Sunday, October 21, 2012

Writing a novel diary: Part 4

So, after months of preparation, I sit down and start writing. I have my chapter map beside me, my character descriptions nearby and I'll also have typed up or copied and pasted research into a folder on my desktop for easy access whilst writing. Internet ready, cup of tea made, seat adjusted, knuckles cracked and away I go!

Something that a lot of people struggle with when it comes to writing a full length novel is procrastination. Sudddenly faced with the prospect of having to type anything up to 100,000 words, doing housework, gardening, food shopping and watching television suddenly become much sought-after past times. I've met quite a few authors who suffer from this, and read of many more on their various blogs etc.

Sitting down and writing for the better part of 8 hours a day is, frankly, quite difficult. I have my own way of dealing with the issue: I just break my day up into sections. I only sit at the computer and write for a maximum of about two hours at a time. In between these mini-marathon sessions I'll go for a walk, do other chores, read somebody else's novel etc. These little breaks help to ease any difficulty with motivation ( and also give my eyes a rest !).

On average I write about 3,000 words per day once I've started a first-draft, and this usually yeilds a complete manuscript in about a month. This is largely due to the fact that I'm fortunate enough to be able to write full-time, working five days a week. When I was holding down a full time job, as the vast majority of authors do, I used to write for an hour or so most evenings and then all day on Sundays. I used to complete a full manuscript in about two to three months back then.

Writing a novel is ultimately about having the determination to sit down and get started. It's much like physical fitness, in that it's often said that the hardest part of getting fit is getting out of the door with your trainers on. You just have to sit down and get on with it. I used to find that even when I really didn't feel like writing, once I actually sat down and got started the hours would fly by and I'd suddenly find myself staring at 10 completed pages. Once you're on your way, it gets easier.

As I write the first draft, I often discover new and unexpected opportunities to adjust and improve the story line. There are two ways to deal with this. As a rule, it's worth just continuing on with the draft after making notes about the new idea. This avoids having to deal with repercussions of the new idea later in the draft, and having to think on the fly as you write later scenes in the book. It can be tricky to mentally juggle everything at once and keep creativity flowing, so this is the method I generally use. New scenes and stuff can be added in the re-drafts and edits. Very occasionally I'll alter something whilst writing a draft, but generally only if it requires one or two extra events or scenes that are easy to add: maybe a character says something, that later becomes important to the hero of the story. A quick note in my chapter map reminds me to add the new realisation later, and all's good.

There are also a few "habits" that some authors say you shouldn't do when writing a novel, and chief of these is that you shouldn't read a novel whilst writing one. I used to subscribe to this point of view, fearing that reading somebody else's work might somehow contaminate my own, but in recent years I've rejected this. Reading whilst writing just serves to give you a distraction, a reward and escape if you like, for all your hard work, and often provides great inspiration. I recall reading action scenes in other novels and thinking to myself: "Look how dynamic that was compared to the action scene I wrote. I could do so much more with my own work when I start the edits!" Bottom line: if you like reading outside of your own work, just carry on - you've already got your own story sorted.

Another temptation for an author is to re-draft a chapter immediately after completing it, just a little brush-up and tidy. DON'T! Start with page one and keep on going, all the way to the end. The reason for this is that you'll keep tinkering with previous chapters and slow your own progress, perhaps never even finishing the novel. Furthermore, it's only after a break away from a draft that you really see how good or bad it is. Redrafting on the fly NEVER works, so don't do it. Sure, make notes at the end of your writing day on things you felt you weren't happy with, ready for the edits that will come later, but don't dwell on them. Keep moving forward.

A final tip for avoiding procrastination, writer's block and inspiration all at once: at the end of your writing day, make sure wherever possible that you finish writing in the middle of a chapter. Don't be tempted to finish it. If you're in the middle of a great scene that you're enjoying, then definitely leave it. You'll come back to the manuscript eager to keep going and excited to continue the story, much as your readers will hopefully be when they get to the same chapter. That enthusiasm will remain as you continue into the next chapter, keeping you moving forwards.

In the next post I'll describe a few methods that I use to help capture my imagination in order to "lose myself" in the story, and also some ways in which to improve dialogue, narrative and creativity whilst writing.

ETHAN WARNER BOOK 5: As I write this, I am currently at the 25,000 word stage of my latest novel, two weeks into the draft.


Rebecca Alexander said...

These are wise words. I'm a third of the way into my third novel and pushing to complete that first draft. In the past (before I had ever finished a novel or had a deal) I used to get hung up on the editing-as-you-go thing. Now I know I have other drafts simmering away giving me time to think about edits I will make so I can concentrate on what I'm creating from scratch.

Author said...

Good words of advice, Dean, even for this author just starting off on his thirteenth novel! I just needed that little bit of stimulation to get me gee'd up again. Ta, bud.

Dean Crawford said...

Cheers Matt, glad to be of help mate! :)

Col Bury said...

Great to see you flying along, Dean. Superb advice, as usual, and well timed for this writer.


Jen Black said...

Interesting method, Dean. thanks for putting it down for everyone to follow.