Thursday, October 29, 2015

How to Write a Novel, Part 2: Brainstorming, Drafting & Getting Organized

As I mentioned in How to Write a Novel, Part 1: Let The Journey Begin, it’s all about exploring the diversity of options out there and doing what works best for you. This post details my method for brainstorming, drafting, and getting organized. It may or may not work for you, but at the very least I hope that these tips will help you discover the keys to unlocking your writing success. 

Timing is Everything: Make writing a priority by assessing the time of day you’re most creative and fit your writing time into your schedule accordingly. I’m freshest in the mornings, so I try my best to schedule everything around it. It might take some experimenting to get the time right, and it might not always work due to life circumstances, but once you discover your writing sweet spot, it will be that much easier to actually write. 

Inspiration: Blocked? Head over to Pinterest for some vivid imagery or create your own board. Still blocked? Go for a walk, talk with a friend, or go see a movie. Studies show that distractions can actually be good for creative thinking. Write when you’re inspired. Write when you’re not inspired. What you write in the beginning doesn’t have to be perfect right out of the gate. You’ll edit later.

The Notebook: No, this isn’t a Ryan Gosling reference (darn!). It’s about being prepared for ideas, which can strike you at any time—be it your initial story idea (I got my story idea listening to music while cooking dinner), a character name, perfectly worded description, or how to kill off someone. Good ideas can hit you anywhere, which is why it’s important to make sure you’re ready for them.

Pay attention to where you tend to be most creative and make that environment “brainstorming friendly.” For example, I wrote a lot of Strange Luck while commuting three hours to work each day, so I had a lot of time to brainstorm story ideas. I always kept a notepad and pen on the passenger side seat and sometimes I had Siri take voice Notes on my iPhone when I couldn’t write. When I was out and about, I wrote ideas in a little notebook I kept in my purse, on post-it-notes, or the back of receipts in a pinch. If you tend to get a lot of good thinking done in the shower, get Aqua Notes—a waterproof notepad and pencil set that you stick in the shower. Wherever you are, make sure you have a reliable method to record your thoughts.

Time to Draft: When it comes time to start drafting, the important thing to remember is to not get too attached to what you’ve planned, because it WILL change. Even if you draft your entire book with full character maps and all, it WILL change. This is actually a good thing. As you write, you may realize that an idea may not work, or better yet, you come up with something way better. Everything you write in the drafting stage is really just to get your ideas down and to formulate your story. 

How I Draft:

  1. I loosely write out some story ideas, potential character names and traits, and a few plot points in my super cute notebook (see below pic). Since this is a very nice hardbound notebook, it’s more special to me than just a cheap spiral notebook, so it really pushes me organize my thoughts and ideas. I might spend days or weeks thinking about the story before I actually write anything in it.

  2. When I feel like I have enough ideas to start my story, I create a master manuscript Word doc and type up the notes from the hardbound notebook. This gives me another chance to re-evaluate my ideas, add to them, and adjust accordingly. 
  3. My favorite part of writing is creative free flow, so I’ll literally write Chapter 1 and dive right in, always spacing my notes I had input earlier to the next page. This is advantageous for two reasons: It allows me to “free flow” without being influenced by my previous ideas; and it allows me to easily reference important info if needed (e.g., age of a character or hair color). The notes are like training wheels—there if I need them. 
  4.  Every time I sit down to work on my master doc, I always re-read what I had written the previous time before adding any new ideas. I never read more than a chapter or two back. Although this method is debated, I like it because it gives me an opportunity to re-read the story with a fresh eye and get into the proper mindset to continue writing. It’s also a good opportunity to remind myself of important plot points. Then, I go through each one of my notes line by line and input them into the story accordingly. I cross off each idea when I’m done. Here's a pic of some of my Strange Luck ideas I wrote on post-it notes, and the little notebook I carry around with me:

  5. I work on a chapter as much as I can before moving on to the next. If I need to add something to the previous chapter, I’ll simply go back and add it. Ctrl-F (the PC find button) is my best friend when I need to locate a section of the story quickly. 
  6. Once I’ve written down all of my ideas and have the bare bones of each chapter, I start right back at Chapter 1 and go through everything I wrote, adding “meat” to the story and editing along the way. I’ll literally do this a dozen or more times until I feel like I have all of the pieces of the story and have gotten it as close as possible to what I want.

Setting Goals: The key to actually finishing your novel is setting goals. If you get bored easily, make new daily goals. If you like a challenge, see how far you can push yourself. I get bored easily and I like a challenge, so I always mix it up. One day I’ll tell myself that I can’t get up from my desk (pictured below) until I write one paragraph. The next day, not until I finish a chapter. Sometimes I’ll even throw in a reward, like once I finish writing for X amount of time, I’ll treat myself to a cupcake (yum!). It really just depends on how I feel that day. It’s all about setting boundaries that work for you. 

What Do I Do Now? Once you’ve got a solid draft of your novel, put it away until you can read it again with fresh eyes. Believe in yourself. Keep writing. Don’t give up. And when all else fails, remember these wise words from fantasy author Neil Gaiman: “The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can.”

What are you waiting for? Get out there and write!