What method do you use to write a novel?

fountainpenI recently read this question “What method do you use to write a novel?” on Quora and thought I would share my answer with those of you who might be interested.

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Do you create an outline and then fill it in until a novel takes shape? Do you sit down and write organically? Also please include some things you like and dislike about your method.

When I’m writing a novel, I use a mixture of organic writing (or free writing) – just letting the story unfold as I type away – and outlining. My outlines are not detailed but I use it to figure out where a scene will work the most effectively. I use specific outlines when I’m writing non-fiction.

The biggest change I’ve made – and it has made a huge difference – is I bought the app Scrivener. I just finished writing my second book on Scrivener and I am amazed at how this writing program, which is designed to help the author, does just that. I’ve used MS Word for decades and know it inside and out, but it is nothing compared to the features of Scrivener.

As far as writing a novel, I never have to search for an idea or plotline. This “plotline” is a one or two sentence description of a book. For example, a book I will write someday starts with, “A woman gets a visit from two police officers in a blinding snow storm who tell her her beloved husband and two-year-old daughter have been killed in a car accident. Was it an accident or is someone trying to murder her?”

These ideas come to me frequently as I’m writing, sleeping (I keep a notebook next to my bed) or just relaxing. When they do, I enter them into a special file. Then, as additional ideas occur to me, I add them underneath the original one until I have a very rough outline.

Using the above example, it might look like this:

“A woman gets a visit from two police officers in a blinding snow storm who tell her her beloved husband and two-year-old daughter have been killed in a car accident. Was it an accident or is someone trying to murder her?”

  • What if the accident is suspicious? What if the other driver, a known successful member of AA, is drunk? Or maybe he’s drugged.
    • Why would someone want her husband dead?
  • What if she was supposed to go out with their daughter that night but she wasn’t feeling well – what if she’s pregnant? – and he takes her car because it has the car seat. Maybe she was the intended victim. But why?

And so on . . .

Characters often talk to me when I’m writing a novel. They take over the writing. I remember an early novel when my heroine – a teenager – is kicked out of the house by her mother. She calls her best friend to ask if she can stay with them. Her best friend says, “I’m sorry, you can’t. We’re moving to New Mexico next week.”

I literally stopped typing and said out loud, “You are??!”

I had no idea. I had plans for this friend and scenes already mapped out. Now she was moving and I didn’t know it. This happens to me a lot, and when it does, I go with it.

Most often, my writing routine is to just sit down, read a little of what I wrote the day before to get back into the rhythm of it, and just start typing until I’m too tired to type another thing. I try to not edit as I go because it slows the progress and by the time the novel is written all of my edits will end up going through more than one change.

The less planning I do beforehand, the harder it is to write the novel. However, the more planning I do the less spontaneous the writing is and some of my best writing is written by my characters.

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