When I wrote my first novel, I outlined it, and then, I sat down over the course of six months and wrote it sequentially from beginning to end. It just flowed out that way because I had a good sense of the story I wanted to create. My second novel came out in much the same way. When an idea enthralls me and I have a good sense of my direction, this approach probably makes the most sense (at least for me), but sometimes I’m not as clear on the direction in which I want to take a story, so I try a different approach.
For the next two novels, I wrote scenes based on my thoughts or mood on the morning I was writing and then I stitched them together into the book that resulted. This approach takes more work, but it allows me to make progress in a book without getting stalled a particular place in the story. Sometimes, elements of the story don’t work initially, so I have to put them away and come back to them later when I’m clearer on the direction I want to take.
In the novel I just finished, I wrote the beginning and the end and then I filled in the rest of the story. This approach actually worked very well for me in this instance because I wrote the ending in my head before I even had the rest of the story, and the beginning set the tone for how the novel would unfold. With these two guideposts, I was able to fill in the middle one scene at a time.
Although I’m an outliner, I try not to marry myself to one approach. My outlines may be very vague or they may be more detailed. I may do all my research up front, or I may fill it in as I work through the story. The key, for me, is to maintain some forward progress in my writing. If I get too hung up on my process or my approach, my writing may stall. I have a ton of ideas and very little precious time to write (an hour each weekday is about it), so I have to keep my momentum going.
It was that very momentum that I lacked for so many years before I finally set my mind to the task of writing a novel. In the past I’d get hung up on the process and stop writing. I’d fret over the outline or the flow of the story. I’d let good scenes slip from my mind with nary a single word written on a page. Essentially, I’d get wrapped around the axle of trying to be a writer instead of just writing. Now, I just write, and that has done wonders for my output and my enjoyment of writing itself. It keeps me motivated no matter what book, short story, or scene I’m working on at any given moment.
If you’re struggling with completing your work or starting the process, just write anything, something. Put it on the screen or paper and let it go from there. Don’t get too hung up on the process. It will free you to be creative and, most importantly, productive. That’s the most important lesson I’ve learned the past two years, and I hope it helps you.