New Year, New Novels: Finding Your Writer’s Road

What's your writer's road look like? Well paved, with many sign posts? Winding, off the beaten track? Is it planned travel or an exploratory journey?

What’s your writer’s road look like? Well paved, with many sign posts? Winding, off the beaten track? Is your progress a planned travel or an exploratory journey?

Hey guys, and Happy New Year! Hope you enjoyed the last week of 2012 and spent it warm and peaceful in the company of friends and family! I had a restful break, minus the periods of panic about job searching…. Such is life, right?

For my first post back after my short hiatus, on this first day of a new year, I reflect on the beginning phases of my novels, and I realize my writing process has evolved as I’ve written more and more. (Not surprising, I guess. But true.) It’s changed without any real rhyme or reason as my circumstances varied, my confidence grew, and I decided to branch out a bit.

What does this have to do with you, though? The point of this post is that there is, honestly and truly, no one right way to write, develop character, and get a workable plot going. Don’t ever let people tell you there’s only one road to take you to noveldom, and don’t let yourself feel discouraged when a fellow writer describes how wonderfully their private path works for them. You’ll find yours. You will. If you haven’t yet, keep experimenting until you do. However you want to write, whatever kinds of breaks you give yourself, whatever you try to break writer’s block: it’s your prerogative. It’s your novel.

Writing is a personal journey, and just like people have different travel preferences–some fly, some drive; some like to stop, others don’t; some like country roads, others just want to move fast–you have to write according to your preferences. You have to approach the task in the way that most suits you, the way you’re most comfortable with, or you might get so frustrated you won’t reach your destination. Work great under pressure? Try NaNoWriMo in November, or make it your own personal, individual challenge to pump out 50k words (or more!) in a month. Does the thought of that seem extreme and ridiculous? If you wouldn’t enjoy something like that, don’t force yourself to do it. The last thing you want to do is to take the joy out of writing.

Again: experimentation is great. Just to give you an idea of how different my approaches to my novels were, here’s a brief description, in chronological order. (If you’re not interested in that, feel free to skip this section).

  1. LIFE’S LITTLE JOKES. This is my first, unpublished novel. (It’s melodramatic drivel, but I still love it.) I started it my freshman year in college without much thought to planning it out beyond knowing I wanted a couple of action scenes in there that I ended up cutting. The work was born as a short story; as I edited and edited, it grew and grew and I added more supportive cast. Characters’ personalities changed. I thought I had a basic idea of the story’s end in my head during the short story phase, and veered from it completely.
  2. THE CRIMSON LEAGUE. I used no outline. My first idea for the novel got me 20 pages in, and then I knew I had to start over with a new hero, so I did. I had my protagonist and the concept of a resistance movement fighting against a sorcerer. I knew who my main characters would be when I started a rewrite, and I knew their backgrounds. And I let those characters do their thing. Originally, I planned for a series of novels before Herezoth’s civil war ended. Didn’t happen.
  3. THE MAGIC COUNCIL. When I finished my first fantasy novel, I decided to write a sequel set thirteen years later. I again had a basic concept to develop, and I wrote some descriptions for characters who had not yet been born in the first installment. (I’d never written character descriptions before.) I thought a bit about the returning characters, and where their lives might have led them and how they would be the same people as before, yet a bit different. And then I wrote, without an outline. I realized what would happen in the second half only as I finished the first half.
  4. THE KING’S SONS. The last chapter of my trilogy. This is the novel I wrote 100 pages of, and then scrapped. I organized my thoughts more than usual, with some basic plot development and character pages, and that was the result: scrapped pages, 100 of them. So I started over, changing the concept of my plot and advancing time a number of years before the story started. That did the trick. I wrote this novel super quick by my standards: in five or six months. Though I determined there were four characters I wouldn’t touch, I had to kill one of them in the end, so that’ll tell you how much I was writing on the fly. The outcome distressed/saddened me more than anything else I’d written, but the end rang true, and I was happy with it.
  5. THE ESCLAVAN ABDUCTIONS. NaNoWriMo 2012. I outlined the heck out of this novel (though I didn’t reach the end) just to experiment, and the results were good. My draft isn’t very cohesive, but I attribute that to my frantic pace and refusal to allow myself to go back and check certain things to make sure they lined up. If I outline again, I’ll outline more clearly and envision things better than I did here. I have never had a novel NOT end where I thought it would, but when I reached the end, I knew the story had more in it, and I kept going on the fly.

So, there you go. That’s how differently I approached the start of each of my novels. One was a short story, for crying out loud. Another I seriously outlined, and it was the only one without deaths that surprised me, so that was good for me from a mental health standpoint…. The thing is, I consider each novel its own success, and my varying approaches each worked in their own way and had their benefits. So again, you have to find what works for you.

Trial and error is a great approach. Give one thing a shot if it appeals to you, and adjust it until you find your groove. Five novels, and I’m still searching mine out!

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5 responses to “New Year, New Novels: Finding Your Writer’s Road

  1. Thanks for setting out these examples of how you work on your novels. It’s encouraging to know there is no “right” and no “wrong” way to start.

    • i’m glad you agree! there definitely isn’t a set right or wrong way. whatever makes you feel comfortable and excited and pumped about your developing story is the right thing 🙂

  2. Pingback: Who You Are Determines How You Write | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

  3. Reblogged this on judithlesleymarshall and commented:
    Like Robert Frost I tend to take the Road Less Traveled By. Can recommend The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler as a travel guide to take with you.

  4. Pingback: Writing as Adventure: Living Through My Characters | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

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