Wednesday, January 14, 2015

On Max Barry's 15 Ways to Write a Novel

Max Barry's "15 Ways to Write a Novel," is a fantastic read for authors (aspiring and otherwise) that I found in r/writing of all places. It's so refreshing to see somebody link an article whose author acknowledges multiple ways to skin a cat instead of couching a personal epiphany as the answer to writing.

A couple of these are opposing philosophies, but I don't think any are actually mutually exclusive; especially if you take different approaches toward different projects. I have tried most (but not all) of these methods/strategies. Here is how they worked out for me:

#1. Word/Page Count: Primary method I used to finish my first book, but I did it over a year instead of nanowrimo. (I share his assessment of nanowrimo too, though).

#2. Word Ceiling: Wow, what the hell. Haven't tried or heard of this one before. Seems weird and very hard. I may try it later when I can afford to experiment. I think I could only pull it off if my ceiling was also my count. Interesting idea though. May ensure quality.

#3. Coffee Shop: If I ever become a full timer, I think I'll need to do this. Coming home from work is the reverse process but it draws the same space/time distinction to form habits.

#4. Quiet Place: Tried it, doesn't work for me. Need music or some kind of white noise. If noise is distracting me, there is something else that is wrong with the story. Usually get through it by talking to Grace.

#5. Bursts: Impossible on ADD meds (personally speaking, anyway). Feasible with untreated ADD, but more risky because you might not bounce back to the keyboard. I do my best writing in one to three hour streaks every day.

#6. Immersion: I try to be as immersed in my world as possible but rarely disconnected. Often need to look things up... though come to think of it, I get a lot of good writing done on planes, or writing in notebooks when internet is not feasible. A reassessment may be in order.

#7. Intoxicants: ...part of my process more commonly than I ought to admit on the internet. I'm no Hunter S Thompson, but from what I’ve heard, my booze and caffeine intake strikes a chord with Hemmingway.

#8. Headphones: these days I almost always have a play list going, but never through headphones. It makes it too intense; I focus on the music more than the words.

#9. Break of Dawn: Did this the last few chapters of my first book. Worked very well, but prescriptions were in a weird place at the time; I am not a morning person by default. Also occasionally made me run late.

#10. Dead of Night: More my style, though usually I try to write about thirty minutes after getting home. I use this as more of an ultimatum: you can’t sleep until you've busted this clot. Great for breakthroughs, bad for the following morning.

#11. Jigsaw: I can never start a book like this, but I do it throughout the process; write a thing I like, find it doesn't work there, pull it out and plug it in later. Or save it for a different project!

#12. The End to End: This is another thing that got me through the first book. When I start jumping around, things become inconsistent. You need to have at least a general ending in mind for this to work though, making it very hard to square with The Journey approach. Why editing the first third of this new book is taking so long.

#13. The Outline: My standard approach; never would have completed a story if I couldn't do this at least once. But this approach swallowed everything I attempted before The Harrowing. It's very dangerous to do this with stories that require a lot of world building. You can get lost in the beautiful details without ever creating a character anybody but you will care about, or write something that feels more like a textbook than a story.

#14. The Journey: Started my current book this way. It was terrifying, and it resulted in tons of bloat and inconsistencies. But it forced me to write characters who feel more like people; who challenge me and say "I'm not doing that for the sake of your plot. Screw yourself." I think I also ended up with a very richly developed and more coherent world. But once I finished the first third, I got an idea where this was heading, and had to go back to the beginning to address the inconsistencies before moving forward. Time will tell if that was a mistake... Not one to start with I think.

#15. The Restart: This is how all of my Outline approaches ended up prior to my first novel. I usually find the idea itself is the problem. Instead of scrapping 'mostly' everything, and trying again immediately, put the thing in a box. Let it age. Maybe for a couple years. As long as necessary. An idea I had in high school will finally pay dividends in this novel.

Fellow writers! Please share which methods have worked for you!

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