Thursday, February 16, 2017

Writing: Getting the Novel Finished

Let's take a moment to talk about something that I see a lot of people concerned about online. The thing that a lot of people tend to consider the thing that separates the writers from the aspiring writers. Actually finishing the damn book.

It's hard. Of course it is. If writing a novel were easy every shmuck would do it. But for every person that does you have dozens that sit around bemoaning the fact that they would write if only they had time (like the rest of us have so much of that) or if they had any good ideas (they actually do even if they don't realize it) or were any good at writing (and I would be a brain surgeon if I knew anything about anatomy and blood didn't make me squeamish).

But it's one of those big deal things, the first major hump. If you haven't done it, it looks impossible. If you've done it more than once, it looks easy and you might question why it was ever hard to begin with. If you've done it once or twice, then you understand completely and sympathize and may even worry about whether or not you'll be able to get your second novel finished.

There's a lot of advice about this floating around the internet. I'm just going to throw down what works for me and toss it into the void and hope it finds someone for whom this works as well as it does for me.

For the first one, use an outline.

I know a lot of writers that don't. My sensei, Ty, has told me before that he doesn't. Just diving right in works for a lot of people, and that's okay, but this advice is for those of us that are in that phase where we just can't seat-of-our-pants it yet.

When I wrote the first Drasule book, the only thing that got me to the end of that novel was the fact that I had a solid outline. A lot of people also swear by this--and the truth is I used to but it changed for me and I can now seat-of-my-pants like a fucking professional--but I'm about to break down specifically why it worked for me.

You see, I had no problem at all writing short stories. I had no problem at all writing scenes. It was novel length works that eluded me for a long time. And the reason for that was because it was easy to see a whole scene in my head but the second I started thinking longer term it became a problem.

The trick was breaking it into pieces. And an outline helped me do that. A novel isn't a big insurmountable thing, it is a bunch of little scenes strung together to make a whole. When you think "I'm going to write three scenes today" it becomes way less intimidating than "I need to work on my novel".

Like slipping beads on a string. Eventually it's finished.

Don't worry about it sucking.

Parts of it probably do. That's fine. I'm working on my tenth book total if you count the ones that aren't out yet and the ones that will never see the light of day and parts of them still suck in the first draft. But you can't worry about that when you're writing.

Even if it sucks you have to keep plugging forward. Let it suck, go back and fix it later when the book is done. You might even go back and find it doesn't actually suck at all, you were just having a moment.

But if it does that's what editing is for.

Knowing how it ends is more important than knowing how it starts.

Writing a novel is 90% just knowing where you're going. Know your climax because you will be building to it through the whole book. Know your climax because that will shape so much of what comes before it.

Your beginning is vital, but your ending will be the difference between whether your book is stellar or pretty okay. And besides, if you want to finish it you need to know how. If it doesn't end you'll just be writing in circles forever.

If you're unmotivated you have to do it anyway.

You can't just skip going to work because you aren't motivated. Get up and write shit. Put your fingers back on the keys. If you're worried that your lack of motivation is going to hurt your narrative it's okay to open a new document and just write a bunch of bullshit, but write something. Better to work on your narrative, honestly, because (as stated above) even if it sucks that's what editing is for, but under no circumstances do you get to sit there and do nothing.

Okay. Under some circumstances. If someone died, if you're in the hospital, if it's Christmas or your birthday, or if your house is on fire, you can skip it. Basically...if you'd have skipped actual work, you can skip it. But on the whole try to treat it like it's a real job. Because chances are you want it to be right?

Listen to music in the car.

This doesn't count as writing. But I cannot tell you how many ideas I've gotten that have made my stories so much better as I was sitting in the car with headphones on. Watch the pictures in your head, that shit is gold.

Obey NaNo's Law.

We have a saying over at the NaNoWriMo forums: When in Doubt Add Ninjas. This doesn't mean literal ninjas usually. It means when your plot is stalling out and you feel like you just don't know where to go, make something happen. Something dramatic, something unexpected. Let somebody die. Have somebody pull a gun. Worry about how you're going to explain it later just do anything you can to get shit happening because the literal worst thing you can do to your readers is bore them.

Depress them, offend them, make them say "yeah right", all of these things before you bore them. Because if you've offended someone they are still talking about you but if you bore them they walk away and never come back. Ninjas aren't boring. Ninjas are awesome.

Now I've got one more thing and I'm not sure how useful it is to finishing a book but my online friends (you have checked out Shea's website, right?) and I have one particular golden rule when it comes to storytelling and it is this:

Trust your subconscious mind, it knows wtf it's doing.

So you're in mid scene and one of your characters starts doing something you didn't expect. Just let it happen. I know you're thinking "this is going to fuck up my whole outline" and "oh god this is a horrible idea" and "no, why are you doing this, no" but even if you don't know why you're doing it right now, it will probably become clear to you later. And if it doesn't guess what? That's what editing is for.

But you'll probably realize it later and be like "Wow subconscious brain, you're amazing why didn't I think of that?"

You did think of that. You thought of it and you questioned it and yet here you are.

So anyway, this might not work for you. But it did work for me and if you're like me it might work for you. Please don't comment on this and be like "this isn't how it works for me" because no one promised it would, and if it doesn't it's just because you're not the person this journal needed to find and that's okay. Writing process isn't one size fits all, if it was apparently everybody would be writers.

What I learned today: Here is a handy list of different types of gladiators. I'm not typing them all out for you but if you want to click over and give them a browse it's really interesting stuff.

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