Sunday, June 19, 2011

Five Things You Need When Writing A Novel



A Writing Space 
Virginia Woolf wrote an entire treatise - A Room Of One's Own - about the need for women to have a room of their own, not simply to develop as writers but also as individuals. Frankly though, it applies equally to both sexes. 

It doesn’t need to be an actual room – though my output has increased substantially since I rented myself an office downtown – but it must be established as your ‘writing space’, a place and maybe also a time you associate with settling down to write, even if it’s only that half-hour commute on the bus or train every morning. 

Try to establish a rhythm in association with these special writing spaces, and keep to a routine as far as possible. More than anything, writing responds to routine. Feed your novel regularly and it will grow strong and healthy. Forget to check in, and it will quite rapidly wither and die.




Stamina 
Some people call this will-power, focus, determination, patience, stickatititus, etc. If your novel is over 100,000 words long, it may feel as though you need an inexhaustible supply. Even if it’s a shorter book, like a novella, it will still need to go through several drafts before it’s publishable. So make sure your patience is on board before you type Chapter One.

Post-It Notes or Stickies
These are extremely useful for writers, as they can be instantly seized and scribbled upon when an idea strikes. No need to open a document on your computer or find a fresh page in your writing notebook which you will later leave on the bus. You just seize and stick. 

Will Self famously plasters his study walls with these sticky notes when planning a novel, so you’ll be in good company. (How on earth does he get them to stay on, though? Mine always fall off after a few hours, even the expensive sort. Grr.) 

They’re not very durable though, and tend to end up littering the floor under your desk, so it’s a good idea to transfer any important notes to computer later on, when you’re not actually in mid-flow.

Index cards
These are the thick paper notecards students often use for exam revision. You can buy them in bound books, which I don't think are flexible enough as a tool for writers, or little boxes to store them in, alphabetically or as you will. Some people use them to plot out their story, but I use index cards for research rather than planning. 

You can order index cards online or buy them at places like WH Smiths

When I take notes during research, I often find later that I’ve forgotten where I put them or I can’t find the right note quickly enough because it’s buried inside a giant notepad or folder. So index cards, filed in categories in a box, can be a real timesaver. 

Index cards tend to come in plain white or a selection of pastel shades. If you need categories in your note-taking, try using a different colour for each category. This can shorten the hunt when looking up a particular fact halfway through a scene.

When researching, one drawback is having to note down on each card where you found that particular fact: page number, book, author, publisher, date etc. But you could use an abbreviation and provide a key at the front of the card box. If you’re organised enough.

Large Whiteboard
This is an absolutely vital piece of equipment for me as a writer, and my personal favourite. Some years ago I homeschooled my kids, and that was when I learned the beauty of the whiteboard. 

It’s versatile and non-static – you can clean it off and start again every day, every week or every month. It’s large, so you can use it to plan a multi-strand novel with all the different character streams and their plot arcs. It can be placed above or beside your desk as a reminder while you work, and can be used over and over again for future projects. 

The large whiteboard can be a writing tool or a motivational tool. It can allow you to tick off books or internet sites you need to check out. It can plot monthly sales on Kindle or remind you about the ham sandwich you left in the office fridge. It can be used to plot complex graphs in full colour if you like that kind of thing, and it can take up useful time when you need to procrastinate. 

You can get one with a corkboard area too, but I prefer to buy a separate corkboard and use the whole space of the large whiteboard for my notes. 

Writers! What would you add to this list of writing essentials?

12 comments:

Debs Carr said...

Thanks for the great tips. I think I need a whiteboard for my shed.

trossachs trundler said...

sorry.. OOPS i read it earlier and forgot to send my comment... Blame it on the fact that yesterday I was offered a contract for my very first book to be published, and I'm still up on the ceiling.. (And the celebratory Fizz last night lol)
I keep a notebook in my hand bag. one by the bed, in the lounge etc etc.... I keep loosing post its, because...as you said, they don't stick.
MUst try a white board.
This is really helpful, thank you. Joanne

Doris O'Connor said...

