Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Drafting Your First Novel: Q & A

If you are a regular visitor to my blog you will notice I did not title this one Word Count Wednesday. I promise I will give the word count at the end as usual, but I wanted to take this opportunity to answer some of the questions I have received about writing a novel. In particular, I have fielded questions from friends, acquaintances, and readers of my blog. Many are interested in writing a novel or short story themselves. Hey, we all have a story to tell, right?

My purpose in creating the blog was to a) learn how to blog, b) share the journey with others interested in the process of writing, and c) to hold myself accountable to the commitment I had made to write every day.

Well, I am learning a bit and the blog does serve to hold me accountable.
I hope my musings have helped some who are interested in the writing process.

Now though, I feel compelled to address three very specific questions for those of you who really want to write but can’t seem to get started. Or finished.
I hope you find this helpful.

Q:        Where do you get an idea and then how do you know it will be good enough to sustain a whole book?

A:         I get my ideas from life. Not always my own, but certainly the “what if that happened to me” kind of question triggers my imagination. As for sustainability, I sort of play with the idea like a movie taking shape in my mind. If I can imagine a strong beginning event to open the story, a strong event or turning point for the middle of my story, and a strong event to end my story, then I think it is worth sketching out on paper.

Q:        When do you find time to write?

A:         I learned a long time ago that we always make time for the things we want to do. That’s not to say we don’t lead busy lives. We do. When I was a graduate student, I gave myself “office hours.” I had a husband, three active daughters, and a full time job teaching. I am not superwoman. I had to allot myself designated time to work on my thesis. Before I did that, I was always carrying a canvas bag with me everywhere, just hoping to get in some reading or writing. I carried it to my daughters’ swim meets, dance lessons, and music lessons. But once I gave myself a designated hour after the children were in bed (and only for five days a week), I suddenly became more productive as well as more involved in the family activities. Now my children are grown. I find myself writing in the evening. The point is this: Designate a time and place to write. And remember this: It doesn’t have to be every day. For many years, I spent an hour or so every Sunday writing out what I had learned about myself through the Sunday morning sermon at our church. In the words of the great philosopher, Nike, Just Do It.

Q:        You keep talking about a word count. Are there really set word counts for novels and stuff?

A:         Yes. And no. When I was a professor at Cincinnati Christian University I would often give a research paper assignment to my students. I would inevitably get questions like “How long does this have to be, Dr. Waters?” My pat answer was always, “Until it is finished.” I did have certain guidelines, though, and I would tell them that unless they were superbly compact writers, they could probably expect their papers to be at least five to seven pages. It would take that many pages to adequately address the topic. In the world of writing, there are guidelines as well. A well-developed novel is typically around 80,000 words in length. Of course there are exceptions and a well-written book could be shorter. Or longer. Since I am also interested in writing children’s books, I have researched that market as well. Every publisher and resource I have found is consistently clear: Picture books (even if the word count is 500 words) are designed to be thirty-two pages.

And with that bit of information, I will leave you with my latest word count.
At present I am at 46,050 words.

However, on Sunday afternoon, I printed off the first ninety-eight pages to take with me on a short trip to Orlando, Florida. Now that I have real paper in my hands, I know I will be whipping out the pencil. I have a lot of editing and rearranging to do. Who knows what the word count will be by this time next week? I may be in for a real surprise.

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