Jessica M. Simpkiss
Asking for a friend ...
Q: What's the best advise you can recommend to someone thinking of starting their first novel? Asking for a friend :)
A: There is no shortage of advice on writing circulating the internet. It’s almost dizzying. Everyone has their own opinion and guidance for anyone willing to listen. The hard part is deciding, which is the best advice for you.
So instead of advice, what I can give you is an accounting of the things I learned from my own experience which have led me to change my process for the better. But everyone is different. This may work for you, and it may not. But these were important things I learned from my first attempt at writing a novel.
KNOW YOUR ENDING: Don’t have an idea or a feeling about how the ending is going to turn out. Have a concrete understanding, play by play, of how the ending is going to turn out. Who’s the killer? Who does the female MC end up marrying? What’s the lesson to be learned.
Going into the writing of Spaewife, I had a feeling about how I wanted the ending to turn out and thought that was enough. This was a big mistake and caused me to incur much more time spent in the revision stage of writing than I should have spent. Not having a clear sense of the ending meant that the beginning and middle was muddled. Until I really nailed down the ending, everything was very wishy-washy. Going forward, I have gone so far as to write my climax chapter first so that I know exactly what I’m building to.
So, KNOW YOUR ENDING.
OUTLINE – Outline in DETAIL each chapter or scene. I have pages and pages of outlines for each chapter, including ideas for dialogue, character interactions, etc. this doesn’t have to be anything formal. (the majority of my outlining sentences start with the word maybe.) Maybe this happens, maybe that happens. Give yourself options. You’re just outlining. The outline is only for you. On one else has to see it. Keep working the outline until you have every chapter set up and one feeds into the next.
After you start writing – re-outline, ideas will come to you as you write. LET THEM. Some of my best ideas are ones that came out of left field and ones I didn’t see coming. Once you’ve written a chapter, reevaluate what’s coming next. Did you get ahead of where you thought you would be? Did a character make a change you didn’t think about? Outline, outline, and then outline again. This also proves extremely helpful when your looking for details in your story that maybe have become a little foggy. Did I already tell the reader her mother was dead? How old did I say she was? Did her parents already leave for their trip? My outlines have saved me the time of skimming or rereading chapters looking for some small but imperative detail.
LET GO OF THE STORY YOU THOUGHT YOU WERE WRITING, FOR THE ONE YOU SHOULD BE WRITING. One of the most valuable things I’ve learned as a writer was to let go of what I thought I should be writing for what needed to be written. Let the story flow. Create your characters, put them in a situation, and let them figure out their story.
DON’T STOP! This is the most important thing I learned from my first novel attempt. Once you start, don’t stop until the first draft is complete. Don’t go back and reread previous chapters. Don’t go back and edit chapters based on a new revelation that just hit you in chapter twelve. Don’t go back and change a character’s beginning to match their middle. Let the story play out all the way until the end, make notes in your writer’s notebook, and once the first draft is done, read through your notes. The biggest mistake I made with my first attempt was that every time something changed directions, I went back and revised previous chapters, adding months to the project. Nine times out of ten, I was changing the same things over and over again because the idea kept changing (again, not having a clear understanding of the end would have prevented this). I keep detailed notes as my characters develop and the edits I need to make to them. When my first draft is done, I read my notes before I begin editing for the second draft and use my outline to ensure that the changes are made in the correct chapters and are then carried forward.
As I said, these are only things I’ve personally learned from the process. They may not work for everyone, but these small adjustments have made a world of difference in my process.
Hopefully, they will help you too!
Thanks for the great question.