Ever thought about writing a novel or your life story? Good – you should!
If you enjoyed my first novel DreamOver, you may be pleased to hear that a second novel is on the drawing board. Come to think of it, so is the third novel.
I frequently run into folks who want to know how to write a book. Everyone has at least one good book in them.
Not that I am any good at it, but I’ve got a couple of them done and over the past 18-years, my personal word-count is around 10-15 million words, or so.
Along the way, I’ve learned a few things you might find useful. When you get the urge to write, follow it…and keep my list of tips at-the-ready.
Tip 1: Write from your “inner television.”
The way I write may not work for you, but it sure does for me.
The process begins by plopping-down at the computer, closing my eyes, and pretending I just sat down in front of the big-screen. The credits roll past and then the opening scene reveals itself….
Now: All I have to do as a writer is to watch the screen , capture it in words (which are like paintbrushes to the word-slinger), and if there are characters, describe them as best you can and jot down their dialog as it is spoken. You can rewind at will.
I know it sounds simplistic, but if I wasn’t writing UrbanSurvival, Peoplenomics, doing lots of personal correspondence, keeping up the property, being a hus….well, you get the idea: I can write a 100,000 word novel in a month. Two at the outside.
Take DreamOver, for example. The first half of that book took about 10-days of concentrated writing. Then something came along – projects around the ranch – and the urge took a vacation.
When it returned, the second half of the book materialized in 3-weeks and that was while doing all the other writing (Urban, Peoplenomics and whatever).
During that time, I didn’t turn on a television, I barely paused for meals, but the book got done and most who have read it, enjoyed it.
Tip 2: Metrics Matter
A dear friend of mine says “You place too much emphasis on word counts…”
I respectfully disagree.
Once you start to write, keeping track of your daily word counts will mean a lot.
Business-school mantra: What gets measured gets done.
When I’m writing complex technical documentation – where everything has to fit just so, or when documenting how microprocessor menus work – then a good day of writing is four to ten pages. Since good technical documents have a lot of white-space, figure 4,000 words per day is really good if error-free. 1,500 words is a micracle if programmers haven’t commented either code. Good documentation hides “spaghetti code.”
On the other hand, if you don’t have anything else on your plate and you’re into a sequence of scenes on your “internal big-screen” the words just fly out of your fingers. My peak writing day ever was around 18,000.
Was it perfect? No.
Tip 2-A: Capture First (then edit)
You go back, clarify your descriptions, thinking, and (occasionally) spelling and grammar. The main thing is to capture first, then refine.
18,000 words is a lot. A solid week of that and you have written a 126,000 word novel.
Yeah…sounds tough, doesn’t it?
Not really, though. Let’s say you can type 45-words per minute. 18,000 words is only 400 minutes of actual writing at that speed. A bit more than six and one-half hours per day. It is not impossible, at all, you see?
Tip 3: Your first novel is for fun.
DreamOver was great fun to write. The reason? Each of the characters were new so they could be fleshed-out in the details however I felt like.
The problem doesn’t come until the second book. Since the second (and third) will be part of the David Shannon adventure series, I need to a build a “character database.”
I only had one error in character consistency in DreamOver – spotted by my older sister who is a retired librarian and a better/harsher review you won’t find. One of the side characters in the book is a naval officer and his rank changed as the story evolved. Damn!
That problem can be prevented by writing down the character “deal points” in a database. So if character David Shannon’s wife (Laurel) has a pilot’s license (which she does, BTW), all those quals and details have to be captured so in the second and third books, they can be reiterated correct or expanded upon.
First novels are extremely forgiving this way: Consistency for readers (and sisters) is less critical.
There are several pieces of novel-writing software available and I may look into using a commercial package. Or, it can be done in ACCESS or even an Excel spreadsheet. So long as it’s sortable and fast. You don’t want to get too bogged down in the details.
I am leaning toward Microsoft’s OneNote since I write on three different computers: One in the office, one in the house, and one for travel.
Synch me, baby.
Tip 4: Read a number of good authors. Learn Templates
We’re really back to writing analytics here. I happen to like Clive Cussler’s writing so I have read all of his “main character” novels, which is the Dirk Pitt adventures and the Isaac Bell series.
For each of these, Cussler has a pattern. I won’t got into all the details, but the “typical” Dirk Pitt adventure begins with an historical event of some kind. The event ends badly, but that sets up the “jump cut” (to use the film term) into the present day.
If you ever saw the movie Sahara (Cussler’s lone movie that I know of, with Matthew McConaughey) remember how the movie begins? War between the iron-clads in the U.S. Civil War. A Southern ship slips to sea in the fog…
Now we’re on a present-day undersea exploration ship, part of Cussler’s National Underwater and Marine Agency…
So that’s his basic template. His character is trademarked to keep other writers from infringing and (in short) he has done just about everything right.
So that’s one measurement you’ll need to get your “big-screen of the mind” dialed in: Your own templates and the way you want your stories to fit.
But there’s one more piece…
Tip 5: Dialog to Narrative Ratios
Yeah. More metrics crap.
This one is a little different. Once you see how an author works (you understand their template(s)) you can then delve into chapter/action and work on the one last point that really matters:
How much of the book is description and narrative and how much of it is characters engaged in dialog?
I haven’t run these numbers out for DreamOver yet, but before I start slamming keys for the second and third books, it needs to happen. One of the joys of Cussler is the book story is not predictable, but the template is great and fits like a comfortable slipper.
I expect that differences could be found by chapter in the dialog-to-narrative ratio so that’s another thing to be considered.
Tip 6: Exhaustive Research
Somewhere along in here, you’ll figure out that one of the two novels I have yet to write will deal with anti-gravity and a chance discovery in a workshop that leads to….
(Further hint: Remember the book The Fog?)
The other book has to do with historical crowns and breastplates, but in a very technologically current way.
For the past several weeks, I have been mulling and after half a dozen books on topic, I’ve finally gotten my “research associates” (think of it as a Master Mind Group) started on gathering the last batch of critical facts.
Cussler’s books are excellent – and very well-researched. If you’re going to set a standard for yourself as a writer, it might as well be a high one.
There…now you know, as late radio commentators Paul Harvey used to put it, the rest of the story.
No, George tinkering with anti-gravity ideas is not pointless, nor is in depth research into regal headgear….
Or, did you miss the Peoplenomics.com report on dual-use business models?
Tip 7: Use a MINIMUM of Two Monitors
I use four.
The left monitor is for graphics or search, the right monitor is for email/OneNote depending on mission for the time. The lower middle monitor is the word-smithing unit. Top is a 32-inch for reference maps and charts.
Windows-10 Sticky Notes move to any of the four screens, so you can snag what you need easily. Copy from anywhere,paste anywhere. You need four monitor outs and a worthy computer, but don’t you need it?
The other key thing is don’t write in a simple program like Notepad. Write in Word and make sure it is flashing a backup every five minutes and you have a good uninterruptible power supply (or you’re on a laptop, which is what Elaine uses for her writing).
That way, you never lose more than a few minutes work if power goes down. Don’t ask how I learned that one…
Send me a review copy when you’re done.
Write when you get rich,