Have you ever dreamed of writing a novel? Does your personal muse pull you toward the creative ranks of authors? Welcome! The world needs your voice. It doesn't matter if you think your story has already been told. The truth is, it has never been told by YOU.
So, how does a novel come together? Where do you even begin? Here you'll find a brief overview of the process of crafting a novel. These are the steps you should take on your own before you query or pitch it to an agent or editor.
People have differing opinions on how to outline. Some people like to build every little detail J.K. Rowling style before they sit down to write their first word. They have offices covered in sticky notes, plot lines drawn across the ceiling, and notebooks spilling with character sketches. Others, prefer to write by the seat of their pants (we call these people 'pantsers'). They might have a general idea of their story, but they follow their characters wherever they want to go, learning about them on the way.
There isn't a wrong or a right way to outline, but you have to have a few things straight before you start writing:
1. Who are you following? What do they want?
2. What is standing in their way? What is their try-fail cycle?
3. How will it end? Do they get what they want, or what they need?
As long as you have the beginning and the end goal in mind, you can navigate your beloved characters through whatever waters come between. But you must have that end goal like a lighthouse leading you on, or else you might never make it to shore.
The Rough Draft:
I have one firm rule when I write my first draft of a story: NEVER hit delete. A little dramatic, yes, but I promise you will become more productive if you adopt this rule. Why does it work? Because writers cannot create and edit at the same time. John Steinbeck had this to say:
“Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on.”Writing without the fear of 'getting it right the first time' helps word counts soar, boosts momentum, and places authors at the finish line faster than they thought possible. While an unfiltered stream of words splattered across the page might not sound like the finished story, don’t worry. A messy script is exactly where you want to be at the end of a rough draft!
To use an analogy from one of my favorite authors, Shannon Hale said:
“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that I can build castles.”Once you finish, celebrate the milestone! You completed a novel. That alone puts you in the top 3% of hopeful writers. Don't worry that it doesn't look like the story you want it to be yet. Those phases are coming up. Be happy with the general shape, the bones you built, and look forward to the detail work you get to dive into next.
The Content Edit:
While you might feel tempted to start throwing in lyrical prose and punctuation, RESIST! Now is not the time. Right now, you are making sure your structure is sound. You don't want a tower crumbling on you after you've spent time in the details. Right now you need to work through the plot holes, character motivations, and pacing. And let me emphasize something. You can't do this alone. Having a trusted community is a crucial part of the content edit. You need added eyes and experiences to dissect your novel, to pull any loose threads tight before you invest time in polishing your manuscript. The girls at Writing Through Brambles not only offer me crucial insight, but also encouragement and enthusiasm for my story. Trust me, I've needed it on those days I felt tempted to scrap the whole novel as hopeless. So, find a community, get feedback, and fortify those towers before you move on.
The Copy Edit:
Now that your novel is set on a firm foundation, bring it to life with a distinctive voice, style, and correct grammar. Many writers try beginning their novel with this phase. That's why a lot of people don't ever finish their books. On a book that has a solid plot, rounded characters, and excellent pacing, the copy edit elevates a manuscript to a publishable quality. Choosing just the right words is when the magic really starts to happen. Get the manuscript in as good a shape as you can possibly get on your own, then guess what...
You're ready to take your baby to market. The amazing thing about the writing process is that editing is cyclical. Once you find an agent, they will start you back over at the content edit phase, instilling your novel with a deeper quality appropriate for your market and audience. Then, when you find a publisher, they take you back to the content edit phase again! These deeper levels of edits add even more refining polish to your work. But don't worry about those steps yet. They will all be spelled out for you in your contract. ;)
So, don't worry- be happy. Shovel away at that sand and dream of the magnificent castle that will eventually take shape. Let others see it while it's still forming. And most of all, enjoy the journey.