The wacky art of novel writing (part 2 of 4)

If you missed Step 1 of how I go about novel writing, read it here.

Novel writing: Step 2 – The Outline

Once I have my story idea, the next thing I write is an outline.

Some authors build massively complex outlines that are dozens of pages long and thoroughly researched. Others don’t write an outline at all - we call them “pantsers” because they fly by the seat of their pants. 

I’m somewhere in between. My outlines are broken down into two sections – main characters (a very short blurb including age, gender, name, main role) and chapter outlines, which I put into a Word table.

Chapter outlines sound scary because it assumes you know exactly what will happen. Let me reassure you that at this point I don’t have it all figured out and I don’t feel I need to. Ideas will come as I write and the story develops.

My chapter outlines are two to five sentences long. A few lines of what will happen and how the story will move forward. That's it.

Novel writing: Step 3 – The CFD (Crappy First Draft)

I’d been told you should “give yourself permission to write a crappy first draft” but I didn’t really understand why. How would it be helpful? Surely the beginning had to be perfect before I could move on to the middle, and the same went for the end. I’ve since realized how liberating writing badly and getting the ideas from head to paper can be.

Trust me, my first drafts are appalling. Truly horrific. Stuff you wouldn't make your worst enemies read, let alone subject coveted beta-readers or an editor to. Plot holes, dialogue without tags, limited or no descriptions, comments such as “DESCRIBE BUILDING” or “They walked up XZY road” inserted all over the place…those are but a few examples.

And the word count? Generally two thirds of what I’m aiming for the finished manuscript to be. My novels are around 90,000 words. My crappy first draft is barely 60,000 – but I know during the next editing phases I’ll write another 30,000. Personally I find it easier - and less soul-destroying - to add thousands of words rather than cutting them.

For me, getting to the end of that first draft is the most painful part of the entire novel writing process. I doubt what I’ve written, second-guess what I haven’t, and lament how everybody’s going to hate it because it’s not coming together or making any sense.

And there are definitely a few times where I've wanted to give up entirely. But...

I make myself write because I know it’s the worst phase, and that I’ll get through it. So I skip scenes or entire chapters when inspiration evades me. It helps me to avoid getting bogged down, and I simply return to fix them later.

When I get to the end of my shitty first draft … cue the huge sigh of relief (sometimes tears too). It’s been a frustrating and painful journey, and I still have a long way to go, but I know that things will only get better from there on. Find out how in Part 3.

Thanks for reading!

Hannah Mary

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