Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.
The page I created awhile ago - How To Write a Novel - continues to get a lot of traffic and comments, but when I glanced at it the other day, it made me wince a bit. Not just because it links to a lot of posts that I wrote before I got a good feel for blogging, but because I'm not sure how I feel about the title. It's not necessarily how a person should write a novel, and it's not even how I write my novels. Really, it's how I once wrote a novel.
Once upon a time I thought that when I became a published author, I would have My Perfect System. I would have the steps I always followed to produce a novel that I was proud of. But I've now been a published author for five years, I've written roughly a dozen books, and I still don't have My Perfect System. I keep finding new techniques I want to try, or something about my schedule prevents me from brainstorming/writing/editing the way I would like to.
Instead of having a well organized list, I feel like what I have is more of a tree full of branches.
There trunk is full of my "always" things. And after that, I find myself grasping at a variety of branches. Some are strong because they're techniques I use most the time, and I'm comfortable with their results. Others are weaker branches, branches I'm not yet sure can support my weight.
I've just finished the first draft and my first round of edits on my fall release, The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet. Here's "how I wrote a novel" this time, and an evaluation of how these methods worked:
1. Since it was a sequel, I didn't need to spend the kind of time I normally would researching my setting and determining who my characters would be and stuff. But I did need to make sure that I was consistent with the story of The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet, so as I did my final proofs on the first Ellie book, I jotted ideas for what could happen in the next book. Many of these made it into the book - Aunt Karen meets somebody. But not all of them - Chase's little brother gets in trouble.
2. After I made my possibilities list, I tried to apply some structure to it. I had just taken a class from Susan Meissner that taught me how to plot a novel in "30 episodes." (I'm unable to share a link because the method belongs to Susan.) I was eager to try this because it seemed like something that would help me create a stronger first draft. I printed out the list of scenes she suggested coming up with and set to work figuring out my inciting incident, my big middle scene, some complications, etc.
I think this method worked really well for me, and I will definitely do some form of "signpost plotting" again. While I still wound up with a few gaping holes in my plot, overall the structure of the first draft was much better than previous first drafts.
3. I tried to figure out what lie Ellie needed to conquer. I wrote on my sheet, "Ellie equates a successful book launch with love." But I don't think that came out in the story at all, really. So apparently I strayed from my intended lie. I still think it's a very valuable exercise, though.
4. I wrote my first draft. I started February 1st and finished April 13th. It was the longest first draft I had ever written, which is partially because I had a clearer idea of what was going on, so I didn't have to add as many scenes in the second draft.
5. I was only able to take a - cringe - two week break from it before I started revisions. I prefer to take six weeks off, and as I look back, I believe this hurt me a lot. I was still very close to the story and didn't catch some glaring plot issues that should have been obvious to me. Next time I need my six week break.
6. I sent my book to my Kindle to read. I liked this and will do it again. It was nice to be off my computer without wasting paper, and it kept me from being tempted to edit as I read.
7. During micro-edits, I kept a blank calendar next to me so I could fill in dates and make sure I didn't have too many 9-day weeks scattered throughout. I filled in all my GIRAFFEs and sent dozens of questions to my grade school friend who went to Redwood High, still lives in Visalia, and is kind enough to tell me when I get things wrong. I'm still happy with doing all of this in the second draft stage because I think if I allowed myself too many "field trips" during the first draft, it would take me an eternity to write. I imagine I'll need to adjust this if I take on the historical fiction project whirring around my head right now.
8. I timed myself during the micro-edits. Whenever I had a full page ahead of me, I started the timer on my phone. At first it was just because I was curious to see if each page really was taking as long as I thought, but then it became a way to help me stay focused. I wasn't racing through my edits or anything, but it helped keep me off email and Pinterest until I finished a page. I'll definitely do this again.
Right now I'm making a few big content changes before I send Ellie Sweet 2 off for proofreading, and then I'll scour my writing books and figure out which novel writing techniques I want to incorporate into my next project!
How about you? Are you still refining your process? Are there a few things you always do? Are there things you want to try with your next manuscript?
Also, two other things that might be of interest to you:
It's my week on the Playlist Fiction blog. I'm talking about how to be "dream chaser" and how one of the reasons I like teen writers so much is how wholeheartedly you guys pursue your dreams.
Also, I know many of you are artists as well as writers, so I thought this contest might appeal to some of you:
Do Art Write is launching a new contest on August 2nd. The Allegory Contest is for writers and artists. Enter it alone or with a partner, it's your choice. The contest has four parts which include two writing segments and two drawing segments. The final goal is to write an allegory of your own and then to put it into a short story comic. Each phase will have a winner and fun prizes, but all contestants can move on to complete all four parts of the contest. The Allegory Contest is open to anyone 21 years of age or younger. For more details, check it out on www.doartwrite.com.