Last year I wrote a blog-post about writing my first novel. Since then I have completed one young adult novel, one children’s novel and the first draft of another young adult (Y.A) novel. What I have learnt from writing more than one novel, is that there are two ways of doing everything.
I once thought that to write a novel you should just plough ahead and never re-read anything you’ve written while still on the first draft. But if I lived by my own rule, then I wouldn’t have gotten very far, or would have suffered hugely in the second draft, having to tediously edit out major flaws.
In both my Y.A novels, I hit a stumbling block between 30,000 and 40,000 words. Not a word block, because words kept coming. It was more of an uncertainty about where to take the characters next. I had forgotten how the story started, forgotten plot hints I’d put in. In one instance of this, I read back over the novel so far, and I realised one character wasn’t working and scrapped her before I wasted precious time on her. In another, I fell back in love with the story after it had started to tire me, wondering if it was going anywhere. This refreshed my motivation and allowed me see how the story should naturally progress.
I started an online course on writing for children and it insisted that you plan the whole story from beginning to end. This is something I’ve read many times, but planning and my style of writing don’t go together. This came as a surprise to me, because I plan pretty much everything else in my life to a tee. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy writing without a plan; it sets me free from the norms of my life. I did try to plan novels, but when the characters started naturally drawing the plot away from my plan, I got flummoxed. Not having a plan allows me to create as I go, surprising myself and getting to know the characters the way the reader does.
I definitely believe that to write well, you need to read. But I don’t think you should read everything. I got caught with this one. I took the advice to keep reading, even bad writing so you know what not to include in your novel. But this is dangerous, and I found myself stuck reading a book that irritated me. And while it did have the positive effect of high-lighting how not to write, I did spot, in horror, that some of the other author’s way of writing was weaselling it’s way into my own work. Since then, I’ve become very picky about what I read when I’m writing a novel. I try and only read books by authors much better than me, and hope that they’ll rub off on me. I keep the other books for the times I’m in between novels.
To plan or not to plan, to read and edit as you go or just keep writing, to know your ending before you start or to surprise yourself with the ending….
There are two ways to write everything (or three, or four..). What works in one novel may not work in another. What works for one writer won’t always work for a second. The only way to learn what works for you is to begin writing, and see what works for you.