Yesterday I wrote about my “practice novel”, the next piece of writing I’m going to undertake to give myself something to practice on. To learn new techniques, to write only for the joy of telling the story and not worrying about publishing deals or publishing at all. To just write and learn and have some fun.
I’ve made writing such a big deal in my life that frankly when I think about the time it will take, or the effort for that matter, I tend to decide watching House of Cards is much more important and much more beneficial to the long-term stability of my life. I have become over the years the absolute King of Procrastination.
Procrastination is as much a habit as biting your finger nails 0r whistling along when you hear a familiar sitcom theme. It can become ingrained. I’m known at work as someone who “has a cigarette before I start this job”, the idea being if I have it now I won’t want it later. It’s become a tool to delay the start. It’s really that simple. Once I start I’m usually okay but it’s the getting me moving that causes problems.
This post isn’t so much about procrastination, or habits, as is it about a plan I’ve put in place to practice outlining my novel. I mentioned yesterday I will be using a new technique I’ve not used before; The SnowFlakes Technique. It’s a 10 step process. To be honest even thinking of putting my novel through 10 developmental steps before I start writing the novel itself is nerve-wracking.
As a novel writer – or any writing I do at all – I’m a pantser.
For those who don’t know what that is, it’s someone who forgoes the need for a plot or outline and just starts writing. I can’t remember the last time I wrote an outline, or a plot. I think it might have been in high school for an english assignment. I can tell you it would have been written after I wrote the short story though. I don’t like outlines, or plot points although to be fair that’s because I feel like their wasting my time and holding me up.
Given my post yesterday and my determination not to fall victim to the “I’m running out of time”, mantra that has become my life motto over the years, I’ve decided that this particular practice piece will be properly plotted, developed, and outlined. I’m going to spend the time doing each step and arranging my ducks in a row before I start the “good stuff”.
I’ve never finished a long-form piece of writing. Sad, but true. I have finished short pieces and random stories but the long-form process of novel writing hasn’t happened yet. One of the reasons, well the main reason, is that I tend to get lost. I wander around dragging my characters here and there and have no idea where the end point is. Or the middle point. Or the beginning. I just start writing. Try doing that with a 3 Book Epic Fantasy series, I dare you. You start writing 45,000 words before you should or you twist your timeline, so the end of Book Two becomes the end of Book One.
Today, being a public holiday in Australia, has given me the opportunity to do a bit of thinking about my novel. Not thinking in the “I’ll just sit here and wonder” category but thinking in the “let’s start this SnowFlake Technique and see what happens”.
I sat down to start and within seconds was thinking “what’s me what”?
The first step in the technique is to outline your basic book information. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem for me. I write epic fantasy. There are certain rules with epic fantasy novels.But this one isn’t an epic fantasy novel. And that is where my first problem arose.
What is the genre I’m writing and how many words should I be aiming at?
As I said, epic fantasy is second nature. I know the genre: Epic Fantasy. I know the approximate word count: 120,000 words per novel. But my new piece, my “practice” piece isn’t epic fantasy. So I sat here for longer than I care to admit trying to figure out where it fits in the genre spectrum. Eventually I decided Adult Contemporary fit the idea best. From there it was a trip to Google to see what the average word count is for a book in that space. Google, a writers best friend, informed me between 80,000 to 100,000 words. I settled in the middle of that and put my target at 90,000.
Already I find the technique is making me think of things I usually wouldn’t. The funny thing about this is they’re pretty basic questions. Looking at the work I’ve put in this morning, the idea has already begun to take shape. There’s nothing saying I can’t change what I have, which is obviously a good thing, but I at least know the title of the book, the approximate length, where it fits in the genre spectrum and even better, who my target reader is.
I once read a book by Stephen King, I think most would-be writers have read it and if they haven’t, they should. It’s called On Writing. It’s a great book not just about Stephen King’s life but about the process he undergoes when he is writing. He talks about writing for an audience which is something I’ve avoided all my life. His audience is his wife, Tabitha.
Every book he writes, she reads before anyone else. If she likes it, off it goes. If she doesn’t, back to the desk he goes. I think that’s fantastic. I did a writers course last year and one of the guest presenters told us the same thing: Know who you’re writing for and write for them alone.
This morning, for the first time ever I sat and wrote a description, a very vague one, of who my target reader is. It as a two sentence description outlining the type of books they like to read, their age, gender, sexuality and where they go on holidays. It may be completely stupid and have zero basis in reality, but it gives me someone to write for.
I found the first step in the technique forced my brain away from the thoughts I usually have and focused my thinking more on the end result. Why am I writing this story, what is it going to be, where would it sit in the local bookstore, and who would pick it up and throw it in their suitcase to take with them for their next island getaway.
I’ve done a lot of writing courses over the years, the best was the 6 month novel writing course with Pamela Freeman at the Australian Writers’ Centre, and from each of those courses I’ve taken away something important. I’ve realised reading through the SnowFlake Technique there is nothing new. Nothing I haven’t already been told. The difference here is that it’s in one space that I can refer to back to. The other main difference of course, is where my brain is sitting at the moment.
I’ve decided with this idea to work my way through each step before I even attempt to write the opening paragraph. I’ve also decided I am in absolutely no hurry to finish it. These things take time, and I’ve got plenty of that. Well, I’ve got as much as the next person which is to say I’ve got this minute, maybe the one after. None of us know when our time will run out. I may live to the end of next week or I may live another 50 years. However long I’ve got, I may as well spend it doing something I love to do and have always wanted to complete.
So I’m giving myself at least 10, possibly 20, days to complete the outline and plotting of my new novel. I’m not going to rush it. I’m not going to force it. I’m not going to freak out because I thought of the idea on Saturday and it’s Monday and I’m not 10,000 words in. I’m simply going to take my time and see where the storyline goes.
The whole idea of this book is to write to learn. I’m not saying I definitely won’t publish it, I may well self-publish it on Amazon or something one day, but I am saying that despite writing it with a target audience in mind the journey I’m taking now is one of learning. If the book turns out good enough then awesome, and if not the next one will be better.
Being forced to focus on the story as a serious undertaking right from the start has and will slow down my usual writing process but hopefully, unlike my usual writing process, it will give me the necessary tools and self-confidence to complete not just the draft but the subsequent edits as well.