Wednesday, July 11, 2012

37. Novel Writing: Three DO’s and One DON’T

Pandora’s Promise, the novel I am currently writing, is the third book (what I call a “threequel”) in the “Pandora’s Series,” though the first book, Pandora’s Genes, was originally a one-off.

I was already a professional writer when I wrote Pandora’s Genes more than twenty-five years ago, and I have learned a great deal since. Here are some tricks of the trade that theoretically make the process--this time--a little bit easier.

DO know that the process of writing the novel will be long and difficult, with as many ups and downs as the plot twists you present your characters with. Some days you will sit down and the words will flow easily.... Other days you will stare at a blank page and spend your writing time thinking of things to do other than write. I’ve been in this place with my “threequel” lately, but I know it will pass and my passion will return. 

DO work on your novel every day, even if only to to make notes or add a single sentence that you end up crossing out later. This is one of the most important DO’s. Remember to trust your subconscious, and let it know you expect work on the novel to proceed daily.

DO realize that you don’t have to proceed in a straight line. If you are writing a novel on assignment, and have an outline to follow, then you will probably write in a more linear fashion. But even when working from an outline, there is no reason you have to proceed point-by-point. I have always found it easier to skip around a bit. If I’m having difficulty with a scene, for example, it can help to go to a different scene, perhaps later in the book, and write that. Often that later scene will inform the earlier one that was problematic.

DON’T share your work in progress with other people, especially when you are beginning a piece of writing. I have found that telling others can somehow dissipate the impetus to get it down on paper. Once you’ve got a rough draft, you can bring other people—such as members of a writing group--into the process.

When I was well into Pandora’s Genes and knew more or less what would happen for the rest of the book, I began sharing sections (second or third drafts) with a friend who lived across the hall in my apartment building. Her feedback was very helpful, and her positive response helped me keep going through difficult times. But I didn’t even tell her (or anyone else) that I was writing a novel until I already had well over 100 pages.

There is a lengthy section of Pandora’s Promise that I am currently working on that I LOVE. It is important to the story—perhaps the most important of all the story arcs. I want so much to show it to someone or even tell someone about it. But I know that talking about it is likely to dilute the excitement and reality of it in my mind, so for the present I’m keeping quiet.


  1. Your 3rd DO is something I tell all students working on even short essays. It's something that almost none of them had considered. Too many get stuck because they just can't get an introduction going, even though they know the general outline of what they want to write. I tell them to put down what they know they want to say and figure out the structure later. Sometimes you don't know how best to introduce a topic until the topic itself has been fleshed out.

    1. I couldn't agree more. I almost wish I were still teaching writing so I could ask you to fill in for me if I had to miss a session. ;-)

  2. And I was just thinking of asking you to slip the chapters under my door, until I read the DON'T. Sigh. Okay, I'll just sit here and wait.

    1. I'll get to that point pretty soon, never fear. Though maybe I should just put them in a plastic baggie under the drainspout.

    2. I guess you won't need a plastic baggie. ;-(