What Writing a Novel Looks Like

TypewriterPeople always seem to be interested in the behind-the-scenes of what it’s like to do things, especially the mystique of writing a novel. Since I happen to be writing a novel, why don’t I share what the process is like?

At his blog today Jon Acuff writes about the myth of the writer’s cabin, which is true. We don’t retreat to a glorious cabin in the woods with a typewriter and emerge with a masterpiece. It’s not glamorous like that. Actually, the biggest truth that has helped my writing the most is that there is no muse. Meaning, I don’t wait for one to strike. If I did I’d never produce anything. Writing is about turning it on when you need it and turning it off when it’s time to go back to the day job. That’s how it works when you work and go to school AND hope to write a novel at the same time. I’ve yet to meet someone in this century funded by a patron.

So this novel. I started work on it back in October (that is, started writing it – I already had the whole thing planned out in my head). I don’t remember how I pounded out the first chapter, whether it was during the weekend or during an evening, but I did. The first chapter had already been written in my brain a few times, so it came out quickly. But that was all I could do. I work 40 hours a week and I was in school at the time, so my time options were few. This go around, though, I’m writing my novel on Evernote, which has allowed me to sync my writing across all of my devices. And I mean all: My home Mac, my work PC, my iPad, and my iPhone. Which meant that after I pounded out that first chapter, I spent my morning commute reading back through it and revising it on my iPhone. Not ideal to write on, but perfect to edit on.

I knew I wanted a jump start with this, and since the novel takes place on Cape Cod, how about spending some time down there? Since my schedule is somewhat light in the fall, I used vacation time to take a four day writing retreat on the Cape. I spent my days and nights writing, and pounded through another few chapters, for a total of a quarter of a novel written! And then I had to go back to work and school and my life.

That’s when the five/ten/twenty minutes/free evening comes in. I have five minutes on the train: I’ll reread and revise on my phone. I have ten minutes between projects at work: I’ll reread what I have on my PC and make adjustments. I have twenty minutes at home before bed: I’ll write some more of that chapter. I have a free evening: I’ll rewrite that portion on my iPad at a coffeeshop on the way home from work. I have a free Saturday: Hey! Here we go, I’ll write a whole chapter! This particular novel involves research as well, so some of those snippets of time have been devoted to reading and websurfing. When I was home for Christmas break I spent a whole afternoon researching what crew positions there were on the ship one of the characters serves on, and making up fifty names to plug into those roles. Waste of time? No way: Those names became characters, that I could quickly pull and put into my story.

Since I’ve been out of school for the past few weeks I’ve had my weekends free. I haven’t spent every waking moment writing, but, for instance, last Saturday I spent all afternoon pouring out a chapter. I have to do more research to continue on with that chapter, though, and haven’t done that yet. And then, last night I had the idea for a portion at the very end of the book. I sat down at 10pm or so to pour it out, and looked up when I finished, past midnight. Sometimes getting that perfect portion down means you don’t sleep. Today? I had a few minutes between projects at work, so I went back and reread what I wrote last night.

All the time, though, I am thinking about my characters and about my scenes. But I have to build the writing around my current commitments. I have to slip the writing in between the previous thing and the next thing. I have to revise a novel on my iPhone on the T. And yes, I will do that, if that’s what I have to do.

I am so excited about this novel, and cannot wait to have you read it! In the meantime, I’m trying to get representation for a novel I wrote a few years ago. I’ll keep you updated on how that goes (sending queries out is a whole lot less exciting than the act of creating a new work – but it’s necessary).

Where and how do you put together your novel? Leave your experience in the comments.


2 thoughts on “What Writing a Novel Looks Like

  1. kangopie says:

    Your writing process is facinating especially the part where you revise your stuff after you write it. Read somewhere that you shouldn’t do that.
    Then I realised that you have to do what works for you. This works for you so why would you stop?

  2. David Liscio says:

    Hi Jessica,
    Not sure if this is of interest to you, but my Boston-based serial killer thriller Deadly Fare was published in October and has mostly five-star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. I’m a former newspaper reporter, having covered federal court when it was in Post Office Square (all the organized crime trials) and the Suffolk County Superior Court near Government Center (for some juicy murders). I also worked as a stringer for AP Boston.
    The book is all BOSTON BOSTON BOSTON and I’ve begun assembling an accompanying photo gallery on my website as a reader enhancement, sort of a faces and places carousel. For instance, the illuminated cross on the hilltop in Orient Heights plays a role in the story. When visitors to my gallery see it, they’ll recall that specific scene from the book. I figure the gallery would also be useful to book clubs if they select Deadly Fare for discussion.
    Anyhow, I’d sure like to connect with Boston readers because they’re my people as well.
    If you want to take a look at the book, the links to its Amazon listing and also to the photo gallery are all connected through my website. I’m also on Facebook.

    Thanks for making Boston Strong.

    David Liscio
    —author of the serial killer thriller Deadly Fare

    email: david@davidliscio.com

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