Today’s guest post comes to you from Arshad Ahsanuddin, author of Sunset (If you want to read a gritty, adult answer to the Twilight Saga, look no further!) Enjoy!
So you have an idea for a book. Time to start writing. Some people would counsel to just sit down and start typing, and see where your muse takes you. This is referred to as “organic” or “seat-of-the-pants” writing. It works fine when you only have a germ of an idea or you’re brainstorming. In my experience, however, a little preparation can make a world of difference in the quality of your first draft, and the degree to which the manuscript has to be extensively revised during the editing process. Others violently disagree with me on this, so take my words merely as advice.
Never write randomly. Always plan an outline, even if you only have a rough idea of where you want to go with the story. Every scene has to have a purpose and a goal to which you are moving toward. It will stop you from writing yourself into corner more often than not, even if the details go right out the window once you start. You should have a clear idea of where you want to go, how you want to get there, and what you want to accomplish along the way. Then sit down and start writing, not before. Your outline will grow and adapt as you proceed. It should be frequently updated as more of the manuscript is completed, and divergences from your initial conception become apparent.
It isn’t usually a good idea to edit your work extensively as you go, because you will probably get bogged down in revisions and never finish your manuscript. The other reason not to edit an incomplete manuscript is that you will be working to unify the themes and structure of the earlier parts of your manuscript based on what you intend to write in the future, not what you will actually write. If your ending veers off in another direction from your initial intentions, then your early editing efforts may become outdated. Therefore, the first stage of editing should only commence once the entire manuscript is written and the structure of the story is complete.
As you write, consider different exercises to refine on the fly what you’re trying to express, so that it comes out of your head more precisely. Keep asking yourself basic questions to keep yourself on point. Does this make sense? Would it really have happened this way? Does this sound like something someone would actually say? Another possible technique is to read what you’re writing out loud. Often language that seems to be fine on paper will reveal itself to be awkward when you actually say the words.
Now press on. Even when you’re having trouble with a particular scene, don’t stop writing, or you’ll lose momentum. Consider letting it percolate in the back of your mind, while you jump ahead in your outline to write the next scene, then come back to the missing text when you’re done. Possibly, the exercise of writing what comes next will make what came before easier to process in your head. It might seem at times like the end seems out of reach, but if you concentrate on working through your outline in a consistent manner, then you have a blueprint that will eventually lead you to completion, and the burst of satisfaction when you finally write “The End.” (Not that you would actually put that at the end of your manuscript. Give the reader a little credit for noticing that there aren’t any more pages.)
Congratulations! You’ve written a book. All the good intentions you had at the start are finally realized and you have tangible proof of the fact that you’re a writer. Most people never start, or they come to a point where can’t think of what to write next and give up in frustration. By having a clear map in your mind from the start, you have avoided this pitfall, and crossed the finish line. Now you may finally cross the threshold into the editing process, from one level of Hell to the next. But that’s a story for another time.