My Novel Writing Process: Overview

With the first book of the Cloud Sisters well on the way to completion, I thought I would look back at the process which has brought me here.

Firstly, I’ve always wanted to be a plotter. Being a Virgo, I like to be organised and plan ahead. I don’t do well with spur-of-the-moment things, and yet this hasn’t translated to my writing. I find if I plan too much, it kills my creativity. And yet, that well-ordered outline speaks to my perfectionistic heart. I like the idea of having the steps all laid out, just waiting to be fleshed out with description and dialogue.

The answer, I have found, lies somewhere in between. I’m a hybrid, a pantser-plotter. I outline but only the big picture, the main beats. I leave room for the characters to speak through me, to tell me where the story will go next. Without that freedom, it all feels false and forced.

I once wrote a detailed outline for a novel using the book First Draft in 30 Days. I became obsessed with details. Nothing was left to chance – each character was analysed and each of their actions was carefully thought out. There were no surprises. And so imagine my surprise when I sat down to actually write the book based on the outline and I couldn’t even put down one word. Not. One. Word. It was as if with my obsessive focus on the outline, I’d forgotten how to write. I was no longer a writer, I was an outliner. But unlike what was promised in First Draft in 30 Days, the process did not leave me with a first draft, but rather a very well-researched guide on how to write the book. It’s easier just to write the damn book!

Over the years, I have established my own process. Before I started working on Enchanting Elodie, I wrote this process down step-by-step to make it concrete in my mind and also to ensure I remembered how to do it next time! I share it here in this five-part series in hopes that it might help any fellow pantser-plotters who tend to think they should be firmly in either camp.

Overview of My Process

Step One: The Story Idea 

A story begins with the spark of an idea, a setting, or a character. After that point, it’s just a matter of asking “What will happen next?” and following the story through to its completion. It’s always good to have a vague idea of how the story will end, even if this changes during the course of writing it.

So I find it helpful to begin with free-writing a broad overview ie: what the book will be about. Then as the story develops in your mind, expand on the plot points scene-by-scene (although not every scene will be there yet, just the main beats).

After that, we turn to the characters. Don’t worry pantsers, I don’t advocate completing a detailed analysis for each character (I find it so tedious, although others might enjoy it so do it if you love it!). Once again, it’s all about the free-writing using a Character Prompt Sheet as a guide.

By now, you should be getting an idea of the setting or places that appear in your novel. It’s important to place the reader into the story by painting a picture that they can visualise in their minds. Spend some time creating this world. Once this is done, it’s time to turn back to the plot and conduct any research that would help flesh out the story. It also helps to plug your plot points into a Plot Paradigm to see if the story fits. I will go into further detail about this in another post.

Step Two: First Draft

This would have to be my favourite part of the process and the most creative – letting your muse take over and your imagination carry you wherever it will! The best advice I ever read, and something that freed me from my unceasing internal censor, is to let yourself write a Shitty First Draft. This concept first sunk in when I read Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott and I will cover it in more depth in in this series.

Also – word count! Setting a word count goal for each session will help you get the story down as quick as you can while the idea is still fresh and you still feel that spark that started you writing.

Step Three: Rewriting (Second Draft)

And now we get down to the nitty gritty. You’ve finished your first draft – hooray! What a massive achievement! I bet you can’t wait to read it – but, wait. Let it rest for a while. A few days, a week, however long you can bear. And then print out a hard copy and get ready to pull your baby apart.

I always thought I would truly dislike rewriting (which is why I so longed to be a plotter and have all the kinks worked out beforehand), but I have found when I pushed myself through it that it’s a very rewarding process.

See this post for more details on the wonders of rewriting!

In my pantser-plotting style, I find it too difficult to work out a timeline for events before I’ve actually created the events. Working backwards and creating a timeline after the first draft helped me to see if scenes were in the wrong order or would work better at some place else in the story. More on this in the series.

Step Four: Editing (Third Draft)

My final posts in the series detail the final step in my process – the last chance to make your manuscript shine! This is where you finally get to pull out that red biro in your mind and edit your novel with a fine-tooth comb. 

