you can get caught up.  In today's post, I'm going to talk about the idea and the process–what to expect and how to schedule it.

It is important, when writing a novel, to consider that you're going to be with this baby for quite a long while.  Not quite as long as it takes to read a human child from birth to maturity, though it may seem like that.  But still, you're going to be working with this material for a long time  So make sure you like it.  I wrote a whole long post on this very topic last week, and its probably a good idea if you take a minute and go read it.





So now that you've committed to an idea that you love (or even just like), what next?  Well, that's the topic of this series, what you do to get ready to write a novel (or a book).  But before we get to character, setting, plot and writing the rough draft, I want to talk briefly about process and scheduling.


The Writing Process

It's really very simple.  Your first draft is for you to figure out the story, okay?  It is not for you to make things perfect.  It is for you to get a rough semblance of the plot and characters down on paper.  Don't worry yet about how best to present it to the reader, or how to dramatize it  How can you do that when you're still figuring out the story?

Whether or not you want to write up an outline is your choice.  I recommend it because it keeps you on track.  Doesn't have to be a fancy outline, even a rough list will do.  This way you save room for serendipity and the stray walk-on character.  You may also want to write a synopsis, which is like a fleshed-out, grown-up outline.  I don't.  But some people do.  Once you've got your outline written and done all the prep work it takes to get going on a novel, that's exactly what you do.  Get going on it.

I've written about the writing process here before, and even recently.  Here's some of those posts:

The Writing Process According to Novelist Gabrielle Kraft

The Writing Process: Letting Go

The Writing Process

The Writing Process Redux

The Writing Process Again

The Writing Process: The Three P's of Glumping

That ought to keep you going for awhile.  And so now we turn to scheduling. Or, what to expect when you're trying to write a novel and life gets it the way.

Scheduling/What to Expect

My best advice for scheduling a long writing project is to be as regular as you can, and stay flexible.  In a perfect world, which none of us live in, it is best to write every day.  If you can't, at least glance at your work, read it, or take some notes on it.  If you can't do that, think about it.  Direct your mind to it while you're walking or cleaning the house.  (Or in a boring meeting, but don't blame it on me if you get caught.)  You will be interuppted just when you're getting to the apex of a scene.  This will happen more times than you can count.  You will have to skip a writing session when your child or spouse gets sick.  This will also happen more times than you can count. 

Here's what else you can expect:







And probably a few more I've not thought of.  Notice, however, I did not mention the word boredom.  Because when you're writing a novel, you'll never be bored.  I think that's true of being a writer, period, as well.

You can also expect to be damn proud of yourself when you're finished with this project.  And to have a healthy respect for even the crappiest of books you might see in the bookstore or library.  Because now you know what it takes to write a book.

But that moment is still far in the future.  We've still got some prepping to do.  And I shall move onto that in the next post.

Please comment on all this.  What do you do to prepare? What have you learned from writing a novel or book-length process?

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Make certain you've got an idea that intrigues and delights you and write a loose outline.  Okay, okay you can do a synopsis, too. 

I'm putting together either a one-on-one coaching package or a group program around this novel prep, so stay tuned!

Photos by Mai05 and Creactions, both from Everystockphoto.

PS.  Sorry for the weird type font changes.  No matter what I do, I can't get them back to normal.  Typepad is a bit wonky these days.


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10 Responses to Tips on Writing: Prepping For the Novel, Part Two–The Idea and the Process

  1. Patrick Ross 02/22/2012 at 07:01 #

    Great post, Charlotte. Let me add, as someone writing a book-length work of creative nonfiction, this list applies to me as well: Joy, Frustration, Anger,
    Despair, Hope, Obsession. I’ll also say that yes, it’s important to like your project since you’ll be spending so much time with it, but frankly I get sick of it at times. I find working on a personal essay completely unrelated gives me a bit of space, and when I return to the book (sometimes after only a day) I like it again.

  2. Zan Marie 02/22/2012 at 07:16 #

    I always start with the idea and let the words flow until an organization hits be between the eyes. Sometimes it works, so times, not so much. ; )

    BTW, you’d be interested in the Balzac quote I used on my latest post. It reminds me that to linger on the difficutlies is to stop dead in my tracks.

  3. Charlotte Dixon 02/22/2012 at 10:14 #

    Patrick, Yes, I tend to get sick of my book near the middle, when I’m far from the rush at the start and can’t yet see the end. That’s a tough time, and you offer a great antidote–working on something else. The thought occurs, when I wrote my MFA novel I also wrote a lot of stories over those two years, so clearly I was taking breaks to write stories as well. Good luck with you CNF book!

  4. Charlotte Dixon 02/22/2012 at 10:15 #

    Zan Marie, heading over to your blog now to check it out! I think letting the words flow at first is a great approach–and then once you’ve got some ideas going, that’s when I like to attempt to impose some organization. In a very loose way, of course. :-)

  5. Jessica Baverstock 02/23/2012 at 03:24 #

    I have a question, and I’d love to know what you both have to say on the subject.

    When taking a break from your current WIP to write a different story or essay, how do you make sure the break is only temporary? How do you manage to get back to writing the original work?

    I find if I let myself start on something else in the middle of a project, the new project will grow so rapidly that it leaves the first one in the dust.

  6. Charlotte Dixon 02/23/2012 at 07:06 #

    Jessica, excellent question. There’s always a danger of leaving an old project behind when starting a new one. And there’s a lot to be said for finishing. So its probably best to keep an idea book and write a ton down about the new project and go back to the old one. But, as in the discussion above, it is also possible to switch back and forth. I emphasize that what Patrick and I talked about was interspersing short pieces to take a break from the longer one. That works well. Switching between longer projects, not so much. On a cheerier note, I’ve taken long breaks from big projects and despaired of ever going back–and then suddenly did. The muse, she is mysterious. I believe that if that project truly has a pull on you, you’ll go back to it. I hope this all makes sense, I’m writing it before I’ve got a full cup of coffee in me and sometimes that’s dangerous.

  7. Jessica Baverstock 02/23/2012 at 18:03 #

    Thanks for the follow up, Charlotte.

    Even my short pieces turn into long pieces! :)

    You make a good point about projects having pull. I’m experiencing that at the moment. A novel I worked on a couple of years ago keeps popping back into my head. It’s a very difficult pull to resist!

  8. Charlotte Dixon 02/24/2012 at 07:25 #

    That’s why I love your comments and emails, Jessica, because they are always full of good nuggets. You can always return to the novel that is pulling at you and go back and forth between the two as they call to you. At the end, you’d have two novels. Or be in the nut house, I’m not sure which. But please report.

  9. Suzanne C. Robertson 03/01/2012 at 13:03 #

    Thanks for the great advice — and the smile it brought to me. Especially love: “This way you save room for serendipity and the stray walk-on character.” It would be a bad day indeed if a S.W.O.C. showed up with no where to go. 😉

  10. Charlotte Dixon 03/01/2012 at 15:57 #

    Gotta love those S.W.O.C.s!

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