Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Novel Writing Process

By: Deb McLeod

How do you write a novel?

If you’ve completed a novel you have a process you used that got you to that milestone. If you haven’t yet finished a novel, you, too, have a process you’re using to get you to the end result. If you want to write, but you aren’t, you’re working a process too. The process is not writing and the by-product fulfills the process. Make sense?

The product you get is created by the process you follow. 
  • Focus on improving the process and you’ll improve the product. 
  • Focus on improving the product and while you’re in your processes, trial and error ensues. Judgment rules and writer’s block flirts on the horizon. 
Writing a novel is a matter of focus. Where will you put your focus? On the product or the process?

While no two people write a novel the same way, or use the exact same processes, there are generalities that can be applied. Here are the four stages of novel writing as I see them:
  1. Idea stage
  2. Creation stage
  3. Revision stage
  4. Sharing stage
Each stage involves getting clear on the processes used to achieve the goal of the stage. Let’s say I’m in the Creation Stage and I’m focused on the end product – my really good novel I want to create.


Are the pages I produce during the creation phase going to be good enough to stay in my really good novel product? Probably not. These are first draft pages. And drafty ones at that. What happens when those creation pages are judged against the end product (my very good novel)? They fail. When they fail, I freeze. I go take a craft class. Or join a critique group. Or get writer’s block.

Turn that around and look at what happens when you give yourself permission to really be in the stage you’re in and focus on learning what works best for you within that stage.

If I’m in the creation stage, and I’m okay with the fact that everything I’m writing is teaching me what my book wants to be, then whatever I write is okay. Right? It’s all fodder for the gristmill. And you never know what connections you’re going to make if you give yourself permission to freewrite scenes that may or may not make the cut. What happens if you quick-write scenes that aren’t fleshed out but have the gist of what you want to say?

I’m a firm believer (because it holds true for me) in “How do I know what I mean until I see what I say?”

It has been said that the first response will be a cliché. And it’s been said that the first thoughts are thoughts without a filter. Which one are you? Do you gravitate toward the predictable? Or if you write fast enough that your internal editor can’t shut you down, are your scenes more vivid and memorable? I think you should know where you fall here. It’s good information for next time. Right?

Take a look at the stages that follow and see some of the definitions, goals and the skills that are necessary to use the stage to your advantage.
Idea Stage – freewriting, reading, mulling, talking, brainstorming, playing what if, creating an overview outline, digging into characters.
Goal = deciding on an idea with characters you think has legs. Legs simply means an idea that has the possibility of being interesting and will hold for the length of the novel.
Skills necessary to master: novel concepts, plot twists, outer conflict potential, character exploration and psychology, mythic characters.
Creation Stage – freewriting, using prompts, NaNoWriMo, word vomit.
Goal = accumulate enough material for your novel.
Skills necessary to master: Freewriting to an ever-changing timer, scene construction, type of conflict, using the senses, figurative language, metaphor, discipline to write daily, a place or container that is conducive to your writing, how to use prompts effectively (even the stupid ones).
Revision Stage – analyzing, model book(s), thematic discovery, detailed outlining for character arc, detailed outlining for scene arc, rewriting.
Goal = understanding what you wrote and how to shape into a viable product.
Skills necessary to master: story structure, following theme trails, outlining, deep character discovery, scene structure and conflict, rewriting for the reader.
Sharing Stage – critique group, beta readers, sending to agents, etc.
Goal = testing the waters with your almost finished product.
Skills necessary to master: letting go of your baby, cultivating a rhinoceros- thick skin, finding reader readers rather than writer readers, considering the possibility of self-publishing. Most important of all in this stage is: Start something new.
How do you learn the skills necessary? One: by doing them. Two: by taking a class. Three: by working with me. :)

Pieces not the whole
I learned the art of breaking big projects down into smaller bits when I worked as an accountant. The enormity of the (boring) job had the potential of making me want to call in sick. But the pieces gave me a sense of accomplishment. Like checking things off a list. Lo and behold, when I did the job long enough, I actually came to like it. The investigation piece was especially interesting, but even the day-to-day getting the numbers where they belonged was good, in the way cleaning a house can be good. You know? I focused on the individual pieces and came to like what I was doing. Essential for health and happiness, right?

But the skills I learned in those accounting jobs have served me greatly in writing novels and in teaching novel writing. My clients work the process and step away from judging the quality of the product too soon. They allow themselves the creative freedom to explore. They write better books, more true to their voice and their deepest feelings about the themes.

Best of all, focusing on the process gets the job done. And gets it done faster.

So narrow your focus, write every day, and master your career in steps.It just makes the whole thing achievable. And far more pleasant. 

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