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  • Writer's pictureJames Varma

Writing a Novel, the JSR Way

It's 2 weeks into Camp Nanowrimo, and I'm almost done with the 50k target I set for myself. People around me tell me that I write 'so much' and do 'so well'. And I've always thought "That's just how I write." and that there's no special trick to it.

But when it it comes to sitting down to write a novel it turns out I do go about things in a very specific way.

It may not be new, it may not be special, but I am here today to share it with you nonetheless.


Step 1: The Idea


This first step, I imagine, is similar for almost every writer out there. First you need an idea.

Ideas come from all sorts of places. They can appear fully formed in your head. They can spring up from a conversation you're having. They can be the result of seeing something interesting in another piece of media that you want to explore further.

For me it can be any of the above. I get ideas constantly, but there are some, like Day Bringer, like Wild Card and like the story I'm writing now that I just get a feeling for. And it's those ideas that I pay attention to.


Step 2: The Slow Burn


I get too many ideas to write them all. I get too many ideas to give them all a chance. The way I used to do it was that I'd write the first couple of pages, maybe chapters of a book and see if it's sticking with me. However even that started to feel like too much for me. Thanks to a combination of my full time work schedule and with my job being a creative one that uses up so much of my creativity I found it harder and harder to pin myself down to a project.

Not to mention that the failure to success ratio was painful to behold.

Now though I leave the story alone to burn. I'll make a notion page and put down the basic details (or what I know about it at that point) and walk away.

The thing about good stories is that they stick with you. The thing about good story concepts is that they won't let you go. Over a month or more I'll be constantly thinking about a good story.

I'll be adding to the notion.

I'll be building on that foundation.

And quietly making it strong, until...


Step 3: Planning


There's no doubt that this is going to be a story. So what does that mean? it means I need to start working on it, but it's not time to write it yet.

It's time to plan.

My first step is to decide when I'm going to start writing. It's usually about a month or so away, it's a loose date that can be changed, but having it there gets me motivated, it starts me moving.

Next is figuring out what happens in the story. I write out a basic bullet point list of the story's narrative. The very high level of it with it's major plot points.

Then over the remaining time until the start date, I expand upon those bullet points until I have an outline for every chapter in the book. These outlines are no more than a paragraph or two. They're not meant to be the specific details, but the skeleton of the plot that will I will be writing.

I put these outlines into my writing program (I use Scrivener) and I set it aside.

While this is all going on I'm also expanding my understanding of the main cast and world. Writing bios for them, sometimes small, sometimes large. I usually know roughly what their personalities are, but I like to leave that unwritten so that I can find them while I write.

Finally, a few days before I start to write I review the chapter outlines one last time and make any final changes.


Step 4: Doing it.


It's day one of writing and it's time to go, but first thing's first. I go to Nanowrimo.org and, whether it's CampNanowrimo, Nanowrimo itself or none of the above, I create a project, set up a goal and give myself a month.

Regardless of whether I'm in a Nanowrimo or not, that website's tracking and timed challenge system is one of the most motivating tools I have ever used.

Just being able to see my stats moving, and comparing them to days or years before is so helpful to my mentality.

But there's another reason I use it; for me one of the most important things when it comes to writing (and probably other things but I haven't yet made that mental connection) is that I shouldn't stop until I finish. I can't stop until I finish.

I use things like Nanowrimo and the July Camp to box myself in. I get as much done in the month as I can, preferably finish before the month ends, but if not: keep going until the story is done.

I've got so many unfinished projects in my history, so many books I started, put down for a week or more and never picked up again.

I've never finished writing a book that I didn't finish in more or less one go. I of course take a couple days here and there to see people and do other things, but I never put a story down for more than a week or else I know that I'll never pick it up again.


The next thing I do is write.

I give myself fair targets each day and I meet or beat them. If I know I don't have time to have a proper writing session in a day, I write a few words while I'm on the train or waiting for something, just to make sure I'm still moving forward.

I work through each chapter using the outlines as a guide. Breaking the chapters up, cutting chapters out, adding new chapters with new outlines as I see fit. The outlines at the beginning are never the outlines at the end, but having them there to ensure that I know what is supposed to come next means that I'm never sitting there wondering what should or could happen.


From time to time I've been asked to offer one piece of advice for writers, and it is always this:

Never end a days writing on an ending.

What do I mean by that? Don't ever 'just get to the end of this chapter' or 'just finish off this section.' If you do reach the end of a section, the end of a chapter, always write the first line or paragraph of the next chapter.

It's easy to keep writing, it's hard to start writing.

A blank page is the scariest thing in the world, but a page with a single line needs to be filled.


Step 5: Editing


So the book's written, but you know it's not done, right?

Well this is the section that I'm going to be less helpful with. When it comes to editing for content the general consensus is that you want to be cutting out words, not adding them in. One-hundred percent of the times I've done an edit of one of my books, I'd added pages of content. Now this isn't always bad, sometimes the book needs it, but it's not something to aspire to either.

And when it comes to editing for mistakes I'm still yet to find a perfect solution. For Day Bringer I used the program Grammarly, going to each concern individually and making my own choice, but as I'm not someone who knows best, and the program wasn't always great at explaining the issue it was hard to say whether it was right or not. I believe that the best thing to do is find an editor who is comfortable with your type of book and pay them, but that isn't always an option.

That said; Grammarly works, and if you don't have hundreds to spend on a real person who can explain things to you, it's good enough.


So that's how I write. Ideation, think, plan, write, edit.

It's a method that works for me, but it is a bit intense during the writing period. When I finish writing at the end of a book I always need a break, no exceptions. Sometimes I burn out early, but its what works best for me. This method of writing lets me write two or three books a year, while also holding down a whole ass job where I lead a team to design games.

What works for me might not work for you, but I hope that you can at least take a little gem from amongst my grains of sand.


Thank you for reading. I hope that was helpful, and if you'd like to read something written by me in this method please check out Daybringer in the Amazon UK store the Amazon US store or any Amazon store near you.


James

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