Do or Do Not…

I get asked, quite often, about the steps I take when writing a novel. Nearly every day I have someone saying “Oh, I tried to write a novel once but I didn’t finish” or “I’m writing one right now, any advice?”. They ask how I wrote so many books in such a short amount of time. I usually inform them that during the time of the writing I was always unemployed and usually spent a minimum of ten hours a day working on said novel.

Basically, writing a novel is a dirty, dirty business. But there are things that can help you while you work.

First off, environment. If you have the TV on in the background, sometimes you might find yourself listening to the TV and you find your attention flagging on your novel. I know I do, and have cursed the Animal Planet channel many times whenever they show the “Growing Up…” series. This may sound redundant and simple, but if the TV’s bothering you, turn it off. If you have someone else living with you (spouse, children, etc.) this might not be the best idea all the time. Another way is to buy sound-reducing headphones so that you can listen to music while you write.

Secondly, music. It can soothe you, get you worked up, and can direct the flow and pace of your novel. I’ve found that making play lists on my iPod is not only helpful but helps me create a source of energy for the books. If I want a fight scene and need to build up the tension before hand, I find the appropriate music. I then sit back, listen, and let the fight run through my head while the soundtrack is playing. Again, a simply solution but an easy one.

Third, research. I used to have this problem of writing the book before the world was fleshed out. While it allowed for creativity and a frantic sort of free writing, not being bound by limits and rules caused problems in the novel later on when I was struggling to get it ready for publication. Now I use massive amounts of research and, for books like the Christian Cole novels, actually drew out relevant maps of each district of the city as well as the housing layouts. This is a bit over the top but, as I move onto book 3 of the series, I know the background, the city layout, and what is where. Little things that crop up in later novels will have places to reside and I already have an idea what their impact would be in that neighborhood. I also know, in advance, what the temperature is like in the area (mountains of Southern California in this case) during any particular season.

Another little trick I learned is to know my limits. My goal is never to write the next “Insert Name Here”, but to create entertaining fiction. I have no desire to win a Hugo, Nebula or Peabody award. Quite frankly, I would be disappointed if someone took what I wrote and made it some sort of “literature”. I know that I’m never going to be an Ayn Rand, but maybe, just maybe, I can make someone say “That book was fun” after they reach the last page.

Lastly, patience.  Someone once equated writing a novel as staring at the computer screen until a drop of blood appears on your forehead and drops onto the keyboard, from which the Writing Gods are appeased with your sacrifice and allow you to create literary masterpieces. Not everybody can write a novel in a month (or a year). Or so they think. Eric Flint pointed out one time that if you give yourself a goal of writing a set amount of words per day, you’ll reach your novel’s end in no time at all. Like this, for example:

Joe gives himself a goal of 1,000 words a day. He knows how fast he can type (say, 40 wpm) and has the novel fully in his mind and ready to go. He writes for 30 minutes each day. Hypothetically, with his words per minute typing speed, he writes 1,200 words per day. This is optimistic, after all, because we all hit snags. So let’s say that Joe writes this way for six months.

1,200 words x 180 days = 216,000.

Holy crap, Joe just wrote an 800 page novel!

Just some tips I’ve come up with as well as borrowed from other writers I’ve come across over the years. Hope they are of any use to aspiring writers out there. I know they sure help me.

One thought on “Do or Do Not…

  1. Wonderful! I have been hitting snags for most of my writing life and could not quite figure out what it was. The tip about research really hit home. I think I need to get to know the city of my novels way better than I do. I focused so much on character and plot that I totally forgot about setting. I only have certain places down in my mind, and the rest of the city is like a blank space….hence the blank spaces on the pages of my novel. Perfect. I really appreciate this… I have been looking for something to hit home, to really set the sparks flying again and i think I found it! Thank you so much!!


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