Is there a right way to write a novel?
There’s a yoga instructor on Youtube that I really like. Her name is Adriene, and her channel is YogaWithAdriene. While there are several reasons that I really like her channel, one thing I love is her motto, “Find What Feels Good.” It means listening to your body, giving a little more or a little less according to what it tells you. It means altering a pose if the suggested one isn’t working for you. It means paying attention to the tension and the kinks and the oh-that-feels-good so you know what you need. It means not to worry about whether your pose looks perfect, but rather that it feels right. She also has an entire site and yoga program dedicated to this mantra.
Like many other things I’ve learned in my short, sporadic bursts of yoga activity, this motto can be applied to other areas of life as well. I strongly believe that one of those areas is writing.
Maybe the end-product of different writing processes look similar–printed pages bound together, inside some kind of cover–but the process of getting to this point varies as greatly as the words inside them.
There are many “craft” resources that detail how to form the perfect plot, how to draw readers in, how to put one foot in front of the other, but it’s also important to take these things with a grain of salt. Does forming that perfect plot make you want to stab your eyes out? Try another approach. The next one might be better and it might be worse, but keep looking, keep trying, and find what feels right for you.
Maybe you are the kind of person who needs to create their entire world before a single word graces the first draft. On the opposite side of that, maybe you are the type of person who needs to get the story out and fill in the gaps as you go (check out this Tweet by author Ashley Herring Blake). Neither of these are right or wrong, they are simply ways that work differently for different people.
No matter which of these (or if a mixture of the two or something completely unrelated) work for you, there is no replacement for writing a well-thought-out manuscript. Just because fully creating the fantasy world, fictional city, or even researching a real city for your story may not be your first step-it is still really important, at some point in time, to make sure that all the rules and the whys and the hows make sense and are consistent. The same goes for all other aspects of a story, this (world-building) is just one example.
So if you’re sitting there, looking for the place to start–try something. Try creating your character so you know how they will respond when put in a certain situation. Try building your world so you know, when your character sets foot on their quest, which direction they might be going. Forego all of that and just start writing the story. Try different methods until you find what works for you.
Remember, a first draft is typically rough and ugly. That’s what revising, rewriting, and editing are for. Get the words out so you have something to work with. A potter can’t work without clay.
Are you a writer? What’s your process like? Does it fluctuate or is it set in stone? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
Looking for some places to start? Various resources*:
Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell (craft book)
The Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson (basic explanation)
8 Ways to Outline a Novel by Robbie Blair (Lit Reactor article)
Writing Tips from Susan Dennard, author of Something Strange and Deadly and Truthwitch
Writers Helping Writers’ Recommended Writing Books
*Listing resources here does not equal my endorsement.