Practical Writing Strategies for your Novel...

Hey guys,

First and foremost, I hope all of you friends and family and readers on the East coast are weathering the storm.  My thoughts are with you and all my favorite places in coastal Maryland (like the Chesapeake Bay area where I went to college and the trailer park in Fenwick Island, Delaware, where we'd visit my grandparents every summer during my childhood and teen years. ) (This is the same trailer park where my now-husband used to visit his own grandparents, just across the street in the same trailer park. Our grandmothers were friends from way back when.  We played together as young kids, never guessing we'd some day be married to each other one day.)

I digress!  So here's the next installment of my tip sheets for writers doing NaNoWriMo (or anyone embarking on writing a novel).  (See my last entry for the first tip sheet.)

PRACTICAL WRITING STRATEGIES: At different points in your manuscript, you'll get stuck and feel despondent.  Here are some common obstacles, and suggestions on how to deal with them.  (Caveat: These are strategies I've found useful, but different writers have different approaches, so do whatever feels right for you!)

o   If you feel there's a big problem with some element of the story and you don't know how to proceed, then write about the story in your journal.  In fact, this is something I constantly do, and it always gives me a useful, big-picture perspective. This can be done in a stream-of-consciousness way.

o   Periodically, you could do a rough outline of what you have, and where you think you're headed with the story.  During revisions, I find it useful to make a list of scenes and the point of each scene, including which questions are resolved in the scene and which new questions are asked.  I also note what tension the reader is feeling in every scene and what's motivating them to continue reading. I ask myself how the scene furthers the story, develops characters, and relates to the themes.

o   If you're having a specific problem, for example, with weaving in flashbacks or alternating narrators, find books you love that do this well  and write in your journal about how exactly the authors manage this. 

o   If you feel that your characters aren't deep enough or that their stories and backgrounds aren't real enough, interview characters in your journal.  I do this all the time.  I ask my (imaginary) characters about their earliest childhood memories, what they buy at the grocery store, their favorite article of clothing, their deepest fears, the happiest day of their lives, how they feel about other characters, what they think happens next in the story.  This nearly always gets me unstuck!

o   If you're really, truly stuck, don't be afraid to consider some major changes—maybe structural changes, maybe eliminating some characters or adding new ones, maybe eliminating or adding a storyline, maybe changing the point of view.  This can feel heart-breaking, especially if you feel attached to the story as it is, but you could always tell yourself you'll just give it a try and see what happens.  Just copy the manuscript into a new document file and give yourself freedom to experiment with some drastic changes.  You can always go back to the old document if the new one doesn't work.  It's really useful to have trusted critiquers to give you feedback on major changes like this.

o   If you're feeling lost and overwhelmed, try to represent your story visually—through mapping or charting or graphing it.

o   If you've finished a draft of the novel, but you feel it could be better, and you're not sure how, try going through the revision checklist that I'll post next week.

Happy writing!