One of the most common questions that writers get is: “Gee, what’s writing a book like?” Well, okay, so the question isn’t worded quite like that. But the answer is still going to be the same.
People, at least in my experience, often romanticise book writing. They think it must be wonderful to put down your ideas onto paper and turn it into a book. And they’d be right. I love when my ideas come together into a coherent piece of fiction. What most people don’t realise is that writing a book is a lot more complicated than it seems. It’s not just sighing away while staring at a word document. It takes a lot of work, many doses of caffeine or chocolate or what have you and a good deal of grumbling. I’ve written a lot of novels, and it has taken a good long while to refine my process.
Generally, things start like this:
1. Getting the idea
For me, my ideas come at the most inconvenient times. I’m not talking about meetings, or during dinner. You can easily whip out your phone or (gasp!) a pen and paper and jot the idea down. No, for me, inconvenient times are when I’m brushing my teeth. Or in the shower. Or sometime where it is absolutely impossible for me to write.
However, once I’ve had the idea, if it’s good, it’ll stick around. I usually mull it over for a bit. Think about it when I’m drinking my tea or on my way somewhere. Then, when I have a spare moment or I’m at the end of another writing project, I start writing it out.
2. The outline
Some people love outlines. They use them to make stories organised and proceed in a logical fashion. You can put all of your main plot points into an outline and you’ll be sure to hit them because you’re writing from an outline.
Me? I can’t stand writing fiction from an outline.
I think it comes from too many years at university. I’ve done countless academic papers that require a logical progression from a to b. Which is not a bad thing! But, when you are also required to turn in your outline, it becomes an entirely different animal. I find outlines box me into a certain path. I can’t spontaneously jump to a different place because it doesn’t fit with the outline and would therefore ruin the story. So I just start writing.
3. The writing
I literally write my story from beginning to end. I just put down a scene and go from there, doing whatever comes to mind as it comes to mind. Sometimes I get ideas for later in the novel. I usually write these in a separate notebook, for reference if I forget about them or if I get stuck. Most of the time, though, it’s just improvising. And, most of the time, it turns out alright. My stories tend to be more organic this way and don’t always proceed logically. Then, life isn’t logical, so I don’t mind much.
Writing organically does mean that I’m not often spending a lot of time planning. I usually just sit down at my laptop — tea optional — and put on some music. Ninety percent of the time, this music is Mozart’s Requiem. I know it well enough that I can listen to it and make it background noise. It doesn’t distract me because I know what’s going on. But it also isn’t the sometimes frightening void of silence. The blank page is already a void. I don’t need two.
Then, I just write. Yes, really. Fingers on keys, distractions turned off (except my cat, whose lap-sitting keeps me in one spot long enough for a serious bout of writing). Sometimes, I don’t manage long periods of time in one go. Sometimes I get ten minutes in a day and that’s it. Other days, I can go through the Requiem (at 52 minutes or so) three or four times before I’m done.
Excepting NaNoWriMo, it takes me between two or three months to write a full-length novel. This includes the grumbling and cursing my characters and the couple of weeks where I can’t get a word in at all.
4. Now what?
Not all of my work is meant for publication. Actually, a good portion of what I write isn’t going anywhere near a printing press. That doesn’t mean I don’t share it, though. I post much of it in online form so that people can read it and comment on it and decide whether it’s decent or not. I leave my work alone — unedited — for upwards of six months before I look at it again. Then, if I decide that it’s actually okay, I consider it for editing and eventually publication.
Some of my work ends up unfinished. I have scraps of stories laying around for melding into something new. I have short stories and story beginnings and even poetry, though I don’t claim to be any good at it. The point is, I write as much as I can possibly manage. I write for me and if it happens to be good, then I consider publication. But I can’t stop writing.
Editing, though, is a whole different kettle of fish. And a whole article in its own right.