My Novel Notebooks… or How I Get the Story on the Page

One of my Book Notebooks

One of my Book Notebooks

I’ve had some folks asking me lately about how I get the novels plotted, scheduled, and finally finished. So it though maybe I’d post about that today. If you’re a writer or even if you’ve just been kicking the idea of writing around for a while. I really want to encourage you to not be afraid to start.

Yes there is a learning curve, not only in writing, but in all the behind the scenes stuff. The first manuscript I sent to a publisher broke every rule! And I didn’t even know what a query letter was 🙂 . But that editor was so kind to me. She actually read that train wreck of a manuscript and sent me a very encouraging personal letter. I know now how rare that is. At the time I just took it as rejection.

The first time I had a editor actually call me and offer to publish one of my efforts, I almost had a heart attack! I tried to act like I knew what I was doing as I spoke to her, but I was truly clueless. After I hung up the phone, I ran out into the backyard, skipped down to our creek, and sat on a rock just trying to catch my breath. I must of stayed down there forever because my husband came looking for me.

God’s been so good to me over the years as I’ve tried to learn to write and make my way through the publishing jungle. Please take these little tips in the spirit I offer them. I don’t know it all. Most days I’m still as clueless as I was when I spoke to that first editor. And what works for me may not work for you. But I’m glad to share what little I know.

My books always start out with a scene in my mind. Since I started out as a screen writer, that’s what works for me. The scene may come as a dream. Or it might be an offshoot from a conversation. One of my novels, Birdie Saves the World, came just from the heroine’s name and location, Savannah. One Nation Under gods came from a church billboard.

Next I start plotting the story in one of my little white binders. I’ve written about these handy little binders before. They have sections for character backstory, setting, Biblical themes, and most of all the dreaded outline.

My novels all begin with a twenty chapter outline. They include the cute meet, the end, the twist, and an epilogue that is a teaser for the next book in that particular series. I try to run my chapters to ten pages each. But of course, they vary especially after editing. And my outline is by no means set in stone.

I love it when the characters take off and the storyline changes. I used to be afraid of that kind of deviation, now it’s my favorite part of the writing process!

When I started writing, I promised myself I’d let myself have a learning curve. Every new skill requires one. And writing is not different from learning to bake a cake or sew a dress. it takes practice to get it right. If you’re just beginning your journey as a writer, use an online editor to help you get started. I like WhiteSmoke and Ginger. Using either will make for a faster cleanup when you’re finished with your rough draft. You want your manuscript as clean as possible before the real editing begins.

Once you’re done with that rough draft, celebrate. Let that story rest, go on to the next book you’re itching to write. After a few weeks you can go back to the 1st manuscript and do the first read through. I do at least three reads. And I catch errors every time. The cool thing about the Ginger editor is that it will read your book back to you. That helps catch some of the most subtle mistakes. And if your dialogue is clunky, hearing it will help you fine tune. You can read it out loud yourself too. I always do one or the other of these methods.

And I always write in ebook format for the rough draft. It makes it easier. The print books are formatted differently and writing in that format is awkward for me. I spent some time learning about formatting, and though it’s not the most fun topic, it is part of publishing. There’s loads of great templates, tricks, & goodies on the internet. You just have to google them. Take a few days to learn the shortcuts, and you’ll save yourself a ton of effort later.

Some folks are fast and furious writers. Some are goal setters. And some have hard and fast deadlines that are set for them by others. I’ve been all those writers at one time or another. Now I write 5 pages a day, or 10 if I’m on a really strict deadline. Five is my most comfy speed. But I know folks who only write one page a day. And others who write a whole novel in less than a month. You’ll find what works best for you.

If your genre is historical, do yourself a favor, research before you plot the book. There’s nothing worse than needing to scour the internet in the middle of the night to discover if folks used XYZ during your book’s time period- trust me on this. I have been there and done that. It is no fun.

My father-in-law, who was also an author, was so very encouraging to me when I began writing. He used to say, “Everybody’s got a book in them.” So, if you feel like you’ve got a book in you, please don’t be afraid. Just sit down and write. If it’s really awful, you can delete and begin again. Every author does that a lot! I’ve written here about how many times I rewrote TLRP. A couple of those times I got so weary, I just wanted to throw it out! But I’m so glad I didn’t. Because now it’s one of my favorites.

I hope this answers some of your questions and is helpful. LNF, Grace


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