It's been almost six months since I first decided to embark on the National Novel Writing Month challenge (NANOWRIMO). To say I thrive on deadlines would be an understatement!
It was such an incredible (blurry) experience. In four weeks I wrote a first draft. (I started my NANIWRIMO at the end of November instead of beginning.) I watched the word count crawl up to my goal of 70,000. I stayed up until 3 in the morning writing, and drank tea all day to get me through to the next night, loving every second. And then I took a short break- I wrote the last chapter on Christmas Eve actually, and rang in the New Year with a completed manuscript under my belt.
Then, I began the extremely painful but enlightening process of revisions. First I tackled the big stuff, adding another twenty thousand words. Then I tackled the smaller stuff, effectively deleting ten thousand of those words. Then I killed my darlings, cut cliche's, and removed anything that made me cringe. Finally I did the line edits, over and over and over again, though I am certain I missed some. (Critique partners and beta readers for the win, guys!)
As soon as I got to the point where I was ready to query agents, I started thinking about my next book. I started with one idea, and then got another. I flushed out the ideas and decided which one I'd go with. And now I'm working on novel number two.
Because this is what I do now: I write stories! I couldn't stop if I tried, though I never want to.
I have a lot of people ask me about writing now, and how I got started with fiction. But I'm SO NEW to this experience, I certainly can't give expert advice. All I can do is share what works for me. Because if there is one thing writing a book taught me, it's my PROCESS. I feel like I know my brain so much better now than I ever have.
So today I'm sharing my writing process for those who are a little overwhelmed with knowing where to start. I get that, and I felt it too.
Here is the method I use when I approach writing.
1. I Research
One of the first things I do is create a new Word Doc, start a secret Pinterest board, and grab a fresh notebook. This trifecta perfectly encapsulates the many was in which I learn and remember. I use my notebook to jot down facts I want to remember. I use my word doc to save links, and make notes. I use Pinterest for setting inspiration.
In my first book, the settings are real places -- places I've been -- so that was fairly simple. In this new book, I'm creating a fictional town. This requires much more research because I want to get it right.
This brings me to another point: I think it's an author's responsibility to do their due diligence. Don't cut corners. Do the research.
2. I get to know my major characters
I'm not the type of person who does full character write ups on all her characters before she starts writing. Because I discover things about my characters as I go. But, I do like to have a good idea of their strengths and weaknesses before I start.
3. I outline plot points
The popular thought is that there are two types of writers: those who plot (plotters), or those who fly by the seat of their pants (pantsers). I think I lie somewhere in the middle there. I like to have a list of major and minor plot points, as a guideline, but I don't necessarily fill in the blanks until I write.
I know many writers who just sit down and write without knowing where the story is headed, and that's best for them, but it's not for me. My brain needs order beforehand to allow for more creativity.
4. I use Scrivener
Oh Scrivener, how I love thee. It really is amazing and I highly recommend it to all writers.
The first thing I do when I create a new Scrivener file is create three new folders and label them: Act 1, Act 2, Act 3. Then I fill them with a few subfolders, followed by "text" pages. That way it's all laid out and I have a visual representation of the chapters. Some people label them too, which I tend to do as I get closer to working on them.
I also copy and paste any Word Doc info to a new page in the research area. Whatever is related to the book goes in Scrivener.
4. I stop researching for a bit
There comes a point in time where I have to stop researching for a bit. I am the type of person who wants to know everything about a subject before I write about it (see #1), but that can hinder me because perfectionism often kills progress.
I usually can tell at this point if I know enough to start writing. Do I have a good sense of the setting? Can I represent the voices of the community appropriately? Once I can answer yes then I take a break from research, save for minor things that take a moment or two to look up.
6. I write the first draft
Now it's time to write. I've only just begun my second novel, and I'm not certain how long this one will take. I suspect two months. And I suspect the first draft will be in much better shape than my first one was as a first draft.
I know people take weeks, months, or even years to write a book, but I don't think anyone could argue there is an appropriate amount of time it SHOULD take you. We all have different lives. Different obligations. This will look different for each of us.
(Also, as a note: don't be alarmed when you find yourself struggling through Act 2. I've spoken to many, and agree myself, that this was the hardest part of the book to write. Rivaled only by those first three chapters.)