One day, I will write a book! Has that thought crossed your mind? I have heard it many times from people I meet. According to PublishingPerspectives.com, 81% of Americans consider writing a book. However, Studyfinds.org, found only 15% ever actually begin the project, a mere 6% get halfway through, and according to Reedsyblog.com only 0.1% actually accomplished that dream. So to those of you that make it through to the end, CONGRATULATIONS! I salute you because I know from experience, writing a complete book is hard work.
When I first sat down to write, way back in 2017, I imagined that the novel I would spend hours toiling over would be a masterpiece. There I sat, like millions before me, trying to put together the same 26 letters of the alphabet into a unique sequence that would produce a compelling work of fiction. I had written all of two paragraphs before I realized I had no idea what I was doing.
I knew nothing about plot, story arcs, character arcs, how to use setting to bring the story to life, how to keep a reader engaged, and the list goes on. So I spent a lot of time reading books and articles, and watching videos about how to write. Some of my favorite books include: Story Genius and Wired for Story by Lisa Cron, The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maas, and Put the Cat in the Oven Before You Describe the Kitchen by Jake Vander Ark. Who knew writing a novel was so complicated?
I worked hard to learn the craft of writing and to perfect a process that works for me. Initially, I tried writing for a certain length of time. Next, I tried making myself stay put until I had written a prerequisite number of words. And when I found it difficult to make time to write, I set a goal to write every day for 30 days until it became a habit. Then, after months of agonizing over my manuscript, I finally completed my first draft. It was anything but a masterpiece!
Then came the challenge of fixing plot holes and trying to make my characters likeable, followed by the endless rounds of editing. I must have re-written my first chapter over 100 times, and then decided I had started the story in the wrong place. I penned a whole new first chapter, which I’ve also edited many times. Now five years later, I am in the final stages before publishing my first novel. Whew!
After all these years, I’ve finally found a process that works for me. When I am ready to sit down to write, I want my necessities within easy reach.
I have a computer with dual monitors, which makes it easy to have open the online Dictionary and Thesaurus always open. Why? I find I want my story to be written using words my characters would have used, both in my prose and dialogue. The more archaic language gives the reader a better sense of being in the medieval time period, and the online dictionary gives an origin date for words. At times, it takes a bit of investigation to find just the right word even with the Thesaurus.
I also have quick access to Wikipedia.org to check dates or basic facts. I even have the Julian calendar bookmarked so I can check a day of the week or the phase of the moon.
My preferred software is Word. I have used other writing software, but find Word works best for me. I can save a variety of versions of each chapter, and it has another feature that I love which I write about later in this blog.
Next, I keep THE EMOTION THESAURUS: A writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglist at by fingertips. It is my go-to reference guide to improve my showing versus telling in my writing.
But my work space would not be complete without a Diet Coke and a good stash of chocolate to help me contemplate prose and plot problems. My favorite chocolates are Sanders Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels and Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels. I think I am detecting a theme here. I wish it were as simple to figure out the themes in my writing!
Because I have a timeline and include known historical events, I rarely experience writer’s block. If I am stumped on a particular section, I move on to another chapter. It can be much farther in the narrative if that strikes my fancy. But I’ve learned the most important thing is just getting it all down on paper. I know people that re-write and re-write each chapters before moving on. I’m of the philosophy of just getting it written. If you have an inspired thought regarding something you want changed, make yourself a note. When you finish your manuscript, there are so many things that need to be changed or tweaked, you’ll find yourself editing all those chapters again.
Writing all the way to the end may also give you insights on how to strengthen that difficult middle section!
With the bones of the story in place, it’s time to magnify and amplify the setting, adding in colors, textures, smells and sounds. This is also a good time to replace a lot of those saids with character action or emotion.
As much as I can, I try to write in active voice. The perfect verb can add so much depth to the narrative. Who thought I would learn to love verbs? For some tips, watch my video, Speaking of Verbs.
When I think my chapter is nigh perfection, I upload it to ProWritingAid. It points out a lot of flaws that I missed. Things like missing quotation marks, commas, spelling errors, extra spaces, and sometimes offers revision suggestions for my sentences. And it is a real stickler for pointing out passive voice. Ha! I guess my chapter wasn’t so perfect after all.
My final step is using the Word Read Aloud Speech function under the Review tab. In this final step, I still catch lots of things like overused words, run-on sentences and repeated information. Having something automated read your work to you—let’s say it’s life changing. I talk about it in my video, Speaking Of: My Favorite Editing Tool. And while you are there, be sure to subscribe to the Paper Lantern Writers YouTube channel.
Be assured that before I published this blog, I put it through the steps, both ProWritingAid and Word Read Aloud Speech.
Whether anyone agrees with me, my novel is my masterpiece. And I learned how much I love writing. So, to those of you harboring the dream of writing a book someday, be it a novel, a memoir, a how-to book, etc., it may be a journey worth taking.
Below are a couple of my favorite quotes. They inspired me to go forward and be one of the 0.1% that completes their book.
Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway. ~ Earl Nightingale
It is never too late to be what you might have been. ~ George Eliot.
Now, “Go forth and write,” as Edie Cay would say. Happy Writing!
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C.V. Lee writes historical biographical fiction featuring forgotten heroes and heroines of the past. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, Alli, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. You can find her on Facebook @cvlee.histficwriter and on Instagram @cvleewriter.