Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net

The Freedom to Write

by Lazette Gifford
©2004, Lazette Gifford


The story haunts you from the first glimpse of the character standing on the mountain cliff, looking out over the world that rolls away in folds of green forest and naked stones beneath her.  Perhaps there is a distant village that you can sense more than see. You're both startled.  Is she going to jump?  Why?

Will you ever know?

This is a pep talk for all of you who have trouble seeing a novel project through to the end.  If you want to write novels and yet find yourself stopped at one of the many steps along the way, take heart.  You are far from alone.

But you can get through the morass of work if you just focus on one important thing -- You are the only one who can tell this story, and if you don't, it will be lost forever.

Does that sound frightening?  It shouldn't be.  It should make your soul sing to realize that the story you have in your head is your personal gift.  You can write it for yourself.  You can write it for others.  But no one can write it for you, and that's good.  Creating a novel is one of the most wonderful, creative experiences a person can have.  Okay, maybe I'm a little biased... but if you are reading this article, it probably means that there's a part of you that wants to write novels. 

The first step is to give yourself permission to enjoy writing.  Because of the western prejudice that enjoyment can't be work, and only work is important, we tend to make writing more difficult than it need be just to prove its worth.  Let go of that fallacy of work and enjoyment right from the start.

But that still leaves you with the actual process of creating a novel.  It seems that the writing usually follows a certain pattern.  Most start with either an idea or a person, and sometimes both.  Unfortunately, too many get stopped somewhere along the way by one fear or another that the work is not right.

We've all been there. There's nothing to be afraid of when you write a book. They are only words on pages or screens.  Few stories are ever totally perfect, but that shouldn't stop you from telling the ones that have come to you.

Having a story to tell is a gift that is not given to everyone.  The more stories you write and complete, the closer you are going to get to telling the perfect tale.  This is an art that takes practice, and no one ever made perfect art by stopping in the middle and never finishing.

The Beginning

If you are like me, the first single vision (like the woman standing on the cliff) will take hold and grow by leaps and bounds before you can even get a handle on what's going on.  You have no idea who she might be, but you can already see the enemy skulking in the trees behind her.

Step One

The first steps in novel creation are usually the easiest.  The excitement will drive a writer on through the who and why part.  It's when we reach the what -- the worldbuilding -- that things slow down, even if worldbuilding is the part the writer loves most to do.  You cannot rush worldbuilding.

Perhaps this is the part that stops you because worldbuilding looks too frightening.  You want to write an intricate fantasy story about mystical creatures, fantastic magic, breathtaking romance, and all set in a world that is unlike our own.  However, every time you sit down to sketch things out, they either seem mundane or a cliché.

That's because nothing you write out in worldbuilding notes will ever be as exciting as it will be when you put it into the novel and work with it in the storyline.  You're just painting the backdrop for the play.  Until you put the characters in their places, it's not going to be a setting.  It is not the story.

And everything is a cliché and has been used before.  Get used to that idea.  It is not the components of the story that make them -- it is the tale you tell using the tools we all use.

Just tell your story and use whatever pieces of story telling that you need to do so.

Step Two

Either before or after worldbuilding comes the note taking, scene creation, outlining -- there are several steps that most writers take before they plunge into the work. Unless you just begin writing with the knowledge that you'll be rewriting extensively in the next draft as everything comes together, putting the plot in order is going to be an important part of the pre-writing.

Oh, and there it is again -- the feeling that the plot isn't exciting enough, or you've read the story before, or...

Just press on through the work.  Stop sabotaging yourself before you get to the actual work.  You have a story to tell.  Don't look for excuses not to do so.

Writing

While writing the novel is usually the hardest part of the work, it isn't always the part that gives authors the most trouble.  We are story tellers, and this is the part that draws most of us to the work. 

We want to write out the tale of the young woman and everything that happened to her until she finds herself on that cliff side, making a final decision about life.  We aren't -- or at least shouldn't be -- afraid of those words that we put down on paper or the computer screen.  Writing the novel should be the part that we are striving for.

But writing takes time and dedication.  Once you start the novel you know you have committed yourself to a long, difficult process that is only half finished when you reach The End.  The first few pages look impossible to write properly, and the ending looks so far away that you'll never reach it.

First, let me give you a word of warning about the opening to a novel.  Don't dedicate too much time to those opening paragraphs, because chances are by the time you get to the last lines of the novel, there are going to be substantial changes in what you first imagined, and that opening is going to have to change to reflect them.  This happens even to people who have written out extensive plots.  This ties back to what I said about worldbuilding and outlining; neither are actual story writing.  All the preplanning in the world will not create a story, nor will it guarantee a perfect story in the first draft.

Write the opening you imagine is best and move on.  You'll have a chance to change and improve it still.   Don't worry.

Some writers see the opening and the ending, and the flounder in the middle.  Outlines can help in this case.  And also remember that a story is a single piece, not really three parts.  What happens in the opening leads to the middle, and what happens there leads to the end.  Put obstacles between your characters and the ending of the novel.  That's how you build the middle.  Don't give up just because you hit a spot that's a little more difficult to work through.  Don't give up just because you've gotten bored and want to work on something new.  Those are easy outs, and a good way to never finish anything at all.

Make yourself sit down and write. That's really the hardest part of all -- giving up time you might want for something else to do the work.  But if you have a story to tell, then do it.  Don't give up.

Editing

For those who make it all the way through the first draft, the idea of editing the work is a barrier they can't overcome.  They've told the story, and the idea of reworking it into a better version sounds boring.

Editing is a gift to writers that allows us as many chances at the same piece of art as we like, and all without having to recreate it from scratch.  If a painter finds that the sky is the wrong color of blue, or the woman whom she painted into center stage is too tall, there are only so many tricks that she can do to change it before she has to scrap the painting and start over.  We do not have that problem.  We can recolor the sky, change the shape of the mountains, and change that woman at center stage as often as we like.

Editing is the writer's most important tool.  It can even be a fun and exciting tool if you look at it as a way to make the story closer to what you wanted.  Tweaking is a joy if you focus on the small pieces and not worry about how much you have left to do.

If you have done all the work of writing, don't stop now! 

Submitting

The final and most frightening step is the idea of turning your story over to someone else who may not want to publish it.  In fact, chances are that they are not going to accept the novel the first time you send it out.  Or the second.  You may find that you have to write four or five more before someone shows an interest.

You have not wasted your time.  Remember, writing is an art that is learned through practice as much as it is by learning the technical aspects.  Most writers must go through all the steps -- not just a few of them -- several times before they find that they can write saleable material.

If you have a story to tell, it's not going to matter if the first attempts don't sell.  And here's another bright point for writers:  A few years down the road you're going to know more about writing than you did when you started that first novel.  You're going to be able to look at it and realize what you could do differently now, and you can still fix that first story.  No writing is ever wasted.  However, the only way to reach that point is to move past the creation of the first novels.  You can only learn to get better by doing the work.

 

Take up the challenge and leap into the work of writing your novel.  It's going to be a long haul, but you can do it if you just remind yourself that you have stories to tell, and that's where the real joy of writing lies.

And there you are, back to the cliff and your character.  She's still waiting there, looking down at the trees and stone and hearing the enemies behind her.  Or are those only her personal doubts, whispering in her mind? 

It's time for her to spread her wings and fly.