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    How I don't write a novel, and how I do

    When I wrote my first novel I tried very hard to use another writer's process--taking tons of notes and then plotting my story on index cards. I had this huge stack of the cards. The photo at the left shows only a few. I organized them and reorganized them. I grouped them. I laid them out on a table, and then I gathered them all up again. I shuffled through them, and then finally I became so overwhelmed by and frustrated with the whole process that I just cast them aside and started to write.

    It's the best move I ever made.

    After four novels, I now have a pretty good understanding of what works for me. If you care to know, here it is.

    When I first get an idea for a novel, I open a Word document on my computer and throw down whatever it is that's whirling around in my head. Some of my thoughts are quite specific, but most are pretty general--themes, characters, an ending. Over the course of the next couple of weeks before I start writing, I might add bits of dialog, research, tidbits, whatever interests me, whatever I think I might be able to use. There's no organization to this document. It's just page after page of stuff. Maybe 9 or 10 pages worth.

    When I feel like I have a pretty good idea of who my characters are and a sense of the story, I jump in, usually keeping to 2000 words a day, seven days a week until I'm done. I turn to those notes from time to time when I'm not sure where to go. I even add to them for awhile.

    Here's the funny thing, though. I don't actually use much from my notes. And somewhere along the way, maybe halfway through my story arc, I quit referring to that document altogether and start making notes right in my manuscript--what's coming next, upcoming dialog, reminders of things I need to address.

    So why do I do it then? Because it works for me. Something about the process gives me the confidence to get started and keep going until I have a real story that I can't put down until I'm done.

    Note cards and storyboarding work for my author friend, but they don't work for me. Everyone has to discover their own process. And you only do that by trying something, anything, and keeping at it until you begin to see a pattern.

    Happy writing!

    Reader Comments (2)

    I've never used story boards or note cards or even an outline, no matter how long and complex the work. I'm with those authors who say, "My first draft is my outline." I create a first draft. And go from there.

    August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine Ryan Hyde

    I'm with you, Catherine. I love that discovery process. My favorite part is when I'm writing and smiling at something that's unfolding in front of me. That is so cool.

    August 13, 2011 | Registered CommenterJ.H. Trumble

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