So, how DO you write a novel?

At the end of last year, when I was planning how to get City of Djinn finished by the end of 2012 I figured I’d start by completing the first draft nanowrimo-style, quickly in one hit. That’s the only method that’s got me a finished first draft before. After that I planned to go back and rewrite the whole thing.

It’s 26th of the month now and I can’t that, while steady, progress has been sloooowww. I’ve currently only written 3,500 words of an estimated 40,000 needed to finish the first draft.

Of course, this is not the only way to tackle writing a book. There are almost as many methods of getting the words down on paper as there are writers out there and I’m very much at the beginning of this journey to see what works for me.

Here are two quite different approaches from published novelists.

Sophie Kinsella (a writer of chick lit) was interviewed in February’s Writing Magazine. After the planning phase she sits down and aims for 1,000 words a day. It takes her 6 months to complete a novel and – I thought this was the interesting part – she revises as she goes along so, by the time she has finished writing, her first draft is her final draft. “I never type the end until I am happy to send it off.” This is a fairly unusual approach from what I have read.

In contrast, Mary Carroll Moore (who I featured in the W Storyboarding post) advocates an approach where first you sit down and just write, until you have 90,000 words of quite random and unconnected content. She refers to these as ‘islands’. Only then do you sit down and structure it, working out how the islands can come together into some kind of order. You shoe-horn/copy and paste your islands into a (very rough) first draft. This will then be completely revised/rewritten and then comes a final edit. She explains this technique on her website.

Mary’s approach makes me feel better about the way I used to attempt to write novels before I discovered nanowrimo – i.e. by creating many ‘islands’. I just never understood the steps I needed to take next and was woefully ill-informed about what makes a successful novel structure.

It remains to be seen what approach will work best for me in the long run.

2 thoughts on “So, how DO you write a novel?

  1. Julie

    I think every writer out there does it their own way. For me, I have to write the first draft, beginning to end, as fast as I can. That’s something I learned in NaNo. If I don’t, the problem becomes my internal editor. She’s loud, obnoxious and never shuts up, no matter how much peanut butter I feed her. I have to write the first draft quickly in order to keep ahead of her, and boy, can she run. After that, edit, revise, all that, but if I stop or even slow down long enough to do that while I write the first draft, I never get the whole thing written.

  2. kirosl Post author

    Haha – I like that – maybe enough peanut butter will make her lips stick together, no?
    I’m still puzzling out what works for me and I still haven’t made it to the end of the second draft yet. All in good time, I suppose.


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