Have you ever dreamed of writing a novel? Like a big-boy chapter book? I certainly have, and I’m almost to the point where I can check off that goal of mine. I’ve always felt like I could do as well (or better) than a lot of the novels I’d read, and since I read a lot, I figured I might as well give it a shot.
The problem, I quickly found, was that writing a novel wasn’t difficult. Figuring out a plot idea, or developing character sketches, or even the basic research wasn’t hard. The tricky part was–and still is–keeping everything organized.
I’m currently participating in an event called “NaNoWriMo,” which stands for National Novel Writing Month. It’s an annual no-holds-barred writing extravaganza every November that exists solely to encourage and promote the idea of writing a full (50,000 word) novel in a month. Since I’d started my project a few months ago, I’m going to be shooting for 50,000 words in November that I can use to stuff my blog with great posts for a year (!). But here’s a bit of what I’ve learned, 70,000+ words into my book:
In my head, my book makes sense on a general level. You’ve got the good guy–the unassuming stereotypical hero archetype who saves the world, against all odds (I did mention it was a genre thriller, right?). But it was when I tried to get slightly more detailed; slightly more granular, when things got out of hand.
How does Person A get from Point A to Point B, while taking out Person B? What about Person C, who’s supposed to be with Person A the whole time? What about Setting A? What time does the sun even come up in Setting A in December? Will people be able to tell that I’ve never even been anywhere near Setting A?
As such, I thought it might be helpful to all you other aspiring novelists out there, or anyone who’s engaged in the process of or considering writing a large, multifaceted work. Here are a few tidbits I’ve learned from doing this only once:
- Don’t try to keep everything in your head. You will fail, and your book will suck.
- This means to write everything down. I thought it was sort of a waste at the beginning of the project to go through and figure out who each character was and write it in a character sketch–who cares what they eat for breakfast? But it was a huge help to be able to write freely, knowing what their twitches, quirks, and characteristics were.
- Spend ample time outlining each section before you dive in. I can argue that it’s great to just “jump in” and go nuts, but after awhile you really will be better off if you take some time to plan your attack. For this process, I use a combination of Scrivener and Evernote. More details below.
- Plan to rewrite. Everything. This is the phase I’m sort of in now–going back to the prologue and figuring out what parts don’t make sense (most of them) and which sections need to be rehashed (all of them). Don’t take it as an insult, but (especially if this is your first time scoping and writing something of this magnitude) it’s probably not nearly as good as you think. Unless you think it’s terrible. Then you’re probably right.
- Figure out which sections/paragraphs/sentences/words you don’t need. Then chop them out.
These are just a few tips that I now swear by. I’ll keep everyone updated as to my own progress, and I’d love for you to do the same. Leave a comment or drop me a line.
Finally, there are some workflow issues that I needed to resolve:
- How should I keep everything organized on my computer?
- What should I be writing in? (hint: it’s DEFINITELY NOT anything that starts with “Micro-” and ends with “-ord”)
- How should I organize my research files and links so that everything’s in the right place when I need it?
- What if I want to write at work, on a PC, or at home, on a Mac? Or what if I need to type an idea into my phone to sync with a server somewhere?
Well, I found my answers. They may not be perfect, or all-inclusive, and I might change my mind in the future. But for me, it’s a good start:
- Ideas: This is where the book got its start. Everything starts as an idea, and I’ll have notes called “General Plot Ideas,” “Plot Holes,” “Questions,” etc. in here.
- Research: I love how Evernote has plenty of ways to “clip” stuff–this feature is paramount to incorporating into my workflow. If need to quickly find out how tall a monument is (’cause I’m gonna blow it up or something…), I’ll find it online, clip it, and do the bibliography info way later, so I don’t need to remember anything except my data.
- Current: This is a developmental notebook that came about from my differing day-to-day workflow. Usually I write from my MacBook Pro, but sometimes I’m on my PC at work. I don’t have Scrivener at work, so I need a way to keep my current place in the novel that I can immediately and effectively sync at a moments’ notice. Keeping a scratch file or two is a headache-solver for me.
That’s pretty much it. I like to keep my workspace clean–both literally and figuratively–and these two programs are really helpful for this. You probably have your own thoughts/ideas, and I’d love to hear them! Leave a comment below for your thoughts, and happy writing!