Being a novelist sounds like a fun job, right? And it can be. When you go at it the right way. If you don’t, it’s a frustrating journey of long hours that get you no where.
Not fun. So, why do it?
Because you can take control of your journey as a writer by making choices. Ideally, choices that keep you moving forward with as little stress as possible. Add that to writing projects you enjoy, and you have the recipe for fun as an author.
For me, this means spending my writing hours with interesting characters in a genre I love, writing efficiently while keeping anxiety low, and then improving the book to a point where I’m proud to put my name on it.
And that’s what we’re going to talk about in this article.
To give yourself the best possible chance to enjoy the journey of writing, follow these four steps:
1. Have a goal
2. Have a plan
3. Grind toward your goal
4. Have the patience to improve
HAVE A GOAL
Besides the broad goal of, “I want to be a novelist,” it’s important to know what type of book is the best match for you. With a natural match, the process of creating a 300 page book instantly elevates to more fun.
If you decide to write something you don’t care for, but think is marketable, popular, or author X made a lot of money from one like it, then you’re in for more of a struggle. And if it ain’t fun…well, you get the idea.
To help you sort out this important first step, ask yourself a few questions:
What do I like to read? What you read tells a lot about where you might enjoying spending your time while you write one, two, three novels, or more. I enjoy Urban Fantasy, so it’s not a complete surprise that an urban fantasy series I wrote years ago did well. Prior to that, I was into contemporary romance, and again, that series did well. Now, my love is Victorian Mysteries, and guess what? I’m having a blast creating my new series.
What sounds fun to write? This is similar to the question above, but works if you don’t want to live in the kind of books you like to read. Hey, it happens. To work with this question, take some quiet time to daydream about what type of book sounds fun to write. Thriller? Horror? Historical fiction? Memoir literary fiction? Let your imagination wander and when you hit the one that lights a fire of anticipation and excitement inside you, you’ve found your match.
What world do I want to live in for the next four to six months? What personalities do I want to explore? If the previous questions failed you, then this is the place to start. Daydream about the answers to these questions and from those answers, segue back to question two. For example, if you find yourself feeling excited to write about a magical world, start thinking in terms of fantasy as your landing place. If you imagine how interesting it might be to explore the mind of a killer, then horror or thriller might be for you.
HAVE A PLAN
A plan is also known as an outline. Ugh, right? Well…not really. Because a plan reduces a phenomena that kills fun quicker than a bucket of ice water. I’m referring to writing yourself into a dead end, and its friend, writing aimlessly and getting no where.
An outline can be high level with only the concept of the book, characters, and perhaps the concept of each chapter, or you can drill down to the scene level. The form of your outline is less important than the having of one. Because your outline is your roadmap for writing.
This map of your book allows you to view the story from a higher altitude before you’re down in the details. At this level, it’s easier to see the big picture of where the story is going, what needs to happen to get it there, your protagonist’s character arch, and if your story delivers enough turning points and interest techniques to engage and hold a reader’s attention. Build a strong foundation here and your final product will be more solid.
GRIND TOWARD YOUR GOAL
Writing a finished novel takes months of dedicated time and effort, so this is where the rubber hits the road, as they say. It also requires a plan.
Unlike the plan you made for your story, this one involves working out a writing schedule that fits into your life. If you’re employed, have children at home, or have any number of necessary claims on your time, this step is especially crucial. If you don’t write, there’s no book. It’s as simple as that.
Can you write in the evenings? In the mornings? Only on the weekends? Can you give up a television show and write for that hour, instead? These are some of the questions to ask yourself as you hunt for writing time.
Another way to find writing time, is dictation. For example, if you have a long commute to work, dictation is an excellent way to get in some writing. As I write the Starter Draft for this article, I’m currently sitting outside with my morning cup of coffee, enjoying the first cool day here in Florida. How? I’m glad you asked! I’m dictating on my phone using my Dragon Dictate app.
Note about grinding:
The most important key to your success as a novelist is to finish the book.
In the grinding phase, this means writing what most people call the First Draft, or Rough Draft. Those labels have never done much for me, so you’ll hear me call this first imagination dump (while following your outline, of course) your Starter Draft. A more accurate and less intimidating term, in my opinion.
Your Starter Draft is exactly that — the whole book, start to finish, including notes when you don’t yet know something (add description here), less than stellar dialogue to hold the place in line, “Hello,” she said into the phone, and all the rest of your brilliant, pretty good, and needs improvement writing.
And that writing is so incredibly important! Because without a finished Starter Draft, you haven’t lived the journey of your story. And without that, you can’t make good choices for elevating that journey because you haven’t gotten to know it in the first place.
HAVE THE PATIENCE TO IMPROVE
Once you have a finished Starter Draft, the next phase begins. This is when you improve your book in one focused pass at a time. In future blogs, I’ll explain each pass in detail, but for now, below is the overview of what these entail.
The value of this technique is it helps you concentrate on one thing at time. This not only elevates the execution of the pass, but also keeps you from feeling overwhelmed. A key to avoid running away from your writing — otherwise known as writer’s block, which is actually fear married to procrastination.
Passes are done for:
Interest techniques — Build in elements such as hooks, cliff hangers, and dilemmas to guarantee readers can’t put down your book.
Unique Dialogue — Review the voice of each main character to guarantee it’s unique and fits who they are.
Action — Review and improve the delivery of the action, add or delete where needed.
Description — Add, delete, or improve descriptions of environments and characters to take the story to new levels. Review consistency, yet freshness of reoccurring descriptions.
Emotion — Add, delete, or improve the delivery, clarity, and depth of your character’s reactions to experiences and relationships.
Wordsmithing — Improve word choices as needed, correct grammar, correct punctuation, and so on. Always the last step.
Finally, remember there’s no such thing as perfect in life, and fiction is no different. The world won’t end if you put a comma in the wrong place, or a typo slips through. But if the world never gets to read your book, then that is truly a tragedy.
See you on the bestsellers list.