If you really want to go in-depth, you need to look over each scene individually, checking that it serves a purpose by propelling the story forward and that it has a beginning, middle and end. The characters also get another going over by taking a hard look at their GMC’s (Goal, Motivation, Conflict). Basically, you are making sure that everything makes sense and is as correct as it should be.

The last stage focuses on grammar and punctuation, dialogue, description and sentence structure. All the things that would make your high school English teacher proud! Read your finished product, re-read and continue making changes until you are completely satisfied (or cross-eyed).

Your story may now only loosely resemble that first expanded overview, but that’s ok.

You’ve written a book!!

** Note: I found Elizabeth George’s book Write Away invaluable in formulating my own process.

Life and Scrivener

Life has been a little hectic in our house lately. With Easter school holidays upon us, my writing routine has been thrown out the window as I spend time with my son. But I always find when life gets in the way, I come back to the writing with fresh ideas or am re-energized in some way. I try not to take a total break though (unless I’m letting the draft rest) because it’s just too hard to start all over again. It’s better to dip in now and then and to at least keep the connection alive and think about where the story could be headed next.

With a small child at home, this is so much easier to do now that Scrivener have released their app for iPhone and android. Scrivener is hands down the best software for writers and has allowed my writing more freedom and ease than ever before. I’ve been using it for several years now and while I haven’t even begun to explore all the features on it, it’s enough just to have everything organised and easily accessible when I need it.

When I went away on holiday in March last year, I searched for a way I could take my writing with me. I knew I wouldn’t have time to jump on my laptop but I always have a few minutes here or there to open up my phone. The Scrivener app was released only a few months after we returned. Now I can take my writing anywhere – I especially love working on my novel in the bath!

A few tips I wish I’d known: all of your work is saved to a central Dropbox (you are prompted to download this) but you need to remember to sync your work with the Dropbox after you make any changes on the App. This needs to be done manually with the App but is automatic with Scrivener on your computer, as long as you remember to shut down the file after working on it.

This is the front screen of the Scrivener app. See that blue triangle with the arrow pointing up? That means you need to upload to Dropbox which is done simply by tapping the icon above (circle of arrows). Do this after every time you finish working on your manuscript and you won’t have any problems.

And now, back to the crazy!

The Cloud Sisters Book 1: Enchanting Elodie

Pic: My mock up of the front cover using Derek Murphy’s online book cover creator tool

It’s the last gig on tour for Australian country girl Elodie McAllister’s struggling band The Cloud Sisters. The dive bar isn’t exactly the kind of place she expected to be discovered, but tonight Elodie will be head-hunted by the biggest name in country music, sexy Texan Heath Howley.

Mistaking him for just another hot guy looking for a hook-up, Elodie almost blows her shot at stardom. But with the promise of a business proposal, Heath invites her to stay with him at the secluded Sugar Creek Estate in the Hunter Valley. Elodie is certain he is interested in more than her voice… but not so sure that she wants to resist him.

Heath Howley is used to getting what he wants – except the girl who stole his heart before he was famous. Something is holding Elodie back from reaching her dreams, and it’s the same thing that’s stopping her falling into his bed. To release her, all it will take is a little enchanting…

Book one begins with the eldest McAllister sister, Elodie. She’s at a place in her life where her band isn’t going anywhere despite early promise, and she and her sisters are sick of playing gigs but not earning enough money to keep going. Elodie is also newly heart-broken and is looking for a quick distraction from her pain with hot men.

When they play at a country pub, the Alehouse (the locals call it the Outhouse which is Aussie slang for a toilet), she meets a handsome mysterious stranger with a Southern American accent. But Elodie is in a bad mood because her latest distraction has let her down and she doesn’t respond well to the guy’s apparent overtures. Little does she know when she elbows him in the guts for being too forward, is that he is in fact a famous celebrity, a country music star by the name of Heath Howley, and he was trying to offer her a business opportunity…

The story takes place in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia, and Nashville, Tennessee, USA. I have been to the Hunter Valley but I’ve never been to Nashville, so a lot of research and imagination went into writing this book. The celebrity world is also foreign to me, but it’s all around us and even more accessible now with the advent of social media, so it wasn’t too difficult to imagine and create Heath’s world.

