Baby Steps to Writing a Book

Beach_clouds_wind_244169_lI've been having some issues with my left knee, which sometimes makes it difficult to walk.  Now, I've been a walker for 30 years, so this is not a happy thing for me.  But I put a brace on and perservere as best I can. 

My favorite walking routine begins with a hill.  My knee doesn't like hills or stairs much.  And, probably if this hill were further along my route, it wouldn't be such a big deal.  But the hill is at the start of my journey and the knee is still stiff and resistant.  So the hill looms large.

The other day as I walked up it, I had an epiphany: I don't have to do the damn hill at my usual long, fast stride.   I can do it slowly.  I can take baby steps.

And guess what?  Slowing down and taking smaller steps is all that is necessary to get up the hill without bothering my knee. 

The same thing is true in writing.   Take writing a book, for example.  The thought of it is daunting to many people.  All those pages!  All those sentences!  All those words! How do you go from idea in your head to finished manuscript?

You do it with baby steps, that's how.

Books get written one word at a time.  I know, duh.  But we forget this. 

So, how can you create some baby steps for your book?  What follows are some suggestions for a loose path to follow. (My creative muse demands that everything be somewhat loose.  He doesn't like being boxed in by routine or rigidity).

1.  Brainstorm Topics.  Make a list of potential topics.  If you're writing fiction, make a list of potential scenes, characters, and settings.  This list doesn't have to be organized or in order.  It's just a starting point.

2. Freewrite.  Now that you've got a list, you can start writing from it. Don't overthink it, don't have an emotional reaction to the topics on your list, just write to them.  Set a timer and write for 20 minutes without stopping.  By the way, this process will likely create more topics.  Add them to your list.

3.  Stay Organized.  You can be organized without being rigid.  Keep your writing in a folder or binder or file on your computer, categorized in a way that makes sense to you. 

4. Start to Shape.  Now that you've developed some material, you might want to start shaping the flow of the book.  You can make piles of finished free writes on the floor, or write topics on index cards and shuffle them about.  Again, this process will generate more ideas because you'll see where the holes are.

5.  Put it All Together.  When you've exhausted your list of topics, and filled in all the missing pieces that #4 revealed, see if you can't make yourself an outline of how you think it goes together.

6.  Rewrite.  Now its time to make it pretty.  Or have it make sense--remember that first drafts can be crazy, wild and free.  In this step you think more of the reader and how best to present it to her. Bear in mind that this step is often multiple steps, because most books get revised several times before heading into the world.

7.  Submit.  Now it's time to send your baby out!  Which means you have to quit clutching it to your chest and let go of it.  Yes, you really do.  Research agents and editors, write yourself a kick-ass query letter and start sending it out.

I know, I know.  I make it all sound so simple.  Obviously, writing a book is a bit more complex than this.  But, in truth, this process I've outlined is the bottom line of how a book gets written using baby steps.

So what are you waiting for?  Go write!

How do you take baby steps to write?

Image by mailsparky.


To Outline, or Not To Outline, That is the Question

People in the world can be categorized in a variety of ways: Everystockphoto_247318_l

Night owls vs. larks.

Creative vs. non-creative (Though I believe everyone is creative, it is all in your attitude about it.)

Dentists vs. non-dentists.

And for writers:

Outliners vs. Non-outliners.

Outliners, at least in popular thought, tend to be control freaks, tight, anxious, did I mention the issue with control?

Non-outliners tend to be casual, loose, free and easy.

Now, in most of my personal habits and traits I am laid back, laissez-faire, some might even call me lazy.  (I never met an excuse to take the day off that I didn't like.) Just like a non-outliner.

So you would probably assume that I'm a non-outliner.

You would assume wrong.

I am an outliner of the highest order and I believe fervently that you should be, too.  (Though I am willing to accept that you might believe just as fervently that I should be a non-outliner.)  Your outline doesn't have to be fancy or perfect.  Mine usually start out as a loose list.  And when I say loose, I mean loose.

