I was on Google+ (follow me on G+) today and saw someone who was contemplating writing a novel, in need of a little encouragement. I don’t know if what I told qualifies as encouragement, but it certainly gave me the chance to document how I write, and I thought I’d share it with you.
What follows is a slightly cleaned up version of what I told her:
Here’s how I start a story, maybe it will help you. I find when I try to plan a story, long or short, I get stuck. Just a blank white sheet in my mind, white noise, that’s it. I think and I think and I think… nothing.
So I’ve stopped thinking about the story before I write, after all writing a novel is like driving a car in the dark, you can’t see the whole road, but you can get to your destination anyway.
Instead, I think of only one single element (a random scene in my head) and I sit down and write out every possible word without really thinking too much. Thinking comes later. I don’t even worry about the character yet, he or she is just a nebulous blob in my mind anyway, I’ll get to know the character as I go and I’ll go back and edit later to make him or her full and consistent.
I find when I write this way that the first draft is awful. Utter rubbish. But that’s ok because at least there’s something there, and I can work with something.
I read through it and add clay to my sculpture layer by layer, taking my time to think about what I’m adding, and what theme’s my subconcious is bubbling up. You see, now I can think because I have time, the story is there, the bones of it anyway. Sometimes in this stage I find that a single sentence can be explored and built upon and crafted into an entire chapter!
Then i read through it again, this time a with a knife, cutting off all of the fat. If anything feels unnecessary, I cut it. Words like “had” (as in “he had gone to the store”) I cut (“He went to the store”). Words like “began” (“He began to go to the store”) I cut! (“He went to the store”). If I notice I used a word too frequently, I try to think of another word to use. Sometimes I cut entire chapters and I hate doing it, but it can sometimes make the work better.
Everything after this is polishing, making sure everything flows. Here I’ll play with grammar, make sure sentence structure remains varied and interesting, make sure my sentences haven’t run on too long, etc.
By the time I’ve finished these four stages of writing — 1) bones, no thinking, 2) adding meat to the bones, thinking, exploring, 3) trimming the fat, removing unnecessary words 4) polishing to a shine — I usually have something I’m proud of. Not perfect, but something I can really take pride in and put in front of others for feedback.