3 Ways to Make Writing Your Novel Easier

3 Ways to Make Writing Your Novel Easier

Writing is hard. If you’re a writer, you don’t need me to tell you that. In the unlikely event that you’re not a writer, then all you have to do to be convinced that writing is hard is to take a quick sampling of writer humor: it’s pretty much all self-deprecating, masochistic, laugh-so-you-don’t-cry stuff. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about.

Become a Writer They Said It Will Be Fun They Said

(By the way, I totally stole the above from my critique partner Linda Yezak’s blog. Should you happen to be one of those unique individuals who actually enjoy self-deprecating, masochistic, laugh-so-you-don’t-cry writer humor, be sure to check out her “Especially for Writers” posts every Friday.)

I talk all the time about how more than half the joy of writing is found in its challenges. If it were easy, it would be boring, right?

Well, yeeees. And no.

Because as much as we relish rising to the challenges writing offers us, I think most of us just plain love the idea of finding a way to make writing your novel easier. Most of us also have it figured out that there’s no magic pill here. That’s the bad news. The good news? There are at least three things you can do to make writing your novel easier. But, first…

My Writing: The Hard Books and the Easy Ones

Let me share a little history on how I arrived at these ideas for making writing your novel easier. I’ve been writing since I was twelve and finished my first novel when I was fourteen. My journey as a writer looks something like this:

First Novel

In which I have no idea what I’m doing: Woohoo! This is so much fuuuuuuun!

Second Novel

In which I start to realize there are a few things I don’t know: Okay, got to make this book even better than the last one. Hmm, this is a little bit harder.

Third Novel

In which I admit I don’t have clue what I’m doing: Yikes. This is so much harder!

Fourth Novel

In which I start learning there is actually a science to this writing stuff: This is murder! This is the hardest book I’ve ever written. This is the *worst* book I’ve ever written!

A Man Called OutlawFifth Novel: A Man Called Outlaw

In which I get a pretty good handle on all that stuff I learned during the previous book: This is fun! No, this hard! No, wait, this is fun again!

Behold the Dawn by K.M. WeilandSixth Novel: Behold the Dawn

In which I’m starting to get it all figured out (and, not coincidentally, when I perfect my outlining process), but am not quite sure I’m getting it figured out: This is amazing! How is this coming together like this? But, wait, *is* it really coming together? Is it as good as I think it is? *commences self-doubt*

Dreamlander NIEA FinalistSeventh Novel: Dreamlander

In which I overthink everything I know and start by chucking my outline out the window, only to have to go outside and diligently pick up all the pieces: Please kill me now.

Eighth Novel

In which I think I know way more than I doWow, I’m not such a genius after all…

Ninth Novel: Storming (coming this winter!)

In which I now understand story structure enough to purposefully apply it in the outline phase: Waaaaahooooooo! Easiest book ev-ah! I am now the MASTER. *commence victory dance* Writing will never be hard again!!!

Tenth Novel: Wayfarer (current work-in-progress)

In which I rinse and repeat the process from the previous book: This is so–wait, wasn’t this supposed to be easy now? This is hard again. Why is this so hard?!

4 Things My History Can Teach You About How to Make Writing Your Novel Easier

So what are you supposed to glean from that whirlwind glimpse into my writing life?

1. Writing is a process. It’s a journey that goes both uphill and down.

2. Every book is its own adventure.

3. Experience helps you avoid mistakes that made previous books difficult.

4. But experience doesn’t necessarily equal ease of writing.

That last is what got me to thinking. Why was Storming so easy to write when Wayfarer isn’t? The process is the same. My own knowledge has only grown in the interim. I am passionate about both stories. And with Wayfarer, I even have the added benefit of coming off a tremendously affirming and confidence-building experience with Storming. So what’s the deal?

In comparing the processes and the actual stories of Storming and Wayfarer, I came up with three important things you can do to make writing your novel easier.

1. Think About It

Structuring Your Novel IPPY Award 165By this I mean: learn like crazy–and particularly about the mechanics of story as a whole. Learn story theory. Gobble up story structure and its relation to characters arcs. The more you understand how to form a solid story, the easier the actual writing will be and the less you’ll have to second guess yourself while in the throes of creation.

Now, it’s true that growth is a transformative, sometimes painful evolution. If you look at my writing history, you can see that some of my most difficult writing experiences have been those in which I’ve been in the midst of learning important new storytelling principles. But I’ve always reaped the benefits in the books to follow, by which time I’ve actually mastered what I was only just learning in the previous books.

You want this stuff to become second nature, to the point that the right story decisions flow from you effortlessly. Effortless=easy. Yeah, baby!

