Why It Pays to Prep For Writing a Novel (A Love Letter)

I am not big on preparation. I am more of a jump-right-into-whatever-I’m-doing kind of gal. I never read instructional manuals, instead preferring to just start pushing buttons and see what happens. I glance at recipes and often halfway through realize I’m missing crucial ingredients.  And, much to the consternation of my husband, I rarely follow maps.

Yet when it comes to writing, the best experiences I’ve ever had banging out a novel came when I had spent lots of time preparing ahead of time before I got to the actual writing. (And I’ve taught prepping for the novel numerous times.) But the last couple of novels I’ve written fell into the category of brilliant ideas that came to me like a lightning bolt from the blue, which meant that I was so eager to get to them that I just launched right in.

And so I did. With varying results. I wouldn’t say the first drafts were terrible, but in both cases they had some pretty big plot holes and character issues.  Which then required serious revision in the next go-round. And I’ll be honest, sometimes dealing with big issues in a rewrite is hard, hard work.

The rewrite I’m working on right now is…hmm….the second? Third? for my agent (I’m truly blessed that she is willing to work with me until I’ve gotten it right). And only recently, after much pondering, note-taking, and hair-pulling-out, have I gotten to the point where I understand some basic things. Like my main character’s motivation. And her flaws. What she truly wants, not just what she says she wants. Her love interest’s character arc. And so on.

And so, I am here to tell urge you to do some prep work for your novel, for freaking God’s sake. You will be so much happier when you launch into the fun of rough draft writing because you will have some idea of what is going on.

You might like to know, at bare minimum:

A lot about your characters. Use a character dossier, or try out The Story Planner, which has a ton of different ways to suss out a character, and nail the externals first. Then proceed to the internal—desires, motivation, flaws, etc. For my money, it all hinges on the characters. You can never do too much prep work on characters. Figure out as much about them as you possibly can, I say!

The setting. Get a good idea of the basic locations you’ll be using before you start. (You can add on as you go.) Where does your character live? Work? Hang out? Doe she live in the country or the city? How does this affect the story?

The plot. I like to work from a loose list that can be added to or rearranged. And lately, I’ve fallen in love with using index cards, which can easily be shuffled and changed up. It really is helpful to have some idea where you’re going.

Writing a novel is a back and forth process. You do some scene writing and then realize you need to know stuff, so back you go to your character dossiers and your plot list. And then you get ideas for scenes so you return to the writing. That’s the nature of the beast. But I strongly advise you to do as much prep work as you possibly can before you lunge into it.  The next novel I start is going to be supported by as much prep work as I can possibly do.

And I might even start using maps once in a while. Or reading all the way through a recipe before I begin cooking. Or read instruction manuals. Nah, can’t really see that happening.

Are you a prepared type of person or more like me? How does this affect your writing?

And if you are struggling with any aspect of writing a novel, from prep to rewriting, I do have a couple of openings on my coaching roster.  Pop me an email and let’s talk!

Knowing What You’re Going to Write Before You Write

How many words do you put on the page in a typical writing session? Finger-blank-paper-25643-l

500?  1,000?

When I wrote my novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior, my deal with myself was to write 2,000 words a day.  Didn't matter when I wrote them, but if I hadn't written them before bedtime, I had to stay up until they were done.

I was delighted to produce 2,000 words a day, let me tell you.  But how about routinely writing 10,000 words in a writing session?

Apparently, it can be done.

Somebody (I forget who, forgive me) tweeted this article about author Rachel Aaron, who wrote about how she went from an output of 2,000 to 10,000 words.  Every day.  (If you're in the mood to challenge yourself to write this much in even one day, head on over to Milli's Fear of Writing blog and sign up for one of her regular 10K day challenges.)

Rachel says that she attributes her word count success to three things:

Knowledge–Knowing what you're going to write

Time–Tracking and evaluating productivity

Enthusiasm–Excitement about what you're writing

I'm not so keen on the tracking and evaluating part (which is probably why I ought to pay attention to it), and generally for me enthusiasm is a given.  What can hang me up is not knowing what I'm going to write.

Over and over again I've found that following this simple rule leads to writing success:

Have a place to go.

It'll save you from hours spent internet surfing as you try to figure out what's next in your writing.  It will allow  you writing sessions where you write 10K words.  Your house will be lusciously dirty because you won't be spending time cleaning it instead of writing.

But how do you create yourself a place to go?

When you're in the flow, several chapters in, it is usually pretty easy.  You just write the next chapter on the scene list.  (This is one reason I advocate for outlines.  Nothing fancy, just a structure that gives you someplace to go next. Or, if you get excited about a scene that's out of order, go write that.)

But what if you're just starting out?  Or what if you're just a few chapters in and you don't really know your characters yet?  It can be way too easy to end up staring off into space because you don't know where to go.  (I admit, I've found myself in this place a few times recently.)

This is when the value of prepping to write a novel (or any kind of book) becomes evident.  When you know things about your character, place, and the structure of your novel, it will be much easier to get in stellar word count writing sessions.  I've actually taken the time to go back and really get to know my characters recently and it has made an enormous difference in my writing, and my engagement with the work. While this kind of novel prep can seem like busy work, I highly recommend it for the insights it will give you.  And for the fact that it will give you a place to go.

By the way, I'm going to be presenting a class on prepping for the novel this summer, so if you're interested and you're not on my list, sign up with the form to the right.

Do you have any pet ways that you prep for writing sessions that improve your word count?

Photo by OmirOnia.