This was a question a reader asked me in an e-mail a couple weeks ago. And yes, it really did take me two weeks to get back to her. I read fan mail when it comes, but I answer it in the order in which it was received. This question has haunted me since I read it….because this is something I’ve been giving a lot of thought to lately. How DO I write a book???

Of course, everybody does it differently. But I always thought the way I write a book is I start at the beginning. I know what the inciting incident is. I have a general idea of where the book is going to end. And then I just start writing.

I don’t outline. I WANT to outline, but it doesn’t seem to work for me. So I just start writing. I write a couple of chapters and then I TRY outlining (because, like I said, I WANT to outline). I go back and outline what I’ve just written and then I outline the next few sections. Maybe I’ll even throw in some random events that I know are going to happen sometime, but I don’t know how to connect those events to what I already have on my outline. This is about the time I run out of steam. So I put the outline aside and go back to writing. (I think I outline to make myself feel like I’m doing something when I’m stuck…and I guess it usually does “unstick” me enough that I can write the next scene.)

While I’m writing I go back and reread what I’ve written and revise often. VERY often. Some days (most days?) I don’t make a lot of forward progress because I’m working so hard on what I’ve already written.

But NaNoWriMo has changed all that. I now have a very messy first draft of T.J.’s Story (a messy first draft without an ending). And do you know what? I kind of like having this messy first draft…because NOW I’m outlining it and…a shape is emerging! A good friend of mine always talks about “the shape” of her novels (or MY novels, if she’s critiquing one of mine)…she likes to print the novel out in a really tiny font and then lay the pages out on the floor. She says that helps her “see the shape” of a novel. I started to understand what she meant by that when I wrote this other novel that I read to a classroom of sixth graders as I was writing it a couple years ago. That was my first experience having a true “first draft.” (Though that was a lot cleaner of a draft than this one is.) I don’t know that printing a manuscript out in a tiny font would do much for me…and I know I can’t outline when I’m starting a new story…but I CAN outline when I have a messy first draft. This outline (which isn’t done yet) not only helps me see what I’ve done…it helps me see what I have yet to do.

So…how will I write my next novel? Will I pretend it’s November and just plow through the first draft again, refusing to allow myself to go back and reread and edit or will I go back to my old way? I suppose it’ll depend on how well the revision goes these next couple of months. Right now I’m still in the honeymoon phase of my revision…everything seems possible once again.

How do you write a book?

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