The Next Novel: Plan of Attack

I’m feeling motivated, so I’ve got to jump on this before it goes. Meaning, even while I wait for my revision letter for D, the novel I just finished, and try to imagine what it will say and how many pages it will be and how many weeks or months I will have to do the revise (which I am oddly excited about, doing the revise of D, which probably makes me sound like a total writing geek but whatevs)—even during all that I need to make a few moves forward into the next novel, M.

M is a YA novel—older than D, I’m thinking most likely ages 14+. She’s female too, obviously. M comes from two places: the novel I attempted to write during last year’s NaNoWriMo, and an adult short story I’ve been working on for a year or more that I recently workshopped. The two pieces come together in an exciting (to me) way, getting me all fired up to write this.

I was able to write D quickly and keep to a schedule because there was someone waiting for it—an actual company saying they were going to publish it. And they paid me before I did the bulk of the work, so every hour I spent, and will spend, writing D was already rewarded. That’s motivation.

M, however, does not have an official schedule. No deadline. No editor waiting to read it. No outline I am forced to write per the contract, no contract at all. I am writing M for myself only, and nothing may come of it after—I have to know that. That’s the reality of writing novels.

If my previous experience writing novels only for myself is any indicator, I could go off on a bender and spent FIVE YEARS writing a novel that’s too bloated and personal to get published. Or I could spend three years writing and rewriting a novel with a ridiculous concept that I will later use as a doorstop.

No. Not this time.

If I learned anything from writing D on deadline, it’s to move forward every day with the end goal always in mind—and yet to respect my own pace and not force it. So I’m going to try the D method:

  1. Brainstorm and create a 3-page “pitch”
  2. Write the first chapter (or two) to get a handle on the voice, the direction, the world
  3. Stop
  4. Now write a chapter-by-chapter “outline” that’s more like a rough draft
  5. Write the last chapter, knowing it will change when you reach it for real
  6. Go back and revise the first chapter (or two), even if this takes weeks
  7. Start writing the rest of the novel
  8. Freedom to ditch the outline and go off the rails
  9. No focus on page count or word count—writing scenes single-spaced helps me keep my attention to the writing itself, not the amount of writing
  10. Move through, chapter by chapter, knowing this will take months and months—set goals for chapters but don’t freak if they can’t be held
  11. When stuck on the middle, as per my usual, jump ahead and write Act III
  12. Then go back and write the middle
  13. Print on paper for the first time
  14. Go to town editing
  15. Polish, and draft 1 done!

So that’s the plan. I am NOT doing the NaNoWriMo method and I’ll tell you why: I can’t be focused on numbers—the number of words is absolutely meaningless to me for a first draft. The way I write is to carve out sentences, focus the voice, make everything reliant on everything else, every word choice significant in how it relates to other words. I cannot write blindly ahead without looking back. I write in small circles and with each day the circle gets a little larger, so I move forward, but I have to look back in order to move ahead. I see now that’s why what I did last year ultimately failed.

The 150 pages I wrote for last year’s NaNo? Even though they are basically a part of what this novel will become? Trash. I will not even be looking at them.

So that’s the plan, for now. M, I am very excited to write you. I’m wading my way in.

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9 responses to “The Next Novel: Plan of Attack”

  1. I’ve said this before, I think, but it bears repeating: the NaNo method is great for people who are not writing and need a jumpstart. But it does not seem to work for people who write the rest of the year.


  2. This is a really, really fine list. It’s inspiring, specific, interesting, and other things but it’s too early in the morning to think of them all. I’ve begun another novel too, and I don’t have anything like this to keep me on track. Now I know what I need to do — make a plan, one that leaves room for chance and inspiration, but still — a plan that tracks successful things I’ve done in the past. I also think what you say about word counts is very interesting. I used to pay attention to that, but now I think more in terms of finishing a scene as my goal point. Anyway, Nova, I love hearing about your process, and think M is going to be a terrific book.


  3. This is great, Nova. I love your list. I was thinking about what you wrote yesterday, about having to get an agent and all that. I’ll bet you anything that you’ll have no problem finding an agent — your editor can probably help you out with introductions when the time comes. Your progress is exciting!


  4. Okay, what I was really going to say, but forgot, is that I like that you write a few chapters then pull back to outline. The thought of outlining up front stops me in my track, yet I know outlining (whatever that means to you) can be helpful. I might have to give your method a try!


  5. I know the word ‘writer’ will taste different as it crosses your lips from today to forever. That’s what is supposed to happen. You stop calling yourself a ‘writer’ and start knowing you’re a writer. Congratulations.


  6. Annika, I am sad to admit it doesn’t work for me. If only.

    Bloglily, Best of luck with your new novel! I cannot wait to read your first one… And thanks for being so positive. So appreciated, you have no idea.

    Lisa, Thank you! Your index card method you were talking about in a recent post makes me curious…

    Lucksmith, Thank you, thank you. Can’t wait to talk more in person.


  7. This is a really great writing plan. It turns out to be something like the process I’ve ended up going through in my own novel, though I didn’t intend it that way. It does work!


  8. I was just this morning telling a friend that for the 3 weeks of holiday I have taken to WRITE THE NOVEL I need a plan. She said “Goggle it” – so I did (sceptical that anything practical would pop up) …but there was your site with an excellent plan. It is similar to another plan a friend gave me, but with more focus. And will suit my passion for revision! I will let you know how the novel progresses.


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