So, I’m writing a novel. I’ve hit 78000 words, which is about 60% of my first draft. It’s been exhausting, it’s been exhilarating, and I’ve discovered my mind doesn’t work the way I expected.

At first outlining seemed like a very sensible thing. It was the way I’d always gone about writing academic papers. It would make the writing go faster, right?

I dug through my files and found an old novel outline. It was fleshed out chapter by chapter, scene by scene. I also had a folder full of character notes, settings, names, and family charts to go with it. It was a perfectly decent story, but I never got farther than the first 6 chapters. The actual writing process became so boring I couldn’t stand to finish the story.

So 78k words later, what worked this time? I discovered I’m a hybrid plotter-panster. I need an outline that lists key scenes and the climax of the novel. I need a direction to write in, but I also I need enough room to let my imagination run freely.

I also realized I don’t need to write linearly. When I’ve hit a wall, I’ve tried moving on to other scenes that I knew had to be written. From those points I could progress logically backwards. If you’ve never tried working backwards from the end of your novel, you should try it. It’s a mental workout.

Writing fast also works for me. I’ve been writing at a pace of roughly 1000 words a day. The result is a first-draft-in-progress that is a complete mess. It’s full of inconsistencies, gaps, and “insert name” placeholders. It’s taken all of my willpower to stop from going back to rewrite.

But, this fear of bad writing is the main reason that my previous novel writing attempts were unsuccessful. I have a folder stuffed full of novel beginnings that lack an ending. How many times have you re-written that first chapter of yours? hmm?

I’ve never gotten anywhere near this far along in a novel in the past, and I know that I can finish this one.

I feel that this first draft is the basic shape I need before I can add in the details. I’m looking forward to the edits and the polishing. I’ve always used this method when working with paint or clay, why wouldn’t it also apply to the way I write? Why didn’t I realize this a long time ago?

I’m still learning how the creative parts of my brain work.

Have you discovered something that surprised you while you were writing?


The Happy Writer, Writing Discussion

…would every story find a home?

If you follow Heinlein’s Rules, you should keep every story in the market until it’s sold. Robert J. Sawyer adds some practical advice to the rule: if you get a form rejection, re-print the story, and send it off immediately. If you get feedback with your rejection, fix the story, and send it off immediately.


What if you’re just starting out? What if you’re really trying to sell a three legged, one eared, hairless, kitten? Is there a point when you decide it’s time to put down the story? After 10 rejections? After 100? Can ugly, pathetic, stories still find homes? Is ugly simply subjective?

Rejection is not always the fault of the writer, and that makes it harder to judge a story’s value.

Reasons for rejection (nothing to do with you):

  • The story doesn’t fit the flavor of the magazine/anthology.
    I’m looking for a Siamese not a tabby!
  • The editor just bought a similar story.
    I already have a female cat, I don’t want another.
  • The slush reader was having a bad day.
    Kittens just destroyed my drapes. Bad kittens!
  • The story is good, but all the story slots have been filled for the issue.
    I already have cats, thanks. I don’t need any more.
  • Personal taste.
    Blue eyed cats freak me out!

Reasons for rejection (your fault):

  • The story has problems and needs further revision.
    Are you blind? That kitten is hairless, has three legs, and one ear!

If stories were kittens I’d cry every time I gave one away. Actually, I probably wouldn’t want to give them away at all. Maybe it’s a good thing stories aren’t kittens.