How to Find Your Novel’s Path

Path

 

All too often, I find myself lost in my writing. No, I don’t mean I find it to be an escape from real life, although it is that, too. No, I mean that I find myself lost in the plot or lost in the characters or lost in the details, meanwhile I am struggling to wrap my mind around plot, characters, and details.

When this happens, I get dragged down under the weight of my ideas, exhausted by what they mean and by the different ways I can go with them. One idea goes right, one goes left, while the third is plummeting downward, the fourth is off at an angle, and a dozen more go a dozen different ways.

I don’t know whom to follow, and I get tired of trying. I get through half a dozen scenes only to realize that I followed the wrong idea. So how do I know what idea to follow unless I chase each one down?

Over the past year, I’ve had that lost feeling a lot with my current WIP. I expected to have a finished second draft to beta readers over a year ago, but around that time I realized that it needed a lot more work than I’d initially thought. Two of the characters needed to become one character, most of my subplots had to be revised, and a good chunk of my main plot needed revision as well.

But in trying to rewrite, I got lost–again. I didn’t know where to start or what needed to happen. So where did I go? Where am I now? What steps did I take to find my novel’s path? That’s what this post is going to discuss.

 

Step 1) Step back.
I had to put my novel aside for awhile, allow myself to gain some distance from all those ideas pinging around in my head and allow myself to meditate upon them.

I didn’t consciously work on or think about my novel for a few months. Part of that was because I had a newborn, and just finding time for sleep was challenging enough, but part of it was that all those ideas made working on my WIP overwhelming. I wanted to work on it, but I didn’t know how. And so I stepped back. That was the wisest choice I could have made.

 

Step 2) Journal.
Or at least write your ideas, thoughts, words, etc. down somewhere.

With my having a newborn, and not getting nearly enough sleep, my brain was fuzzy most of the time. Writing down my ideas gave me the opportunity to use my brain to focus on other things I needed to do, and, in a way, purged those ideas from my head so I could think up more, and also helped me think through the ones I had.

At the time, I was using Evernote to keep track of my WIPs, which I still do when I don’t have a physical notebook handy. Now, with my toddler, I find that I like physically writing out things. Perhaps it makes me more productive, but it also runs less risk of getting lost in the digital world. (Anyone else have that problem? I feel like it’s so much easier to lose a digital note than a written note.)

 

Step 3) Plot.
Hello? Anyone still there?

Yeah, this is the part I’m sure I lost some people. But when you’re already lost after starting your first draft, or halfway through your second draft you realize you’re starting to lose track of your plot, or that you have changed directions midway through a WIP, plotting becomes a necessary evil.

I’ve spent a lot of time plotting and outlining this year, after getting halfway through Draft 2 of my WIP and realizing my issues were bigger than I thought. But I’m certain that this is not wasted time. Now that Camp NaNoWriMo is just around the corner (July), I feel equipped to start rewriting!

 

Step 4) Research those areas you aren’t sure about.
With my current WIP, I have received a lot of mixed feedback about the first chapter. Because of this, I knew something was wrong with it, but I wasn’t sure what, exactly. Everyone seemed to say something different–except most agreed that my MC wasn’t particularly likable.

So what did I do? Well, after I accepted this to be true, I began to research first chapters and how to make my character likable. Even if she was being true to her character as I had written it, something obviously had to change. Was it her character itself? Or what I had shown in the first chapter? Or was it something bigger? Was it the moment I had started the story?

I needed outside sources to figure this out, and I couldn’t even ask the reviewers their thoughts, for they only knew the first chapter, and not the entire story in my mind or what I intended to show with my novel. Doing the research for myself was necessary.

 

Step 5) Take another break.
Writing can be exhausting. But when I say take a break, I don’t necessarily mean from writing. Just shift gears. In between replotting my WIP and rewriting it, I wrote a couple of short stories and virtually ignored this WIP.

Of course, I’ve never really forgotten this WIP, just as I’ve never really forgotten my other WIPs that lie unperfected on my hard drive. But shifting focus to a different story can enlighten the path for this WIP in strange ways.

Now, I’m ready to get into focus with this WIP, and I’m also prepared because I’ve had a bit more time to think about how I’ve replotted it. It makes more sense now than it did before, and it’s had the time to sink in. I’m as ready as can be.

 

Step 6) Write.
This is it, folks. What we’re all here for. We’re writers, right? And writers write.

