Monday, November 17, 2008

How do you write a novel?

How do you write a novel?

That has to be most common question asked of me. It’s pitiful of me to say this, but I’m not exactly sure what people are really asking with that question. My response is, “One word at a time.” I don’t mean to be snippy or snarky with that reply, but “one word at a time” is the only way to write a novel, short story, poem, or an essay.

Sometimes I think people who ask that question are really asking about the creative writing process. Somerset Maugham once said, “There are three rules to writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” Wise words. Wise words, indeed.

The creative writing process is something unique to all authors. In Newport News, Virginia there is a writing group that meets for moral support, a few laughs, and food. During one of these meetings, I met a gentleman who uses the old index card process where every paragraph is hand written on an index card and then filed in the appropriate scene inside a card box. Editing is handled via pulling select cards and rewriting them. After speaking with this man, he laughingly told me that he’d been working on his novel for at least twenty years. He’s the only person I’ve met who still uses that system.

Other authors will do what I call “puzzle writing”. They write whatever scene is holding their muse hostage and then knit the disconnected scenes together. I can’t do that. It makes my head hurt just thinking about it.

I write sequentially…strictly sequentially. I start with “Chapter One” and I work all the way through to “the end” without skipping a single line of dialog. I use my muse’s urges as motivation. The few times I have skipped forward to write a must-write-this-now scene, I’ve killed the novel and it rests in peace incomplete on my hard drive.

Regardless of the creative process all novels are written one word at a time. I think the next time an aspiring author asks me that question, I’ll answer with, “I write one word at a time. But, the better question is how do you write a novel? What works for you?”

I.M. Cupnjava is a guest blogger who lives in Hampton Roads, Virginia. She’s a new author published by Freya’s Bower and has a short story included in the “Coming Together: With Pride” anthology published by Phaze.

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