Friday, August 18, 2006

How to Write a Book

First--work update: Halfway through revising The Calling, and started on the black dragon's book (not sure anyone out in bloggerland cares, but reports keep me on target).

Recently I've been doing surveys and interviews in which one of the questions is about "how" I write. Everyone is fascinated by the writing process, and I confess it's interesting to learn how an idea travels from the author's head to become a finished novel.

I can't help feeling, though, that some people are searching for the "secret" to writing a novel, or worried that they're writing the "wrong" way.

Well, there isn't a secret or a right way. The secret is (drumroll): Whatever works best for you is right.

When I first started, and this newbie knew nothing, the current wisdom was that you had to have a detailed outline before you dared write the first word. After all would you get in the car and drive somewhere without a road map? (Um, yes, I do it all the time. I like to explore.)

So newbie me (I knew nothing, remember) spent copious hours trying to figure out how to outline and how write to it.

What a waste of time! I never managed to do it. I write much better visualizing the story in my head (for months beforehand) and then making up the details as I write the draft and revise it. I can do a vague plot outline if I'm lucky, but I simply am unable to note every detail of a book before I start.

After I got published (writing my way), suddenly everyone told me I wrote "organically," "from the inside out," and "by the seat of my pants." Because a few mega-bestselling authors came out and confessed that they never used outlines, suddenly the trend reversed, and being a "pantser" became the thing.

Now some plotters (those who meticulously outline) are nervous that their method is somehow wrong and inferior.

Guess what? Neither way is right!! Neither way is wrong, either. Some authors (for example, Diana Gabaldon), write scenes completely out of order and link them together just before turning in the ms. Some authors write the last scenes first. Some write linearly, beginning to end.

And no one is right.

What you do is pick the method that is right for you. Don't EVER let anyone tell you your way is wrong. If it works for you, stick with it. If your method isn't satisfying you, play around with other methods until you find one you like.

There are no hard and fast "rules" in how to write a book. You can't even say "have a beginning, middle, and end" because many literary novelists bend rules and timelines and have endings that you aren't sure are really endings.

The good thing is, editors and readers are interested in your end product. If they want to know how you got there, it's because of curiosity.

They care about your book, and will have no idea whether you spent months writing an outline or made it up as you sat at your keyboard. If they love the story enough, they won't care, either.


At 9:40 AM , Blogger Susan said...

Jennifer, I am one of your silent readers in Bloggerland (also a DR chaptermate). Just wanted to let you know I'm glad you touched on this subject. People really are looking for a magic bullet when writing their first/second/third/tenth unpublished noved. Something that will aid them in saying, "See? She's a pantser. I'm not. THAT'S why I haven't gotten published yet." But I'm glad you stated that there is no right/no wrong way in outlining a book. I personally use The Writer's Journey to outline my books-and it's pretty much one sentence per step along the journey.

Maybe someone who's read this will now realize maybe it's plot issues/character issues/time issues that keep the manuscript from being sold or, worse, from being finished!

At 3:06 PM , Blogger Cheyenne McCray said...

Great post, Jennifer! You're exactly right on all accounts. Authors need to write the way that works best for them and just WRITE!



At 4:24 PM , Blogger Marsha Ward said...

Huzzah, Jen! You're so totally right. Only when a writer learns that the correct method is what works for them, will they advance in their writing journey.


At 9:03 AM , Blogger Erin Grady said...

Yep, you nailed it here, Jennifer. I used to feel guilty (and a little stupid) because I couldn't write an outline or, on the occasion when I did actually write one, I couldn't follow it. Good to know that I'm not the only "pantser" ou there. (love the term)

Happy Writing,

At 7:28 PM , Blogger Calista Fox said...

Pantser here, too.

Very well said, Jennifer. There really is too much emphasis placed on following a "formula" when you're starting out. But if you're stifled by an outline, why put yourself through the torture? I used to hate to admit that I don't plot out every chapter. (Or ANY chapters.) I always felt as though I was being judged for not doing things "correctly." But the fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants style has worked best for me, and I'm proud to admit it!

Sometimes, you just have to let the story take on a life of its own and drag you along for the ride!


At 8:24 PM , Blogger Kate S said...

Thank you thank you thank you! I've felt guilty for the longest time that I just can't seem to get an outline together before I start writing - it seems some people are so dogmatic about it - yes, you must, no you mustn't. It's nice to see a multi-published author saying "it's up to you!"

At 6:35 AM , Blogger Jennifer Ashley said...

Thanks, ladies. I just remembered how bewildered I was when I first started--a plethora of information, everyone insisting his or her method was "right"! I learned to listen to all advice, decide what worked for me, and nod and smile politely at what didn't. That works with learning any aspect of this craft.

At 7:07 PM , Blogger Tempest Knight said...

Great post! I've always felt kind of an oddity because, although I might have an idea of the story, the scenes pop into my head whenever so I write out of order. Then I scrambled them into the story. You have no idea how many times I was told to ... eek... outline... because it was an important part of learning my craft. Good to hear Diana Gabaldon also writes also out of order. *wg*


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