Free-Writing a Novel

I have realized time and time again that I just can’t do outlines. Believe me, I’ve tried. But it’s just not how my brain works. I lose interest about the time I finish the outline, and since everything is fairly planned out, I feel as though I am locked into that course of action and that there is no creativity left to be had in the story.

It’s a misconception, and I know it, but that doesn’t stop the inspiration and motivation to just leech out of me as soon as the outline is finished. It doesn’t matter how detailed the outline is. As soon as I type the words “THE END” at the end of the document, all hope for that story to be realized in a novel format is lost. Even if it is just a two or three paragraph synopsis of the story, I lose all motivation.

I think it’s because I love the wonderment that comes with the idea of figuring out the ending as you go. I tend to write my stories from beginning to end, so maybe my brain interprets “THE END” as “This story is finished. Nothing more needs to be done”. I’m not really sure why this is, but at least this theory seems to work.

Anyway, I have found, over time, that the best way for me to write a novel is to have a general idea of where it is going and what I want to happen, but to free write the rest. For those of you who don’t know what free writing is, it is basically writing whatever comes to mind on the page.

It is a great first draft strategy, especially when I am writing high action or intrigue. But when I get to a slower scene, and one that I am not necessarily interested in or not sure how it will contribute to the rest of the story, it can take a lot of willpower to keep going. Especially because I write chronologically. It can be hard to know when to skip time or when to include a scene.

I also, in the past, have tended to do a half-assed job of editing my writing. I think this has to do with two factors. One is the feeling I mentioned before, of the “THE END” feeling where it feels so final. It feels euphoric and like I accomplished something big. The second is that I tend to be a fairly good writer in my first drafts. They are mostly grammar, spelling and punctuation free and need little editing. At least, in my shorter pieces. My longer ones need some work, and I am so used to getting positive feedback on my first drafts (excerpts of longer ones) that it tricks me into engaging my lazy brain and not editing much or at all. This is a mentality that I need to get out of if I ever want to be a novelist.

Longer pieces are often re-written, scenes deleted or added, sentences re-worded, words deleted or added and overall edited for clarity, flow, and content. Although I have never seriously applied my editing skills to my longer stories, I am excellent at applying them to others’ longer pieces. I just need to learn to get past the “THE END” mindset being final and apply my passion for editing to my own writing.

So as I am making all of these changes in my life, I also need to make them in the way that I approach writing. I have learned a lot about myself in the past couple of years, and I am finding that the more I learn, the more I am challenged to grow and face change head on. It’s scary, but it is worth it. If all of these changes lead to my being a better writer, or even just a better person, I will have succeeded. As my Grandma says: “The day I stop learning is the day I die.”

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