Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Planning Your Novel, Part 1: Let the Journey Begin

The writing world can be overwhelming and difficult to navigate, so it’s important to get your head straight first. There isn’t a single path or author playbook that you need to follow. It’s all about exploring the diversity of options out there and doing what works best for you. I hope that the below tips (based on author interviews, books about writing, and my own experiences) will help you on your writing journey. 

Finding Your Voice: Your voice, style, and ideas are your own. Set yourself apart by being yourself and owning it; otherwise, you’re just another name in a sea of names. Perhaps fantasy author Neil Gaiman said it best: “The urge, starting out, is to copy. And that’s not a bad thing. Most of us only find our own voices after we’ve sounded like a lot of other people. But the one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision.” Way to go, Neil!

Don't Follow Marketing Trends: It’s tempting. You think, well if so-and-so made a million dollars writing a book about a zombie who falls in love with a vampire, then so can I. The truth is that by the time your book is ready, the trend will likely have passed. Also, think of all the other writers who are thinking the same thing. Write the story you have to tell, not the story you think you should tell.

Panster vs. Plotter: You can really drive yourself crazy reading all of the different writing blogs and message boards weighing in on whether to outline, plot everything in advance, or just write and edit as you go. Remember, there is no single path to writing a book. Experiment and do what works best for you. When I first started writing, I thought I needed to be a plotter and followed tedious guidelines. Not only did I felt trapped, my creativity suffered. After more trial and error, I finally embraced my “pansterness,” and found a method that worked for me. 

Get Feedback: One of the most important things you can do is share your work with others. This can be in the form of talking about plot ideas over coffee, or simply giving a trusted friend your first chapter to read. Something might sound great in your head, but in reality it might not work. There is a fine line though of not letting others’ opinions influence you too much. Maintaining your own voice is key. Also, be prepared for feedback. No piece of literature is universally loved. Nearly every person, be it a friend, family member, editor, or agent, will have a different opinion of your work. It’s your job to recognize recurring issues and make changes if you believe they’re valid. There's also the possibility the everyone will only give you positive feedback. Although this certainly can boost your ego, it's more likely that your friends and family are just being nice and/or they don't have a critical editing eye. Branch out to beta readers, freelance editors, and online or local writing groups. Critical feedback is worth its weight in gold. 

Grammar School: When you’re so enraptured in your own work, it’s easy to miss something. Even the best, highest grossing books have typos. Be sure to turn on all of the spelling and grammar functions in Word and go through each flagged item carefully. Feeling rusty? Pick up a book on editing techniques or download an app to strengthen your skills. Printing out your work and going through it with a pen is another valuable technique because it gives you an opportunity to see the story in another way. Have others read your work. When you feel your book is completely polished, hand it over to a professional editor.

Remember The 3-Dimension People: It’s easy to sit too long at a desk and forget to get outside and be with the 3-dimension people. Giving your brain a chance to relax not only recharges you, but can also lead to unexpected creativity.

To Fix or Abandon: Sometimes, a story just doesn’t work. You can spend an ungodly amount of time trying to fix something that you end up destroying even more every time you touch it, or you can abandon it and start from scratch. This is one of the most difficult decisions a writer can make, but it’s better to have a well-written story that works, rather than a pieced together mess. I can definitely relate to this point after having an agent ask me to rework my first novel. It took me six months and I re-submitted with the changes. She said I was on the right track, but asked me to change major parts of the story (e.g. the era). Again, I rewrote and re-submitted. The result? I hated the changes because the story wasn’t even my story anymore. It was an abomination. I knew it, the agent knew it. So, after much anguish, I decided to abandon the project completely. The upside? That experience not only helped me find my voice in writing a new novel (Strange Luck), it allowed me to focus on the story I needed to tell.

And now I leave you with an inspirational quote from my favorite author, Henry David Thoreau: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams and live the life you imagined.” 

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

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