2. Don’t Think About It

Now, really, how could this be a self-respecting writing article without a little bit of contradiction thrown in here? As much as we want to gain a conscious understanding of story mechanics and good writing, we also have to be able to set all that left-brain stuff aside and let our creativity flow whenever we sit to actually write.

Something I learned during the revision phase of Dreamlander (which was arguably the biggest period of writing growth I’ve experienced to date) was the crippling power of perfectionism. I was overthinking myself like crazy during the drafting process. I’d write a sentence, re-read it, ponder it, re-write, write another. Agony.

Then deadlines started looming, and I had no choice but to write like Barry Allen on caffeine patches. My fingers flew, the ideas poured out, I stopped over-thinking myself, and the whole thing became nearly effortless.

The Flash CW Barry Allen

As much as possible, do the heavy lifting of story planning ahead of time. Then when the first draft comes along, just write. Don’t think. Just flow. Thinking is hard. But flowing? Easy-peasy.

3. Marry Yourself to the Right Material

Now, here’s the kicker. This is the biggest lesson the contrast between Storming and Wayfarer taught me. Ready for this?

Some stories are just easier to write than others.

It’s true. Not every story is created equal. Storming was one of those special stories that set itself up in such a way to make usually hard aspects of writing easy.

  • Its protagonist jumped onto the page with a fantastically fun and engaging voice right from the first sentence.

None of those things were due to my perfect planning skills in the outlining stage. None of those things were due to my knowledge of story structure and arc. That’s just how the story worked out. They were gifts.

Wayfarer didn’t give me any of those things. Making Wayfarer work, especially in the beginning, was more of a challenge simply because of the demands of the story itself.

If you want an easy writing experience, you’re going to need to make sure you’re choosing a story that supports that desire. If you can identify up front whether or not a certain story idea is going to set up its integral pieces in an effortless way, then you’re pretty much guaranteed an awesome writing experience.

But . . . Should You Avoid the Hard Stories?

My first reaction to the contrast between Storming and Wayfarer was to think, Well, something must be wrong with this book. It should be just as easy as it was the last time. So what did I do right with Storming that I’m doing wrong this time around?

A little more thought and I realized: I’m not doing anything wrong. There’s nothing wrong with a story that’s challenging. Most stories are hard. It’s the rare creation whose pieces come together effortlessly, to the point the story is almost writing itself. If you chuck out every other idea, just because it seems like it might be hard to write, you’re going to be missing out on a lot of great stories.

For me, Behold the Dawn was easy to write and Dreamlander was really, really hard. But you know what? I think they both turned out pretty darn good, and they were both extremely rewarding experiences for me as a writer.

Storming was easy, and Wayfarer is hard. But I have no reason to think Wayfarer won’t turn out to be just as good as Storming. And I can tell you right now that, even though Wayfarer is not easy, it is still wildly rewarding.

There’s nothing wrong with making the effort to minimize some of the more agonizing parts of the writing process. But there’s also no reason to run from the hard stories. Embrace them. Learn from them–and then enjoy the easy stories for all they’re worth when they come around!

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What tricks have you learned in your writing journey to make writing your novel easier? Tell me in the comments!

3 Ways to Make Writing Your Novel Easier

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. This has been one of your best posts. Learning about what authors go through to get to a publishable standard is always illuminating to me. Having watched Brandon Sanderson’s lectures, he often refers to the number of full novels he had to write before landing a publishing deal (I think it was approaching 10!). I read a useful post yesterday at http://www.authorspublish.com/an-argument-for-writing-short-stories/ which may save budding writers a lot of heartache (hope you don’t mind me posting the link – it’s a trusted source.) It basically says that less experienced authors (and I include myself here) should hone their craft writing short stories. There are many bonuses to this: if it sucks you’ve wasted less time, it teaches you to produce tight writing as you have to make every word count, you can concentrate on producing gripping narrative without necessarily getting bogged down in complex plots. Of course, writing a novel has additional challenges which shouldn’t be underestimated, but hey – Ray Bradbury and Stephen King advise it so it’s worth checking out.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Great point – and I agree. I wrote upwards of two hundred short stories early on. Learned a ton.

      • Hi! I love this post and wanted to ask about my daughter… she’s 12 and wants to write a novel. Not a short story… not a contest entry… a novel. She also wants to publish it, but is her only option to self publish at her age? What did you do with your first book?

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Never say never! But realistically speaking first novels–no matter the age of the novelist–are rarely in publishable shape. Nothing wrong with self-publishing it for her, but if we’re talking a viable beginning of a future career, then I would focus first on getting her to write several books, so she can hone her skills, before seriously considering any kind of publication.

