I have two novels on the go at the moment. I write the first draft of one, put it away, write the first draft of the other. Then put that away and edit the first one. Then put that away and edit the second one and so on.
I thought this would be complicated but it’s acting as a palate cleanser. I don’t switch novels in the middle of editing, I finish first, but the time away from one novel, spent with another, means I come back to it with a clear head. I’ve forgotten enough to make sure I see it with fresh eyes and it has enough time away from my head that I can see it as a reader does.
And if I have a good idea while writing one that it turns out I can’t use, I can move that idea to the other one.
It’s a technique I’ve only tried this year, and perhaps because this year is unique – because of events I have the time to do this. But I’ve found it works quite well.
I’m a pantser- I make it up as I go along for the first draft. But for editing, and for continuity, I need a plan.
I have large sheets of paper stuck up on my wall. One is a list of characters with a line about them. One is a list of themes I want to explore and keep in mind. One is a collection of random notes, and on the other I write down what plot points I’ve written already and what the next couple of plot points are.
I have a tendency to forget characters names and also that they exist, so this is a great reminder. It’s also handy to be reminded of what exactly I’m trying to achieve.
I also have a timeline which is especially useful in crime novels – trying to work out what happened when.
I’ve tried keeping this data electronically or in a notebook but I always forget to look. I need a constant reminder in front of me as I write, so wall planners it is.
You’re allowed to like your own writing. It’s not seen as quite acceptable to like what you’ve written (apart from certain authors who seem to always pop up on chat shows complaining about the death of the novel when in fact it’s just their books no one is reading and the novel is fine). Especially amongst fan fiction writing but think about it – you wrote what you wrote because it was what you wanted to read.
When we read our own work, we’re expected to see all the flaws in it, all the things we did wrong, everything we’d change and while we’re still editing, that’s fine. But once it’s published and done and can’t be changed – it’s fine to read it as an enjoyable book. It’s fine to sit down with the book you wanted to read so much you wrote it, and read it for pleasure.
Have you ever tried acting your book out? It’s something I’ve done often. I’ve got up, walked around the room, and acted out a scene, especially one that needed complicated but accurate blocking (moving characters around a stage) such as a fight scenes. Or with an intense but revelatory conversation. Sit down and act it.
It’s real help with working out where people should be in a scene and how they move around a room. And as for dialogue – it makes you more realistic, it flows easier. If you sit there as your character and work out how they sit and how they drink their tea and how they move around the room, it gives them life. And, if you talk with their voice they can reveal things about themselves you never knew – it’s amazing what comes out when you give your character a voice and space to speak.
I’d recommend finding somewhere private – I once got caught trying to work out a knife fight scene and that was embarrassing- but get up and act out your scene.
I think that right now we are in the midst of the most argumentative times a country could have. If you looked out your window and told people you could see the moon and the stars, there are people who would argue with you.
And yet, I still believe that as a people, as a nation, we agree on more than we disagree on. I believe most people would like term limits. Many would agree that the post office is important. I’m pretty sure we agree that people should vote.
We agree on freedom of speech, the importance of an education (corona virus notwithstanding) Mom, baseball and apple pie. Yet somehow all of these things (except for Mom and if you aren’t a celiac or haven’t given up sugar–apple pie) have caused division lately.
We as writers need to write MORE. We need to write about our Times, our values and our visions. We need to post what we see and hear, and make this discussion less about what media says than about what people say.
We need to have honest discussions without trigger words like far right, liberal, antifa or socialist. Yes that’s right–just like your Mamma taught you–no name calling!
We need to not only talk about race and policing but what we would like to see happen when 39 missing kids get discovered in some place far from home. And then we should make sure, action is taken on what the people hack out in agreement.
Because a handful of people ARE controlling the narative. Because if they control that, they can keep people divided. And then we do nothing about all those things we agree on.
I think the best solution for writers block, or lack of inspiration or just not knowing what to do next is reading. I don’t mean specific reading around your subject, I mean anything. Read anything and everything that brings you joy. Read magazines. Read children’s books. Read a genre you’ve never read before. Read that book you bought ages ago and never got round to.
It kickstarts your mind. Instead of being wrapped up in your own story, it makes you think about other stories, other ways of doing things, other viewpoints. It’s a refresher to your mind and spirit. Try it. Just put your own work down and dedicate the weekend to reading other people’s books.