First Novel – Writing 0
You’ve set out on the journey of writing your first novel, and so far you have spent time organizing your thoughts—an outline, synopsis, notes on cocktail napkins. The story seems well thought out, you feel good about your direction, but you’re not certain if your planning is enough. When should you start writing?
I say jump in! Whether it’s a poem, a short story, a novel, you won’t get there if you don’t write it.
Starting a novel may seem like a daunting task, but every journey begins with the first step. For me—now—the actual writing is a few steps into the process, after rounds of planning (see my previous blog entry for more). You may be different, and that’s fine; whatever it takes for you to get to the writing stage and keeps you there is good.
Personally I like to write from the beginning, chapter one, opening sentence. It is how I often think of my stories, and as the beginnings are extremely important I dwell on this part before writing. From there I mostly write straight through—finish chapter one, start chapter two, finish it, start the next. I can’t make too much of a point on this as I am still working on my first novel, but I’ve started several previously and it’s how I worked on those, too (just without the proper planning and with the subsequent derailing or running out of steam).
This doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes skip ahead. Some of my more critical chapters—the final one, for example, or the first big encounter between the protagonist and antagonist—I will write bits of dialog here or a snippet of a scene there. These get filled in as inspiration hits, often because I came up with a new detail and I see how it will fit into a later scene.
Both approaches work for different needs.
Going from A to B to C is good to maintain consistency; you stay in a particular mindset (at least I think I do) and the telling flows.
Writing bits as inspiration hits is great for details and magical moments. But I’ve also found that the chapters where I’ve done a lot of this pre-writing have the same ideas interspersed throughout each of the bits, leaving me more work to tie it all together.
Of course there are many other approaches.
Some people write quickly, not worrying too much about the quality of every sentence. Others edit as they write, producing more slowly but (hopefully) requiring less passes to rewrite. My friend, Steve, on dialog-heavy chapters has recently taken to the approach of writing one speaker’s words first—no doubt the more important information to convey—and then filling in the other dialog around it.
The real goal is completing the first draft. You need to find the methods that work best for you and keep you going. Quantity is good, and you’ll need it—a first draft is only one of the steps on this journey, and I doubt any of us are so good that a first draft will need only minor tweaks.