What Does It Take to Write a Novel?
What does it take to write a novel? Or what writing a novel takes out of you might be the more appropriate assertion. Undoubtedly what it takes from you is time. But since not writing isn’t an option for someone like me, please allow me to deconstruct this dimensional process.
Let’s say that the idea for any given novel sprouted, one fine spring morning while weeding my flower beds. Naturally, I pause, trowel* in hand, to analyze and anchor the thought.
* Apropos of the time issue and barely into the second paragraph of this article, I hereby report that I lost seven minutes on the interwebs googling trowel because neither shovel nor spade was the right term.
I stick the trowel on the ground, take off my gloves and grab my phone on whose notepad I enter a paragraph detailing the epiphany and the song currently playing (whether Pandora or Google playlists, I’m always listening to music). I put my gloves back on and continue with the task at hand while conceptualizing inwardly.
This part of the process, which might go on for weeks, is the only evidence I have that I can do something close to multi-tasking. As I go about my daily business, the original paragraph revolves in my head allowing me views of it from different angles. I make numerous pauses to take notes, which I will later transfer to a Word document featuring dated entries related to the new idea.
When the dated entries are copious enough to give me the inkling of a plot, I sit down and create a second Word document, which will be my chapter outline. Here will go the scrambled entries, like pieces of a puzzle, under the chapter heading they help define. I will develop a synopsis too, which also serves as the bare bones of a novel—this gives me a sense of comfort that I’m starting out with a plan.
This is also the part where I feel like I’m on a rickety, old roller coaster—exciting, familiar, and with just enough bouts of trepidation to keep things interesting. In a “who’s on first” sort of shuffle, the cart begins to gain speed as does the tinkering with the chapters, which for the time being consist of bullet-points. As it advances, the story and characters start coming to life. This is when negotiations to accommodate their requests begin—some characters are more demanding than others. In case you’re wondering, they do have the last say as to how many plot twists and chapters the novel ends up with.
It is during this feverish roller coaster ride that I do the research necessary to support my story, and pages of it are added to applicable bullet-points. As you might imagine research, next to editing, is the biggest time zapper of all!
- For example, while working on Faery Sight, book 1 of my Faerie Legacy Series, which is set in the 1800s, I researched upward of 60 hours’ worth of details about locales, men’s and women’s fashions, weapons, modes of transportation, etc. I also read a lot of Jane Austen, to immerse myself in her style to be able to give my narrative a bit of that flavor.
- When I worked on book 2, Cradle Gift, the research involved locales again, in fact, I went to San Sebastián, Spain, so that when the time came to write, my heroine’s adventures in a foreign land were as realistic as my experience had been.Among other things, I discovered that a person who can Lucid Dream is called an “oneironaut” (on-iron-ought) which happens to be the faery cradle gift my heroine received on the day she was born. I would have never learned that if not for research—hours of it!
- Book 3, Nahia, covers almost 200 years. From the late 1800s to present—imagine how many technological advances happened in that period, which I needed to incorporate in her timeline, where and if appropriate, because of her involvement with the human dimension.
When the bulk of the research is complete, I feel I have secured the raw material to build my novel. The green light to kick off the tactical portion of the process flashes, so I crack my knuckles on approaching the keyboard, and begin.
The following breakdown of methods and eccentricities, I hope, will be illuminating to other indies because nothing is more reassuring than glimpsing the varying degrees of weird out there!
1. Clear your daily slate. Grant yourself 3-4 hours uninterrupted focus. Times 2.
2. Seek the opportune moment. I am most creative in the morning—especially if I’ve had a good night’s sleep.
3. Get in the mood! There is something magical about listening to music and drinking a cup of coffee while my fingers dance on the keyboard to the song of my thoughts. I can’t string a sentence together without a transporting tune playing in the background. A playlist spanning decades, genres and languages work best for me.
Some sections in my books are so deeply linked to whatever song came up while I worked on it that now when I hear certain tunes, I get to revisit scenes I wrote long ago.
4. Heed the superstitions. Through my mind flit crazy thoughts, like, “if I pour coffee into this cup, which innocently bears the definition of ‘writers block’, would the meaning of the words seep into the brew and infuse it with a curse?”
I squint at the mug with a suspicious raised brow… “What if, after I drink the last drop, the voices in my head start giving me the silent treatment?”
Can’t risk it—better safe than sorry, I say.
Writers are a superstitious, quirky bunch—I think it’s because muses are shape-shifters, elusive little tricksters! Anxious to summon them, we dare not bypass the performance of curious rituals before we hit the keyboard: light up that salt lamp; pet your magic blue quartz; wink at the faery reading a book under the monitor; turn on those tunes!
Yes, this is all stuff my imaginary friends tell me to do! And while my ritualistic quirks might seem like juvenile oddities to you, ponder this; there are those who opt for the technical, militant route and set targets for themselves, like refusing to stop until they’ve written 2K+ words for the day. In turn, they are refuted by the Dorothy Parkers of the world who say, “I can’t write five words but that I change seven.”
“Isabel Allende begins writing each novel on the same date: January 8.”
“Truman Capote wouldn’t begin or end a piece of work on a Friday, would change hotel rooms if the room phone number involved the number 13, and never left more than three cigarette butts in his ashtray, tucking the extra ones into his coat pocket.” (Source)
“For decades, Alexandre Dumas used various colors to indicate his type of writing. Blue was the color for his fiction novels…” (Source)
5. Where is your lit-shrine? Because I do better without distractions I mostly write at my desk, at home.
6. A fulfilling day. I consider myself on a roll when I stick to a writing session in the morning, lunch break, afternoon sesh, and debriefing in the late afternoon or early evening (summer) while walking or hiking.
7. Success! After 3 months of ritualistic, laser-focused writing, my first draft is complete, and now begins the next, most grueling part of the process requiring a pickier mindset. Through it, I can be just about anywhere, red pen in hand and a spiralbound copy of the manuscript, covered in markings.
- For those of us who are self-publishing, here is a good moment to begin coordinating other aspects of publication, like launch date, cover art, marketing, pre-sale campaigns, etc., as at this point, we are likely six months away from the big day!
At this stage, my editing efforts are geared toward providing a decent second draft of the novel to beta-readers. With their feedback, the novel can be further polished and deemed worthy of going to a professional editor – although, for my own benefit, I incorporate a lot of grammar research into my writing process, I can’t let a manuscript go to publishing without a pro doing their thing first. The third draft’s a charm.
When I commit to the kind of time that it will take to see a novel through, from concept to publication, I credit my work habits, methods, and eccentricities for the results I achieve. So, all I can say to you is, go for it! discover and embrace your most valuable, tried-and-tested quirks—we all have them, because in the end, their effect on our productivity is priceless!
From horizontal to vertical writers, from color-coordinating pages to acting out dialog, our quirks define our unique voice and style.
“…Mark Twain, George Orwell, Edith Wharton, Woody Allen, and Marcel Proust. They were all known for churning out pages while lying in bed or lounged on a sofa.”
“Hanging upside down is the cure for writer’s block; at least, this is what the renowned bestselling author Dan Brown believes.” (Source)
Wishing you safe travels in the Write Dimension!
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