A blank page is the ultimate adversary. It has no identity, no reason and no purpose other than to be used. The first marks on this page often lead to an uncontrollable bleeding of creativity. Don’t you dare try and stem the flow. – Me
How pretentious of me to put my own quote into a blog post. To be completely honest, it was the result of an exercise I use to get myself writing. I learnt it from a writing group I started attending a couple of weeks ago. The idea is to pick a random word and write as much as you can about that word in whatever format you choose for 5 minutes. That’s right, 5 whole minutes with no distractions. If I hadn’t done it I would have laughed all the way to my social media feed for a daily dose of memes. But I did it, and continue to do it because, after that first 5 minutes, the words just start flowing.
I’ve only been ‘seriously’ writing for about a year and a half. I’ve learnt so much about myself as a person, and about what type of writer I am. The revelations have been both surprising and expected. I’m secretive about my work, get distracted easily and rarely write unless the conditions are perfect. I don’t plan, ever. No great world plan or character arc. No idea about how the ending will happen or how the story will begin. It’s scary sometimes, that’s for sure. But its also super rewarding when you read it back and realise you just plot twisted yourself.
Its definitely not easy, and it requires a lot of patience and perseverance. Writing could be the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I guess that’s a matter of perspective. I’ve only just started writing this blog, talking about my self-publishing experience, but in all the excitement of putting my thoughts on the internet, I forgot to talk about one very important thing. How to write a novel.
I’m no expert, and my experience is just one of a million. There are thousands of blogs and websites that all think they have the perfect set of steps to write a good book. The truth of the matter is that there is no perfect way. Writers are human, which by default makes us all different. To say that there is one specific surefire way to write a novel is blasphemy. Its the same as saying there’s only one way to eat vegemite or one way to dance. It’s just not true. There is one thing I can agree with on all of these blogs and articles though, and that is there is no quick way to write a novel.
So where do you start? Like my quote suggests, you should start with a blank page. There are so many choices here. SO. DAMN. MANY. Do you prefer pen and paper, maybe pencil and paper? What about digitally writing, like a laptop or PC? What word processor should you use? Notepad, Word, OpenOffice, KingsoftWriter? AAARGHHH!!! There’s so many choices, so many questions, with so many answers. But you know the best way to work out the answer? Ask yourself some easy questions.
Do you want something basic? Do you want to write on the go? How seriously do you want to take this?
I wrote my first draft for Catalyst in the notepad on my iPhone during the morning commute to work. That’s right, I used the tiny keyboard of my phone to smash out roughly 70k words. It was written like absolute garbage, but who cares? It was the first draft. Once I decided that I had something I wanted to take further I moved it all to my home PC and used OpenOffice. It was free, worked with windows and looked just like Microsoft Word. I wasn’t too serious about it at this time. I was more interested in making it readable, not publishable.
But before I moved it, there were a bunch of other things I had to go through. It’s all well and good to say that I wrote a first draft. The question left to answer before that is how? How did I make a narrative? How did I build a world, a problem worth solving and most importantly, how did I come up with characters? There’s really only one answer. I found inspiration.
Boy is that a doozy. Inspiration is both fleeting and incredibly powerful. Sometimes you’re so inspired you could write 1000 words in ten minutes. Other times you struggle to open up to where you left off and write more than a sentence. Let’s not get started on the idea. My ideas always come just before I fall asleep. I don’t know why. Although I have a sneaking suspicion it is because all of the concerns from my day have been left at the foot of my bed. More often than not I tell myself that I’ll remember it, no worries. Then I wake up and it’s gone. So to prevent that from happening I started to put them in the nearest word processor to my sleepy head – the notepad of my phone.
This thing is riddled with crazy, outlandish and sometimes boring notes. Character ideas, civilisations, locations, world references or images. So many times I’ve opened the notepad and just stared in bewilderment. Sleepy Brad is not the best at taking notes. The bad thing about this is it can be overwhelming having so many. So I decided that the poorly written ones weren’t good ideas which is why they are either incoherent or just plain insane. This vetting process helped me put together a solid idea with some basic outlines (if you could call names ‘outlines’) for characters. But no plot. Never a plot. I guess this is my ‘author’s quirk’. A lot of authors have something about them that just makes them different. It could be their writing style or genre, for me, it’s a lack of planning. The problem with not planning is it’s painfully obvious when I edit, and its hard to lay down a deadline.
This post is getting pretty long, and I don’t want to break it up, so I’m gonna leave it with some dot points for writing beginners (amateurs, professionals, whatever we call ourselves these days).
- Come up with a quick exercise to get the creative juices flowing. Eat a banana, write about your pet, watch something that makes you think big or listen to a genre of music that gives you that funky feeling in your chest (that’s what I do).
- Find a word processor that suits you, not the other way around. Money doesn’t need to be spent here and it’s important you’re comfortable with the fact that its ok to write on a garbage processor, and as a result, write garbage drafts.
- Find inspiration. What makes you happy, what makes you sad, these can both be inspiring. Don’t ever let inspiration disappear without using it.
- Write down EVERY idea and come up with a process to separate the good from the bad. I believe in you.
- Work out what type of writer you are, if a plan makes you comfortable and confident, then you need to plan. If it feels like you’re restricted by planning, then don’t. There is a middle ground here, so don’t forget to look there. There’s also a tonne of other ways to write, so do some research!
I’ll add more to this in the coming weeks. So much to talk about…