A few months ago I watched Stephen King’s Misery for the first time. I know. There’s no reasonable explanation for why a forty-five-year-old author went exactly thirty years without seeing one of the most iconic author-related films of all time.
No, I didn’t read the book. I’ll be honest, most of the time if my options are read the book or see the movie, I’ll see the movie. It’s an issue with time constraints. That’s what I tell myself.
So, where was I going with this?
In Misery we see the character Paul Sheldon typing out his manuscript on a typewriter. He then puts it neatly stacked into a worn leather bag and pops the cork on his celebratory bottle of Dom Perignon. That’s how books happen, right? Hardly. But it’s a movie (okay, also a book). It’s a representation of how life works without all the in-between details.
What gets me in this scene (and future writing scenes) is the idea that a writer sits down at a typewriter and creates a linear story which they then present to an editor as is. And maybe you as a new writer assume that’s the way it’s supposed to happen. It’s not. And that idea scares many people off from writing the book they want to write.
Take comfort in this: Writing a book is messy. It’s easy to lose your place, go off in wrong directions, and basically want to give up. If I had to write my whole manuscript on an old typewriter I’d probably give up, too.
That’s why we have tools.
When I was a new writer I scoffed at writing software. It seemed like a ridiculous concept. I’ve heard many authors scoff at it, too. How is a computer program going to get my words onto the page any easier? But after struggling through writing the first half of A Sin and a Lie I gave it a go. I shelled out $40 for a writing program to organize my documents. And I will never go back.
Some writers say, “I don’t need fancy software. I have Word.” Great. Word is a good program to have. But it’s essentially just a typewriter will a few extra bells and whistles.
There are several writing programs out there and I encourage you to look around for one that fits your needs. The software I use (and can’t live without) is Scrivener. Currently priced at $49 it’s actually much cheaper than Word. I’ve been using it since 2015 and I can’t live without it. (p.s. this is not an ad for Scrivener)
So what does good writing software do? It organizes your work in a way that’s tailored specifically to book-writing. This means every time you sit down to write you don’t have to try to find your place again. Think of how much time that will save you.
Have you ever pinned index cards on a bulletin board in an attempt to organize your chapters? Scrivener has a virtual bulletin board with index cards tied to each and every document in your manuscript folder. This was a huge game-changer for me. I can glance at my story and move scenes just by dragging and dropping. Scrivener lets me tag documents with status, characters, and whatever other customizable info I need for that particular story. And there are a ton of other functions in the program that I haven’t even used yet.
|Scrivener window courtesy of literatureandlatte.com|
So my point is this: Don’t be discouraged by what you think a writer’s process should look like. Very few writers can sit down and write a first draft straight through. That means it’s easy to get lost in your own story. Using a dedicated writing software will save you time and frustration.
Next time I’ll tell you about my non-linear writing process so you can see why a good writing program is important to me personally.
P.S. I also have a Throw Momma from the Train reference, but I’ll save that for next time.
Here's a question I get asked all the time: “I want to write a book. What do I do?”
My first instinctual answer to this question is, “First write the book. Then get back to me.” But that’s not nice. That’s not what an aspiring writer wants to hear.
Let’s be clear; an aspiring writer is not a person who hasn’t been published yet. An aspiring writer is someone who hasn’t written anything yet. Once you’ve begun to put your ideas on paper and have done this for a consistent period with the intent to show it to the world, you are a writer.
Many unpublished writers suffer from Imposter Syndrome. They feel foolish using the label of Writer because the public hasn’t yet seen the proof. But that’s wrong. That’s the same as saying a person who studies ballet intensely for months or years isn’t a dancer yet because they haven’t showcased their hard work on stage. If you write, you’re a writer. Period.
So, you want to write a book. What do you do?
Here’s my polite answer regarding writing fiction:
- 1. Form your idea from beginning to end inside your head. You don’t have to know it scene-for-scene, but you should have a good idea of what happens in the beginning, middle and end. This process can take days or months. But remember that any of these ideas can change once you’ve started writing and they often do.
- 2. Read other work in your intended genre. Don’t do this because you intend to copy another author’s style or story. Do it so you become familiar with reader expectations. It’s the only way to maintain the reader’s attention.
- 3. Draft a timeline. Ugh! This part is like homework. Some people will tell you to make an outline. That word gives me anxiety. It sounds too much like an assignment in school. So I make a timeline of events that serves as a roadmap for my story. It saves me so much time when I sit down to write. All I have to do is look at where I am on the map and start the next scene. It also means that I don’t have to write the story linear from beginning to end. I can skip to a scene that I’ve already fleshed out in my head before I started writing. Trust me, this step is worth it. I recommend finding timeline examples for your genre. I use an inexpensive software called Plottr which offers a package of timeline templates for a small additional fee.
- 4. Write your words. This is one of the easiest parts. I know, it’s hard. Some days it seems impossible. The words don’t always flow out of your fingertips the way they do in the movies. But compared to what you have to do after the first draft is written, this step is a piece of cake. That’s my own opinion, anyway.
That’s it? For now, yes. That’s basically how you write a fiction book. Next time I’ll share with you my favorite tool for putting my words together. And no, it’s not Word.