Writing a novel is no straightforward process, in spite of what the “experts” may say.
Okay, the experts, whoever they are, make no actual claim that writing a novel is straightforward, though the pantsers (like me) will argue that it comes pretty close, given that we start at the beginning and drive toward the ending, discovering as much as we can along the way (hardly straightforward, even though the momentum is almost always forward). In reality, of course, writing a novel takes planning, dedication, and follow-through, with a heavy dose of insanity—I mean organization—and reaching its proper ending will require seeing it at both the big picture level and the micro-scenic level. In short, writing a novel means you gotta have some foresight. There’s no way around that.
But I didn’t always have a problem with that.
For years, I would just open a document in Microsoft Word, crank out a chapter in a day or two (or sometimes a week if I let it get too large), and move on to the next one, making sure to save it in a folder dedicated to the novel. Once I’d finish the last chapter (usually six weeks to a year later, depending on the novel), I’d read what I have, take notes on what I like and what I don’t, and then move on to the next revision. Then somewhere along the line I’d decide that something doesn’t work, at which point I’d start adding, moving, or removing scenes, relabeling my documents to something better reflective of its current state, and make such an atrocious mess of my work that nothing would make sense anymore, yet I’d somehow bring it back together, and then I’d shelve it for a few years until somebody would ask me if I’ve written anything lately, to which I’d say no, then go back and see if I actually like that old novel that I blew up in the rewrites now, because, hey, somebody reminded me that I should really finish what I started because, hey, I’m not exactly starting on anything new. At that point, I’d take note of the scenes I like, try to rethink the ones I don’t, and then shelve the thing yet again for another few years because now I have no idea where to begin fixing it.
(Okay, I’m referring specifically to my first thriller, Panhandler Underground, which I wrote in 2005 but put on the shelf until a time I could make sense of the main character’s profession. Fortunately, I’ve ordered my copy of the Occupation Thesaurus, out now, and should receive it in the mail soon, so maybe I can finally sort this dude out and get his story back on its proper track.)
Nowadays, I find that organizing a novel is as difficult as writing it, especially when I go back and try to repair the damage I’ve already done to an existing novel, so coming up with a plan to make sense of it all is necessary. But merely going back through all of my Microsoft Word documents and trying to remember where everything is supposed to go is madness when my memory is so bad that I often read a story I like, check the author to see if he’s got anything else I might enjoy, and discover my own name on the front cover. (Okay, this doesn’t happen with my published titles, but it definitely happens with old stories I find in my documents folder. The fact that my name is on it is the only proof I have that I wrote it because I don’t remember a thing about it.) Because this is no way to work, I’ve decided it’s time to implement a new system for organization.
This is where I’ve decided to integrate multiple resources into my writing workflow, each one dedicated to a particular function within the writing process, and each one designed to keep me on track.
For the record, I just put together a video about this, which you can watch for more information, but the short version is this:
- If I’m writing a novel from scratch or nuking a story that no longer works in favor of starting over, then I’ll want to begin conceptualizing with the Snowflake Method and using the software dedicated to the Snowflake Method, Snowflake Pro, to accomplish this goal. This will allow me to develop the idea and move it through all ten steps toward a fully-fledged outline.
- Next, I’ll want to develop the flowchart and additional character and/or scene details (like setting or items) that Snowflake Pro doesn’t visualize for an alternative way to see the story from a bird’s eye view. I can use Plottr or Campfire Pro (or Plot Factory or some other story planning software) to create the visual map, as well as fill in the additional details that Snowflake Pro doesn’t cover. If I use actual maps (created with Campaign Cartographer 3+, for example), then I’ll want to use a program like Campfire Pro to tie my maps to their descriptions. Using these programs, I can create the world and backstory I need to understand my characters and their motivations better, as well as to keep track of the nitpicky items in their lives that I’ll want to remember and quickly access at some point.
- Once I have a clue what the story is about, then I can start writing my scenes in Microsoft Word. Or, if I’m revising an existing story, I can write whichever scenes are still missing.
Note: If I’m revising a novel, which is my case for The Computer Nerd, I probably won’t use the first two development steps unless I need to go for a complete rewrite, which is currently my case for The Fallen Footwear. The exception would be if I wanted to create an outline or summary or synopsis of an existing novel for verification of its integrity or for various marketing purposes. I would also map an existing novel if I know I’m going to write a sequel, as having a snapshot of the previous story would be immensely helpful in developing a new chapter for its characters, because, you know, my memory sucks.
- Once I’ve written my scenes, I can move them into Scrivener, where I can then write notecard summaries and provide status labels to help me determine whether the scene is in its proper location and achieving its proper goal. From the notecard view, I can make a more informed judgment about whether the existing work is, in fact, working.
So, that’s the current workflow I’m using to either write or revise my novels. Are you a writer? What’s your workflow? Let me know in the comments below.