I’ve read and read a lot of posts and advice stories on writing over the years and I thought I’d chime in on a few things I’ve found useful to me.
First off, do I use a notebook? Yes, well sort of.
I used to keep a notebook and scribble into it any bit of inspiration or thought I had for a story. I have lots of those lying around today and sometimes I thumb through them and I find that most of them aren’t that good. So I don’t really use a notebook like that any more. I tend to agree with Charles Bukowski, who said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that anything worth writing down, you will remember. I have a caveat about this, however. On active works, if I think of something about why a character is doing something or not doing something, even a bit of dialogue or description for that particular story, I will write it down in my notes app on my phone. So that’s been handy when I’ve taken my son to karate and a few other places, like even my other job.
What I mainly used a notebook for is to take notes on characters, setting, and other aspects of the story. I’ve written out out bits of history, economic issues. There are things in those notebooks that aren’t in the books, but those items and notes helped inform my writing. I’ve even drawn some maps in there.
Yes I do an outline of sorts. I’m not sure why this is a big issue or question, but apparently it is. Maybe it’s because some of us are afraid having an outline kills the creative process? If that’s your concern, don’t worry about it. Once you start writing the work just sort of takes over and the outline won’t kill the process.
Here’s an example from a current work:
Chap. 1 Meet Tom and his brother. His mom is missing and he’s just barely qualified to be in the race. He’s clumsy and overslept for a big day.
Chap 2 Tom and his brother are late to the choosing. He meets the other racers, Tiff, Nye, and Merrick and their dragons. He is hopeful he won’t get a dragon. He ends up with the weirdest dragon ever seen.
And it goes on. Just a basic idea or focus and maybe some character traits or interactions. Generally any new folks he interacts with or where I think the plot should go. My outlines tend to get even less specific as I go, but generally conform to how many chapters I will have.
Now, here’s the tricky part. I write the story generally as told from 1 to 23, in this case. And since I wrote the outline, I rarely refer back to it, unless I feel lost. I’m willing to let the story break the outline and go where it needs to on the first draft.
On my first novel, I had to reread my outline and tame the manuscript back into that basic framework. Several secondary characters’ stories and broken out in the writing and taken the focus away from the best part of the story. My final product was different than the original outline, but it followed a similar structure. In the end, I cut 10,000 words from that manuscript.
My second book flew out of me much easier and I didn’t have to refer back to the outline.
Finally, a little thing I picked up from reporting.
I do a needs list. That’s where I type out a one sentence idea for the story and then bellow that, I type out what I need to research to make this story happen. As a reporter, I used to do this all the time.
My list in reporting would include, who I needed to interview, what documents I needed, what research or places I needed to visit and what art I needed.
I’m writing a contemporary lit piece on a guy trying to figure out his life while working in America. It’s about moving through all the different jobs and careers and trying to find happiness. Basic story, on its surface. But I have to do some research.
So my list includes:
- DOL reports on pay and employment numbers
- Fed reports on credit and debt (ABA info as well)
- Bankruptcy statistics Fed Courts Pacer
- Commerce and Census on COLA
My old interview list has now become a character list on this page that looks kind of like you’d see at the beginning of a play.
Sometimes I include setting.
Finally, format your document so you can send it out to the agents and publishers or, so you can easily upload it into your page-making program for self publication.
This means, make sure the chapter headings are the same number of spaces from the top page and use the same phones and naming conventions. That the first paragraph has the same number of spaces from the chapter title in each chapter and finally, do use the page break function at the end of the chapter. It’s a life saver.
Basically, be consistent with your formatting even as you’re creating. It’s a pain in the ass to go back and fix all that stuff, so just get used to it. You can do it, believe me.
Keep writing, keep running.