How to not write a novel

typewriter_christinanelson

  • Do not, under any circumstances, start writing without an outline or other solid plan. If you do, you’ll spend forever untangling your mess of a novel. Your plot will make no sense, your characters will be flat and contradictory and you will have too many ill-explored themes. Revising this will frustrate the hell out of you and will lead to many bad life decisions and too much money spent on liquor.
  • Seriously, don’t start writing without an outline.
  • Don’t write your outline without a basic knowledge of plot structure and character arcs. I know things like plot structure seem boring and formulaic, but it’s good to have a handle on. Not to say that you need to follow the structural ‘rules’ of writing to the letter. However, you can’t break the rules without knowing them and understanding how they work.
  • Don’t edit or censor yourself as you go through the first draft. Let it all flow onto the page/document. Even if it feels like it’s becoming a mess despite your outline. Revising and editing will come later. Finish this draft first.
  • Don’t assume that others will understand your characters like you do. You may have a crystal-clear idea about who they are in your head, but does it show in your work?
  • Don’t start revising on a chapter by chapter basis. If you do, you’ll keep running into the same structural problems and pushing them back instead of solving them. Rather, start by looking at your draft as a whole. Does it have a consistent theme? Is there a logical sequence of events? Etc. After you’ve fixed the bigger issues, work your way down to the details.
  • Don’t procrastinate on revising by writing blog posts about writing novels.

How to edit a novel

  1. Print out the whole draft, marveling at all the words you conjured out of nothing.
  2. Read through it. Make notes as you go along: mark where the structure is illogical, where the characters are acting OOC, cross out the stream-of-consciousness filler, and don’t forget to add lots of question marks in the margins.
  3. Despair.
  4. Go back to your original document. Start making changes.
  5. Fiddle around with the structure until it’s more logical and/or interesting, starting with the first chapter.
  6. Flesh out scenes. Write 500 words of descriptions you skipped the first time.
  7. Delete 1000 words of that same chapter.
  8. Despair.
  9. Force yourself to move on to the next chapter, even though the previous one is still hella flawed.
  10. Repeat 5-9.
  11. Get lost in the chapter with the worst structure and content so far. Stare at your piece of shit document for hours on end.
  12. Despair.
  13. Move scenes forward in the novel. If you build it up more slowly, it will be better and more logical. Of course, now you’ll have to write a lot of new scenes in-between.
  14. Scenes, new scenes. You can figure this out.
  15. Get a drink.
  16. Or two.
  17. Stare at the document for several more hours and hours until your eyes are burning out of your skull.
  18. Force the words out, all words, any words. Scenes are made out of words, right?
  19. Read what you’ve written the following day. Delete 75% of the chapter.
  20. Despair.
  21. Repeat 14-20.
  22. You’ve been working on the same chapter for two weeks, haven’t you?
  23. Is the prospect of the remaining 23 chapters giving you panic attacks yet?
  24. Twenty-three, twenty-three, will the end ever come in sight?
  25. Why did you ever write a novel?
  26. Why did you ever think you should be a writer?
  27. You should have gone to medical school like the other smart, privileged kids.