At some point, you have to stop thinking, stop plotting, stop dreaming, and put it all down on paper. It may not come out exactly as you want–it surely won’t come out as eloquently as you thought it, but, if you’re lucky, it emerges coherently and someone else likes it, too.

 

 

Guest post contributed by Kelsie Engen. Kelsie loves to read and started her blog to share that passion with others of like mind. Check out her website for more of her work.

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36 thoughts on “How to Find Your Novel’s Path”

  1. This is why I break all the rules. haha I don’t write everyday like we’re told to. I only write everyday when I’m working on a story, that way I chug along until it’s done and then take time off. It’s been working so far.

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    1. Hey, if breaking the rules works for you, then by all means–break them! Isn’t that the old cliche? Rules are made to be broken? 😉 I think understanding the reasons for the rules is more valuable than following the rules themselves! (Because then you know how & why to break them!)

      Liked by 1 person

    2. That’s what I do! I plot and plan every day until I’m ready to write every day, and then edit every day, and cycle through. *high five!*

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I had this problem recently with a few chapters, mostly small things like realising timings didn’t work out correctly. But the big thing that happened recently involved one of the bigger characters being rewritten so that he killed another character (he’s meant to be a bad guy) and then it felt like I’d done a time travel, changed the past and screwed up the future. Only the future didn’t rewrite itself, I rewrote it. The result is better, less forced, but it took a few days away from it to allow the story to reform in my head.

    Sometimes long work hours are good that way, I just have to be careful I don’t flood my notebook with too many ideas…

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    1. When I have the time to put in long work hours, I definitely try to. But it often doesn’t work that way for me. Kudos for finding out what works for you and your story! Keep working on it, and keep trying new ways of approaching something, because sometimes something new works even better! (And, too many ideas? Not possible. 😉 )

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    1. Thanks! I find it overwhelming to revise sometimes as well–I definitely need time away before I can face it with some realism. Otherwise I tend to be overly dramatic about it, thinking it’s all crap and I shouldn’t have wasted my time. After a break, I’m much more rational. haha. Hopefully this does help you, but I know everyone works differently, so keep at it and trying new things!

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  3. I’m glad you included Step 5. Shifting gears, as you put it, has helped me focus and hone in on a project, and clear away any arbitrary ambitions or clutter I might have formed about it.

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    1. Shifting gears is essential for me too. I don’t like getting out of the habit of writing (and I feel guilty when I do), and sometimes working on another project opens up my mind to what could work in my previous project, so it’s a win-win for me. Hopefully it will be for you too! Just don’t forget to go back and do something to that first project–I’ve been guilty of that sometimes! :-/

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Don’t wait for motivation! Just start! Starting is sometimes the hardest part…but it can also be the most magical time! If you need that extra push to get going, try NaNoWriMo in November–50K in 30 days! It offers great community and motivation for all writers. Check it out @ nanowrimo.org.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah! Nanowrimo is a great “excuse” to get started. It practically MAKES you write every day! And the forums are gold for research or help if you’re stuck. Definitely check it out! And write down your ideas and everything you can think of for your story so you don’t forget your good ideas. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I am a pantser through and through, but even I find I have to start plotting to ensure my story stays on track. I decided to use the windows included quick notes to put a virtual post it note on my desktop, I list my major plot points and then run from there. Good read here.

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  5. I have this problem all the time . . . and I deal with it by switching stories. I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but I always have several stories ready for me to work on. And I just kinda . . . switch around, when I find myself lost. And if I don’t feel quite “found” again for anything, I do the short-story thing. It’s probably making me so much less productive than I can be, though, ha ha . . .

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  6. Reblogged this on quirkywritingcorner and commented:
    I run into this problem more often than I like. I keep the story pages on the left side of my screen; on the right is the “other stuff.” Those pages are the character bios, deleted scenes, chapter outlines (I jot done names, events for each chapter so I know where to go when I need to check something). Today I realized that I had no book outline–nothing to tell me how the story should flow. I expected it to be an easy fix, but quickly learned on several of them I had no idea of the ending. I did read an article that the ending will come as you write, but I’m not sure I like that idea. Thankfully, the current novel I’m writing does have an ending.

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  7. So true. Finding my novels path isn’t an easy task. I found I had written myself into a corner and I had to stop trying to go forward. The result was banging my head on the wall. So I took a step back and sat down and plotted. I let my mind free of what I wanted to do and just wrote what the possibilities were. That helped me get out of my corner and begin writing again.

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