Enchanting Elodie is pure escapism for romance fans who are prone to celebrity crushes and who might just have a penchant for country music or its stars!

 

© Tammie Andrena 2017. All rights reserved.

Rediscovering the story through rewriting

I’m in the middle of rewriting the first draft of the Cloud Sisters book one, Enchanting Elodie. The experience of writing this book has been the most fun I’ve had writing in a long time. Writing romance is saucy, exciting, fun and above all, really satisfying! I really enjoy the process of “helping” two characters meet and fall in love, and it’s wonderful to see it unfold.

Armed with a loose outline (which I will cover in another post), the story flowed easily as the characters took over. I’ve since learned that they do this even more in the rewriting phase, when the story you meant to tell comes to life.

I’ve finished plenty of first drafts, but have never been committed enough to get through the hard slog of rewriting. I am so glad I did. I’m rediscovering the story all over again. And it’s taught me a few things:

  • That it’s true most of writing is rewriting
  • That the first draft will contain some gems but will mostly be a lot of crap, but that’s ok because the story and the threads are there
  • That rewriting feels awesome!! It’s so amazing to see goodness rise from the ashes, and to see the story you meant to tell come to life
  • Rewritten scenes will be so much cooler and true to the story – so many “gotcha” moments when you finally pin it down
  • It’s exciting to see what the characters come up with next, even more so than the first draft
  • It all happens so quickly, I’m flying through the scenes and it’s even better to know that this will be the final copy
  • Rewriting also lets you slow down and pick through the scene, fleshing it out like never before
  • The delete key becomes your friend – you’ll be happy to say bye bye to stuff you knew wasn’t right in the first place
  • You fall in love with your characters all over again – they are even more alive to you and you can paint them with description
  • You will be amazed what fits where and how you wrote the right thing, just not in the right spot
  • When you have the bones, you have the strength to finish it

The Cloud Sisters Trilogy

I’m currently writing a romantic trilogy centered around a trio of sisters in a country music band. The McAllister sisters (who go by the title The Cloud Sisters) are an undiscovered act who hail from the fictional small country town of Wattle Hill in my home state of New South Wales, Australia.

Each book is told from the POV of a different sister (and the hero) and follows their journey from being an unsigned act to finding success and love, and is set in both Australia and Nashville.

The idea emerged two years ago from my months-long boxset binge on the TV show Nashville. I’d always loved a bit of country music but after falling in love with the show, I became a dedicated fan of both the music and the scene.

 

 

In January this year I even travelled to Tamworth for the annual country music festival, the most iconic event of its kind in Australia. I wanted to write a fictional series like Nashville about the Australian country music industry, and going to Tamworth gave me a lot of insight and inspiration, not to mention exposure to some pretty talented Aussie bands and artists.

My inspiration for the all-girl sister band came from our very own McClymonts, who have a stack of successful albums and are well-known in this country.

 

 

Also,  being the middle of three sisters has given me a wealth of material to work with! The fun, the love, the fights (eek!). The characters of Elodie, Scarlett and Amber are entirely fictional though (promise, sissies…).

Each of the sisters have their own talents and unique personalities, and even though they’re travelling the same way, their paths to fame and love are very different. I can’t wait to tell their stories!

Begin

Because I’ve published a hundred first posts only to delete the blog in a rush of self-consciousness and fear that I’ve revealed too much too soon, I think I’ll keep this one simple.

I love to write. Have loved it since I first learned the craft at school and it occurred to me I could create alternative worlds and make anything happen. The power was intoxicating and I still feel that rush every time I write.

My lifelong dream is to be a published author. Yep, that’s it. Not asking too much I think. Except for the fact that I am the only one who can make this happen and I have no idea where to start.

So I’m beginning with story. Right now, I have a half re-written Shitty First Draft. That’s a big thing. It’s the furthest I have ever progressed in my writing process, and I have a lot of Shitty First Drafts that I have long since given up on (hmmm… Am I noticing a theme here?). I have learnt so much coming this far and I’m excited by the magic that unfolds on a daily basis.

My purpose for this blog is to keep myself accountable, to come out from under my shell and begin to share my words and my world with others. To finally step a foot out onto the path towards being a published author.