When you make the decision to write a novel, whether it be your first or your fiftieth, there’s always this great, spine tingling sense of anticipation. What will this book be like? Will it be adventurous, romantic, thrilling, scary? Will people lose themselves while reading it, enraptured by the characters, settings, and flowing narrative? Or will it be a miserable failure that doesn’t sell and no one likes? Either way, unless you approach a book with your entire heart invested, don’t expect it to be as good as it could be. Great works of art (and really, a book is in itself an art form) take heart and soul and blood and sweat and tears. Unless a book really means something to you, don’t expect it to mean something to anyone else. But if you’re starting off a new project and your heart and soul are in it, then you can accomplish great things!
However, accomplishing great things as a writer takes many, many hours of toiling over the computer and doing research and debating sentence structure, all of which can intimidate those who aren’t in-it-to-win-it, so to speak. There’s a process and stages within that process that become second nature to those of us who spend pretty much every hour of every day laboring over our books. So whether you’re just getting started on your first novel or if you’re a seasoned veteran, maybe you can relate to the five stages I experience each time I start writing a new book. Feel free to add your own in the comments, everyone’s process is a little different! 🙂 Let the fun begin…
1. Oh goody, an IDEA!
All great books start as nothing more than a twinkle in their author’s eye. I find ideas come to me while doing the most random, mundane things. Maybe I’m sitting at a stop light, doing the dishes, or trying to fall asleep (better hope the idea is still there in the morning!). Either way, that spark of inspiration is like fuel for a writer’s brain. It leads to a hurried jotting down of ideas on any available writing surface (one time the victim was the back of my electric bill). After the dust settles, I generally pop open a brand new Word doc and begin organizing said idea. Characters are conceived in my brain and born onto the computer, followed by their conflicts with each other and who’s going to fall in love with who and which person is going to be the villain (but maybe not totally a villain…it’s good to give the baddies some relatable qualities too!). Once all that’s completed, I generally have a good page or two of bullet points outlining the basics of what the book’s going to be. It’s rough and not all the kinks are worked out yet, but it’s a start. And there’s nothing better than a new beginning!
2. A Guy Named Research Walked Into a Bar and Met a Chick Named Outline. The Rest Is Making My Brain Hurt. A Lot.
Some people just jump in without a life vest and attempt to swim the murky waters of writing a book with no reservations. I’m not one of those people. I need to know my boat is fully stocked with supplies and a detailed map leading me to my final destination and away from boat-sinking rocks and jellyfish infestations. If I’m not prepared, I start to panic. I’m what you call a plotter. Maybe you’re a pantser (fly by the seat of your pants), and if so, kudos to you. You may skip this step and go directly to number three. For the rest of us, research and a carefully planned outline (or even a basic outline) are crucial before those first words hit the page. I like relying on an outline because it lets me “tune out” all those ideas of what’s to come and simply focus on the scene at hand. I don’t have to worry about remembering everything because, hey, it’s already written down! Joy! I can instead really let go while writing a scene and enjoy the emotions that come from putting myself in my character’s shoes. But before that happy moment, the research needs to be done and the outline must be written. This can be a tedious and stressful process, but I promise it’s worth it. Hopefully you’re writing about a subject you’re passionate about, because otherwise you’ll REALLY hate preparing to write this book. For my current WIP, I read a detailed account of what life was like touring with Fleetwood Mac. I needed the insider perspective on who they were and how they acted, and despite it’s long length the book was fascinating. Then I set out to write my outline, which ended up being over 20,000 words. Crazy, right? Well, that’s just me. Maybe your outline will be five bullet points and a list of characters. More power to you. Figure out whatever works for you and stick with it until you’re ready to start writing.
3. Computer On. Check. Word Doc Ready. Check. Commence Writing. Oh, God…
If you’ve made it to this point, good for you! The fun is just about to begin. Well, the fun and the stress. Did I mention that writing a book is stressful? Because it is. But I promise it’s boatloads of joyful romping-through-the-daisies fun, too. At least when it’s not agonizingly brain-imploding. Those moments are few and far between and always pass. But when they do come, have faith that you can handle it. Writer’s block plagues even the best of us. The trick I’ve found is to keep writing anyway. Even if the sentences suck and the scene isn’t quite playing out the way you want it to, just write it. It can always be fixed later on. A first draft is just that, FIRST. There has to be a second, a third, and maybe even a fourth draft before a novel’s ready for publication. So shake off the feelings of suckiness and get something down on the page. Trust me, you’ll feel much more accomplished after than you would have if you’d written nothing at all. Besides, there’s nothing better than when you finally hit your stride while writing a scene and get lost in it, completely absorbed in the moment and the words you’re hammering out onto the page. That’s when the magic happens, and it’ll reignite the fire within you. And once it gets burning, that fire can carry you all the way to that happy moment of “The End.” 🙂
4. Hey, I Wrote A Book, and This Is Crazy, But Take a Look, and Read It, Maybe?
So it’s finished. You’ve polished off the last scene of your book and hit save and backed it up a hundred times and breathed a long, overdue, heavy sigh of relief. Woohoo! Now the real work begins. Wait, what? Yeah. What I said. The “REAL” work. Meaning edits and finding beta-readers and reading over each scene a dozen times to look for overused words and phrases and making sure you didn’t repeat anything like hair color or crazy character quirks too many times and that nothing important was left out. Phew. It’s a lot of work, it really is. Just writing a book isn’t enough, making it readable is a whole other adventure. The best way is to hand your baby to someone else who will be willing to give you the honest-to-god truth about the story. They don’t need to edit it (that comes later), they need to read it and hopefully take notes on things they notice that either don’t work or raise questions. This is the stage where, if you’re lucky, you catch all the plot holes and story flaws in your book. You send it off to beta-readers (I have at least four or five) so they can give you honest feedback, and then you swallow their criticism, fish out the good points and then make adjustments to your manuscript. The waiting period is a killer, but if they have lots of nice things to say about the book to soften the blows then you can at least try and not crawl into a hole and die. Your book will be better for it, trust me. Sending something out into the world that hasn’t been tested is a big no-no. I learned that the hard way so you don’t have to! 😉
5. Embrace The Editor, But Remember…It’s Still YOUR Story!
Getting back a manuscript painted red with edits can be horribly intimidating. On the one hand, I get excited because I appreciate the help in making my book top-notch. On the other hand, handling criticism–even if it’s from a professional–can sting. Take it in stride but know that you don’t have to follow each and every suggestion. It’s still your book, so if you demand keeping a sweet little scene the editor wanted to wipe, don’t sweat it. Leave it in. But make sure you do as many final read-throughs as you need to polish the book to your liking, after you’ve integrated all the edits. Take the time and know you’ll never be 100% satisfied, but you can find that happy 98% mark. Aim for that and once it’s ready, get that baby into the hands of readers! Nothing’s more exhilarating than the feeling of accomplishment after a job well done. So sit back and enjoy. Because if you’re like me, you already have a new idea ready to begin the process all over again.
Just remember to put your heart into everything you do and know that hard work pays off. Your readers will thank you, and you as an author will have a product you can be proud to call your own.
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