Surviving the Novel

Author Paul Fleishman spoke at the 2010 LA SCBWI conference about the daunting task of writing a novel. He advises that the best thing to do is to stay organized! The following notes are his tips on how to keep the task in check.

Long Form Writing…The Novel!

  • If you’ve only been writing short form then the novel can be daunting. It may look like the Himalayas off in the distance. Insurmountable.
  • Make sure a longer book is what you are looking at before you begin. A novel will be multi-characters, complications, strong tone.
  • The span (time covered in the book) is not important. It is the level of detail that will denote length.
  • Longer form = longer hours.
  • Long doesn’t mean you waste time in the book. Every word and scene must count.
  • The years pile up.
  • The novel writer is part of a community that stretches past the globe and time.

Organization and Keeping from Feeling Overwhelmed:

  • Be sure to have separate documents for your drafts and story development elements.
  • Devon-Think is a great program to help you keep organized.
  • I like to separate my documents into the following categories:

a)      Manuscript

b)      Working out (For experimentation or figuring out decisions in story/plot) This is thinking on the page.

c)       Outline (An outline is a great wall that will hold back the barbarians of chaos! An outline is where you mentally walk through your book and ask the big question. This will help you from hitting the wall.)

d)      Improvise (Ride the wave, though having a surf board is nice too).

e)      Research

f)       Unused Lines

g)      Back Matter (Lists of names, reminders, acknowledgements, possible scenes, character forms, titles, etc.)

  • Keep bookmarks (online and in books). They will be handy later.
  • Save your different versions of your book. Email them to yourself so you have a back up.

Things to Keep in Check as You Go Along…

  • Look for continuity in your book. Is your character still wearing the same red dress many days later?
  • Watch out for repetitive words. You don’t want verbal ticks.

When You Revise…

  • When revising make notes on what you did so you can find those sections in previous drafts.
  • Do a read-through without fixing things. Highlight as you go.
  • Do open heart surgery on your book. It happens. There’s no way around it but through.

When Researching…

  • If using the internet, copy and paste the text into a word file and change everything to the same font. It will be easier on the eyes.  
  • The highlighting button is great when doing research. It makes things easy to find.  
  • Listen to Pod Casts and take notes.
  • “Research should be like a slip. It should be there but never show.” – Sonja Something

Quotes and Anecdotes:

  • “Every book I write teaches me how to write IT. But not the next one.” – Fleishman
  • To me, a vacation is whether or not I have a book project. It’s a mental vacation. The book stays with you no matter where you go. It’s in your head.
  • There’s a great article about writer’s block in the October 2nd 2000 issue of the New Yorker called “The Novel and the Nun.”
  • Check out Anne Lammot’s book on writing Bird by Bird. Particularly the chapter KFKD.

Paul Fleishman won the Newbery Metal for Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices. Other books include: Seek, Whirligig, Zap, Minds Eye, Breakout, and The Boring Room.

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