Writing is probably the most idiosyncratic of all the arts, because of the lack of unified or unified method, and is generally considered unteachable, but as I tell my writing students’, talent is unteachable, technique on the other hand...
So for what it is worth, here is my method for writing a novel, as I don’t write anything else really.
- Read lots of books and keep reading, don’t stop reading during the whole process!
- Taking as read that the individual has talent, discipline and a connection to the subconscious as starting points, one starts with an idea. An idea can come from anywhere; the important thing to remember is to be open to ideas and to trust your instincts when they tell you an idea is worth following.
- Sit with the idea; consider what could be done with it. I take my ideas for long walks, on which I mentally run through several possible plot points, I workshop characters and find out what they like and don’t like. I try to build up a mental idea of the characters and the world they inhabit. These may be easier for some people to do in a journal, but for me this work MUST be done mentally, I don’t start writing until a long time into the process, this is just to engage my subconscious and let it play about with the idea.
- Once I know that an idea will work, I start to do research, because all my writing takes place in a historical period. (I have a major in History and I enjoy hunting.) I will spend 6 months doing research, seeking out primary and secondary sources, reading history books, reading anything really which will help me tell the story. At one stage, I spent a long time looking at feminist retellings of fairy stories and Jungian interpretations of them to write better women. I try to understand the culture I am writing about, I look at food, music, social structure, and what I can’t find I have to invent using similar cultures from the same period.
- Write a complete first draft without editing: just get the story down.
- Edit first draft.
- Give draft to someone to read.
- Listen to feed back, go back and read the work again.
- Rewrite and edit again.
- Repeat steps 7, 8 and 9.
- Go back to step 3 and 4, you will either, need more research by this point, or have lost focus and need to regroup and reassess what you want your work to do. I am finding that a journal is now useful by this stage.
- Repeat steps 7, 8, and 9.
- This repeating 7, 8, and 9 can degenerate into a hideous loop, eventually you have to let it go. One way to get out of this loop is to give your work to a professional manuscript reader, such as myself to help you see what isn't working.
Boyd N, 2009, A creative writing research methodology: new direction, strange loops and tornadoes. Margins and mainstreams: Refereed Conference papers of the 14th Annual AAWP Conference, AAWP viewed 1st April 2013, http://aawp.org.au/files/Boyd.pdf
Janesick V, 1998, Journal writing as a Qualitive research technique: History, issues and reflections, Annual meeting of the American educational research association San Diego, viewed 1st April 2013, https://ilearn.swin.edu.au/bbcswebdav/pid-3406337-dt-content-rid-309576_4/institution/lilydale_postgraduate_writing/LPW706/modules/6/documents/mod5journalwritingreading2.pdf