  2. Hell ya! Being a writer is difficult (but just the writers really know that. I know people that don’t write and they said is very easy become a successful author and writer — sad thing, isn’t it?) But is always fun write something, right?

    My writer journey was a quite different. I began with 11 years old and show my “novel” (about what– 7.500 words ) to my teacher and guess what? The teacher lost a part of the novel :\
    So, my first novel is incomplete and my next hundred turned the same way ’cause I really get tired of them. Finally with 16 I began writing “novels” with 50k words and now I have 3 waiting a serious revision 🙂

    A useful advice K.M. and “how could this be a self-respecting writing article without a little bit of contradiction”?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Ouch. It’s hard enough when we do something to lose our own writing. Makes me think of Jo March’s meltdown when Amy burnt her book. 😛

  3. robert easterbrook says:

    You nailed it! I’m now onto book #6… so you know exactly what I’ve been through and what’s coming next. 😉

    All the ‘tricks’ I’ve learned to make my writing ‘easier’ I learned from you. Mostly…

    So thanks for messin’ up my life, Katie! and at the same time making it interesting and fun. 😉

  4. i think I’m still learning. Writing always bring mixed emotions but thankfully it feels good to write most of the time. It’s the revision and editing part that gets to me; it just turns into such a daunting task that I end up avoiding it. I try not to and though revisions for my current novel have been slow it’s happening at least.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      We’re al still learning, no matter how far along in the process we are. And editing IS tough. But keep at it. It’s always rewarding in the end.

  5. I think one of your points–Don’t Think About It–is key for me. While I write in a hybrid fashion–I outline by the seat of my pants–I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about structure and perfectionism. It can make for some messy drafts, and there are many times when I have to go back and prop up certain plot points. But that’s what editing is for.

    I love the creative process of being a writer, even on the hard days. I’ve never had a day where I want to chuck it all and do something else with my life. There are times when I want to walk away for a while, and I will for a couple days or a week if needed. But I always come back to it. Because it’s worth it.

  6. Like writing short stories, I find writing short novels (novellettes- 12-15000 words) helpful. In some genres, especially romance, you can sell these on Amazon and make money while you learn to write longer works.

  7. And, sometimes parts of the story are just easier to write than other parts of the same story. I’m just saying.

  8. I so needed this today. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. ❤

  9. This was a great post and one I desperately needed to hear. My first three novels were great and just flowed out of me (I tell people I had to have been possessed). The short stories were a little stiff, but not un-fun to write. My current project, though, is just unwieldy and yet has the easiest plot. Now I know why: I’m learning about the nuts and bolts and the craft of writing! I’m thinking and structuring more now, so of course it’s going to be harder. I just thought I had peaked before I ever went anywhere. Thank you so much! Now I can breath easier knowing that the next book won’t be as hard. Well, in the areas that I am learning now, anyway. Ha.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Then you’re in a very good place! You’re next book just might be your easiest (and best) yet!

  10. I write so slowly, even when I put hours into it, that I have had to learn a lot of ways to make writing easier just so that I can get it done at all.

    Your three ways are very true. The first one has helped a lot with the planning especially: right now I am planning a novel, actually, and the process is so much easier now than it used to be because I have gotten more of a system set up of what things I need to figure out and how to put it all together in the nicest way.

    The second way is something I learned by Nanowrimo. It is certain that my first, faster drafts are not publishable, but I discovered that my ability to write something publishable was increased exponentially if I had a first draft to work off of and revise.

    The third one is something I am still figuring out. 😛

  11. K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

    Indeed!

  12. Joe Long says:

    “I’ve been writing since I was twelve and finished my first novel when I was fourteen.”

    The oldest I found on Amazon was 2007, so you’re…22? Oh, that was novel #5, so 25.

    I try to work from the general down to the specific. Premise > outline > scene list, then dig into each scene. Recently I was stuck on when I realized I was overthinking a scene, working on the setting, which should have been secondary to what the characters were saying to each other (the things driving the plot).

  13. The biggest thing that has helped me is allowing imperfection by purposely practicing it. Meaning, I set aside 5 minutes every day to write anything (fiction) that comes into my head. I had to start doing this by writing shot-gun style. Because writing that way did not allow time to judge what you put down on the paper. Later, when I trusted myself enough to believe that I really WOULD put anything down on paper, even if it was “awful”, (a bad idea, a poorly constructed sentence, off-topic, or just plain stupid), I started to relax, and it got easier because I had practiced squashing resistance. I started to value time rather than quality. And oddly, that increases the quality! Because you’re not blocking yourself, you’re not blocking your muscles from being worked.