For me, it's my netbook. Small, light portable and all mine. Perfect for taking with me and hiding from the kids when inspiration strikes :-)

Cathie Dunn said...

Very helpful post, Jane. Thanks for sharing. I like your idea of a whiteboard. I have a magnetic board I use for important stuff, and my iPhone Notes for quick notes on plotting, research or changes, but a whiteboard might come in handy.

I would also recommend keeping research books on the desk for quick access. Mine are full of little post its for easy reference.

Oh, and a DH who's happy to go to the cinema or into town alone while you write...

Oscar Windsor-Smith said...

Hello, Jane. Your post caught my attention on Twitter because I'm setting up my first dedicated writing area right now (boring the pants off fellow Verulam Writers's Circlers by yattering about it all the time - and about my WIP-to-be ;) ). Clearly then I'm up to speed with the 'space' aspect, but I need to check on my supply of stamina. Agree, too, about post-its and the whiting eboard. I'm thinking about employ index cards for plotting (saw an excellent piece in WN about that), but not so sure about their research uses - think I'll stick to my spreadsheet.

One other practical thing I'd recommend, and have already built in, is automatic backup of your work. It you're a Mac user, employing Time Machine with Time Capsule, via Wi-Fi. Could save a deal of frustration and tears.

Best

Oscar

Kiru Taye said...

I have to say I love the portability of ny netbook. I can write practically anywhere. It even fist in my handbag.

I also use my smart phone to take notes when I'm out and about and get new ideas or just for plotting.

Oscar Windsor-Smith said...

Hello, Jane. Your post caught my attention on Twitter because I'm setting up my first dedicated writing area right now (boring the pants off fellow Verulam Writers's Circlers by yattering about it all the time - and about my WIP-to-be ;) ). Clearly then I'm up to speed with the 'space' aspect, but I need to check on my supply of stamina. Agree, too, about post-its and the whiting eboard. I'm thinking about employ index cards for plotting (saw an excellent piece in WN about that), but not so sure about their research uses - think I'll stick to my spreadsheet.

One other practical thing I'd recommend, and have already built in, is automatic backup of your work. It you're a Mac user, employing Time Machine with Time Capsule, via Wi-Fi. Could save a deal of frustration and tears.

Best

Oscar

Oscar Windsor-Smith said...

Rushed off my comment (above) without checking 'cos lunch was ready - and it shows, eh? Writers's indeed. Doh! And my '...whiting eboard...' sounds like a Stanley Unwin-ism (you'll be far to young to understand that, of course), but I'm sure you'll know what I meant.

Brigita said...

These are all good suggestions. I use an old tack board to pin the notes, I find it better than Post-It notes. And I also use several tiny notebooks around the house so that they're available whenever inspiration strikes. I must try the index cards, though.

Jane Holland said...

I did wonder, Oscar. In fact, I thought "whiting eboard" must be an online fish market. Feel rather disappointed now.

Jx

Poetry Pleases! said...

Dear Jane

I once tried to write a novel when I lived in Exeter over thirty years ago. I gave up after about fifty pages and came to the conclusion that I am not a natural novelist - a conclusion that I have never felt tempted to revise. As a poet though, I have nothing but respect for all you nose-to-the-grindstone novelists!

Best wishes from Simon

Jane Holland said...

Simon, writing a novel is precisely that - a nose-to-the-grindstone job. It feels like running a marathon sometimes. Impossible ...

But my trick is to tell myself, every day, and especially when I'm tired, just write another page, or just another 1000 words. And I try not to think too much about the page I'll have to do after that, or the 120,000 words I'll have to do before it's finished.

Mind over matter. Writing long is about maintaining a kind of drip, drip, drip effect. Enough drips and you've got a novel. The trick is not to dry up.