But here's what I've noticed: as I progress with my novel prep and then the actual writing of the novel, I learn more about my characters and the situations I want to put them in.  And those things get added to my outline.  The loose list gets more and more populated, and pretty soon I have a fairly detailed road map for where I'm headed.

Crucial words: where I'm headed.

Because, as I wrote last week, if you know where you're going to go, you can write a helluva lot more.  Like, 10K words a day more. 

And if I don't have my road map I meander.  I take two or three scenes to get to my destination when, really, it only warranted one.  Characters walk down dark alleys when, really, they'd be far more apt to stroll down a broad country lane.

In other words, I get lost. 

When I wrote my MFA novel, I started with an idea and had no clue where that idea might end up.  So I just started writing.  All things considered, it is a miracle the book ever got finished.  Truthfully, it is still sitting on my computer because the plot doesn't quite hang together.  The characters don't quite ring true.  I believe that if I'd taken the time to figure some of these things out ahead of time--if I'd made an outline--that probably wouldn't be true.

Okay, fess up.  Are you an outliner or a non-outliner?  Which do you prefer and why?

Photo by sheldonken.


Book Writing: The Tyranny of Chronology

 

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Are you a Write in Order Writer, or an Anything, Anytime Writer?

The Write in Order Writer insists on writing scenes in strict chronology.

The Anything, Anytime Writer writes whatever part of the novel she feels like without regard to order.

All my life, I've been a Write in Order Writer.  And this is not necessarily a good thing.  Because hewing to a strict chronology as you write can become tyrannical.  (For the record, that's a great word.)

As I've mentioned a few times before, I'm working on a new novel.  The path to get here has been fraught with false starts and stories that petered out, but finally I have a main character I love and a story that has legs.

But, here's the deal: every novel that you write comes out differently.  I've had to come to grips with this.  My last novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior (the one I'm currently shopping), came all in a glorious rush.  Emma Jean was unstoppable.  It was amazing and wonderful and thrilling.  I wrote the first draft from beginning to end in a couple of months.

Now comes this novel (it doesn't have a name yet).  I've been saying to myself and anyone who would listen this: it is coming slowly.  And it has been.  I've been saying that with gratitude that it is coming at all, but I also have realized that since the mind directs everything I need to change those statements.  My new one is: my novel is coming fast.

And one of the reasons that it is going to start coming faster is because I'm turning into an Anything, Anytime Writer.  In order to make forward progress and let this novel flow the way it wants to (those being the operative words here) I've had to let go of chronology. 

As we say in my family, cary, cary.  (Translation: scary, scary.)

Just yesterday I wrote the end of Chapter Three before I finished a scene in the middle.  That may not sound like much to those of Anything, Anytime Writers, but to me, a dedicated Write in Order Writer, it was huge.

Cary, cary.  And also liberating.  I hope I can do more of it. 

So let's look at advantages and disadvantages of each.

Advantages to working in chronology.

  • You can keep track of the flow of the story.
  • It is easier to consider cause and effect.
  • Character arcs are more easily seen.
  • You won't get confused

Disadvantages to working in chronology.

  • Writing whatever scene catches your fancy is freeing as all hell.
  • By allowing yourself to write what you want, you won't get blocked.
  • You may get a deeper understanding of character.
  • The writing may flow more easily.
  • You'll get the momentum rolling.

Okay, so the Anything, Anytime Writers win, at least in the above breakdown. I'm probably missing a few points, so feel free to fill them in. 

And, do tell: what about you? What kind of writer are you?  What do you feel are the advantages and disadvantages?

CREATE A SUCCESSFUL, INSPIRED WRITING LIFE: Try something different.  If you are a Write in Order Writer, try writing a scene out of chronology.  If you are a Anything, Anytime Writer, try writing a few scenes in order.  Which works best?

 

Photo by a2gemma.