Novel Questions

How do other people write novels? I’m at that point of the novel where I’m so deep in I must keep going as I have been, but I wonder: Am I doing it right?

Is there a “right” way?

This isn’t my first novel, but it feels like my first novel.

Novel #1 (adult): written in grad school, workshopped to oblivion

Novel #2 (adult): written after grad school, abandoned to oblivion

Novel #3 (YA): assignment = lotsa work but fun

Novel #4 (YA): assignment = lotsa work but even more fun

Novel #5 (YA): assignment = hard work, still fun

Novel #6 (middle-grade): assignment = hard work

This is Novel #7. But it feels fresher than the others. It feels real. It feels good. It feels, I don’t know how or why, like I’ve skipped back in time and started over and am writing what truly is Novel #1. Weird.

I had an outline. I’ve made changes that drastically challenge the outline, I’ve taken notes from my editor and altered a lot in the story to address them. So many changes to what had been the outline that it’s best now to not even look at the outline as I write. And anyway, I remember—I don’t seem to need the reminders. I’ll talk more about the outline later, much later, after I’ve finished this draft and my editor has seen it. Because at this point I don’t know if the outline was a help or a hindrance, a building block or a road block, a leaping-off point or— I’ll take stock later, see how it really went then.

The fun part of writing a novel is writing the novel, anyway, not outlining it.

Ahead of me is this sea of blank pages, I can see them, miles of them, expressionless, not giving me a hint of how it’ll be.

How do other writers find their way to “The End”? In the past, I’ve advocated actually leaping forward and writing the final chapter, so you know where you’ll end up. I’ve done that with this novel, almost, in my so-called outline, so I know the place, the room, the people, though adjustments have been made. I’m writing toward that spot. It just feels so far away.

The tourists taking flash photographs at the café table near me aren’t helping. *flash* where am I? *flash* who am I? *flash* novel… what’s that?

Anyway, back to work. A big scene to tackle today. I’ve given my first reader—what’s that called, a “beta reader”?—the first 120 pages to read. My beta, otherwise known as the love of my life, e, is an honest, tough, and smart critic. He knows what I want from the story, and knows me, and once he sees what I have so far I can talk to him about my ideas for plot adjustmets for the third and final act. In the meantime, I’m forging ahead. Big scene. Much work.

Am I doing this right? Any way to know for sure?  Please say.

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9 responses to “Novel Questions”

  1. I have no idea how to write a novel. Now, a 55 word story. That I can do. But a novel? I think you’re on the right track, with your way more than 55 words and all.


  2. I say you’re doing it right! Because if you aren’t, then I wasn’t either back in the spring when I was slogging through the middle of my first draft. It’s a good question, how we find our way to The End. I try to remember what someone — Molly Gloss! — described as headlights in the dark — keep pressing forward, the path lights as you go.


  3. I love this entry. CUTB re-set the clock for me to me too. It was my fourth novel, but I always refer to it as my first. Not just because it’s the first that will be published, but as you said–it felt different, felt like a time shift… something that has also changed for me is I now outline too. SGA was a struggle and had to be scrapped until I sat down and outlined the thing. I ended up deviated from it pretty fantastically there, but having it there to deviate from helped get the thing written… ANYWAY. There is no right way to right a novel. There is a right way for YOU. 🙂 And what you have going on, seems to be working. Write on.


  4. Thanks, Cliff. You know, there was a time years ago when I didn’t make the attempt to write every day (and I say “attempt” because sometimes barely one paragraph comes out) and it does take real effort to stick with this, to keep at it, every morning. It feels desperately hard at first. But then it feels normal. So I do feel good about getting to that place. Thanks for reminding me.

    Annika, Thanks! But what about that novel I know you’re writing, hmm? November is coming up… just sayin’.

    Lisa, headlights in the dark, that’s exactly how it feels right now, except lots more dark and really, really dim headlights. In coincidence, I’m writing a scene at night with flashlights… maybe my reaction is mirroring the scene?

    Courtney, what I love is learning how you got to where you are, all the hard work that went in. It’s so very heartening. (And to everyone who doesn’t know, Courtney just sold her second book! She’s amazing! Her first novel comes out this December!) Okay, had to do it. Anyway, thanks for letting me know how you came to write SGA and what happened with the outline. I’ve been afraid I’m doing something bad, but that’s the way it wants to be written. It’s almost out of my hands!


  5. Honestly, as long as you’re writing and making progress you’re doing it right.
    But how I do it? Yeah, I outline. I do a rough outline, then I break it into chapters. Then I fill in, one chapter at a time. Sometimes chapters merge, sometimes they break in half, sometimes events change, and when they do I revise the outline to match. I start at the beginning and I work through to the end, no skipping around, but of course I’ve already got the outline so I already know where I’m going. I just don’t know what I’ll see along the way. 🙂


  6. Wait, wait, here’s the same headlights metaphor but as quoted from E.L. Doctorow (weird that I just came across it randomly):

    He said that writing a novel is “like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”


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