    So perfection is in my way, which causes resistance. And resistance is the enemy to productivity and enjoyment. By practicing imperfection, actively, it wore that resistance down and made it easy! When you’re not worried about being “good”, you can write A LOT more. 🙂 (Which then means you have room to write well!) The catch-22! I.e. to write well, you have to write more. But to write more, you have to be willing to write poorly! 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yes, it’s totally ironic: the more permission I give myself to be sloppy, the better my writing usually is.

  14. Danielle DeLisle says:

    I went to a reading by Neil Gaiman a couple months ago. and he talked about getting advice from Gene Wolfe. Apparently, Gaiman had just finished his first book and told Wolfe his next one should be easier because he had already written one, right? Wolfe told him “You don’t learn how to write a book. You learn how to write THIS book.” Your comments made me think of that today.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yes! Love that quote. And totally agree with it. Every book is its own adventure. Truer words were never spoken.

  15. Bridget says:

    I’m at that weird moment right now in which I’ve written stuff…multiple drafts in fact, but can’t seem to get the editing phase down right. I’m second guessing everything, and it seems like re-writing the whole thing from the beginning will do me the most good. Except now I’m not sure which version of my story I like the best. I’m waiting for the imaginary inspiration fairy to bop me on the head with an obvious solution.

    Until then, I have found that outlining beforehand is my greatest asset. I like the “pantsing” method but then I often write myself in a corner if I’m not careful. And it’s funny, but I learned a lot about planning ahead of time when I used to write fanfiction. When it comes to my own original stuff, there’s some mental block keeping me from completing anything well enough for publication.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I will actually sometimes “outline” my revisions. But I do think it’s much too easy to work ourselves into “overthinking” mode in early revisions. We instinctively *feel* that something is off, but we’re not sure *what.* I find, in those instances, it’s usually best to back off from the project until the waters “settle” and I can analyze more clearly–rather than fixing this and fixing that, hoping the shotgun approach will get the job done.

      • Bridget says:

        Thank s for the response! I did actually outline the first draft to get a clearer idea of what I did and what I might have missed. I think down the road it will help a lot.

        Part of me wishes I’d read your Outlining and Structuring ebooks long ago and applied them earlier. But then again, there’s a little fun discovery in the re-writing process. I do feel now I’ll better bring my “vision” (hoo boy there’s a lofty term) to life better now than when I NaNo’d that first draft.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          That’s great! Every novel is an adventure. We learn something new with every story we write. Makes the journey all the more exciting!

  16. What a wonderful post. I love knowing that you’re human, and that even after 10 novels, you still struggle and have your ups and downs. Maybe it’s because your guides make story structure seem so straightforward, like fitting together the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, that it should make planning that much easier. Even though I’m following Structuring Your Novel and Outlining Your Novel to guide me as I rebuild (and your fabulous posts on how you use Scrivener to outline), it’s still so hard! I’m just comforted knowing I’m in good company. 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Outlines and structure definitely *do* make it all make more sense. But every story is still its own adventure. There’s always something to learn and re-learn!

  17. Thank you for this post! And I lurve the masochistic humour – it’s how I get through those moments when my Inner Grinch is telling me I suck like a Dyson at writing – except even a Dyson would be better at sucking the suck out of MY writing…

    The only way I managed to complete even my first draft of my current w-i-p (now working on draft 3) is by telling myself “I’m allowed to suck.” Before then, the idea of writing awful prose that I hated was a no-no, but all that did was leave me with whole sessions of writing-deleting-writing-deleting with nothing to show for it at the end. Now I just get it down and try not to think about how it’s not what I meant to say at all and it sounds like the ramblings of a drunk five-year-old… because it’s easier to fix and tinker with bad writing that exists than to try and spin brain-crap into gold before it even hits the blank page.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Because as much as we relish rising to the challenges writing offers us, I think most of us just plain love the idea of finding a way to make writing your novel easier. Most of us also have it figured out that there’s no magic pill here. That’s the bad news. The good news? There are at least three things you can …read more […]

  2. […] Writing groups can be wonderfully supportive places to improve your craft and ease writerly isolation. However, as Jennie Nash reminds us, writing groups have dangers, too, so we should go in with eyes open. Even with writer support groups, sometimes it seems like the writing never gets easier, but K.M. Weiland has 3 ways to make writing your novel easier. […]

  3. […] K.M. Weiland shares three ways you can make writing your novel easier. […]

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