I always wanted to write a novel, but I didn’t think that I could do anything until I had the perfect idea. So, I was pretty much just waiting.
Then, two years ago, I got married. We drove along the California coast and stopped in peaceful seaside towns. My husband said, “We can live here when you are a novelist.” I agreed, even though I didn’t know when I would get the perfect idea.
When we got back from vacation, he kept talking about it. He suggested that I quit my job and get started. That scared me. He was serious. So, I decided to get started without an idea, just in case.
The first step I took was setting up notebooks/journals (see below):
As you can see, I had a lot of different sections in my notebooks. In the end, I identified four sections that were useful. They helped me to practice and to come up with an idea. Six months later, I was starting my novel.
1. Dreams – I write down all of the dreams that I can remember. This is worth doing purely for the entertainment value. You will be amused when you read it later.
While we were planning our wedding, I had a dream that solved three problems. (1) My mom wanted to know what to get me for Christmas. (2) We needed a DJ for our wedding, and (3) I wanted to meet Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I am a huge fan of that show.
In the dream my mother told me that, for my Christmas present, she had arranged for Joss Whedon to be the DJ at our wedding.
I said, “Mom, we can’t afford that!”
She said, “Oh, don’t worry honey. He’s never been a DJ before. He just wants to try it out.”
Needless to say, he wasn’t actually the DJ at our wedding, but I still enjoy remembering that dream.
I haven’t ever turned a dream into a story, but my favorite author, Alexander McCall Smith, wrote a story inspired by a dream about renting a bulldozer instead of a car on vacation.
2. What Works and What Doesn’t – As I read and analyze books I like to keep a list of what worked and what didn’t. It is useful to look back at it before I do my own writing.
I will sometimes slog through a book because the premise fascinates me, but the actual reading is slow. When that happens I always ask myself why.
Observing what other people do right or wrong is the first step to understanding the craft.
The best part about this exercise, is that when you read books about how to write a novel you will recognize some tips that you have already learned from your own analysis, and that is always exciting.
3. Journal in the Style of a Novel – It is important to practice writing in the style of a novel, integrating dialog, description of nouns, description of action, and internal thoughts. There is no reason why you have to wait until you have an idea.
You can write about anything that happens during the day in the style of a novel. This exercise allows you to become more aware of details. You will start paying closer attention to how it looks when you add sugar to your coffee or how it sounds when the car door slams because you know you need to describe it.
This also gives you the chance to experiment with writing from different points of view, first or third person.
4. Personal Journal – I recommend keeping a personal journal. When you are in the process of writing your novel, you can use the personal journal to deal with things that are happening in your life so that they don’t leak into your fiction.
All four of these journal sections can be mined for ideas in the future, so make sure to chose a notebook that won’t fray and fall apart quickly. I use Campus wide notebooks. They are sturdy and attractive, but they aren’t so fancy or expensive that you would feel intimidated to write in them. I like to use Zebra Espina pens. They are very comfortable to hold and write smoothly.
Do you have other ideas for journal sections? Has journaling helped you to write your novel?
Please let me know in the comments.