I have the honor of (gently) editing a full-length YA novel that an old friend of mine sent me. His daughter wrote it. She’s a teenager. The other day when I stopped by a birthday party for my friend’s now two-year-old daughter, I was approached by another teenage girl who knows what I do. She asked me how she could write and publish a book.
So, kids (big and small!), this post is just for you. (Don’t worry, parents and other sensitive types – this post is profanity free and G rated for your protection!)
Let’s Review the Writing Process!
Yes, I know…you’ve learned it in school. We’re not going to cover it in detail because what school usually teaches (for writing) is geared to teach you how to research and write reports and essays. Yes, those skills really are helpful in adult life. However, you should make it a point to learn several different ways to create a bibliography / reference page. Okay? Okay!
We’re going to look at the basic steps in regards to writing your novel or short story (I will continue to use the term ‘novel,’ but you’re welcome and encouraged to substitute it for your own writing medium):
- Rough draft.
However, we’re going to look at these in the context of you writing your novel / short story. Also, before we get started…I want to say this: don’t get bogged down with word count. Yes, it matters (to some degree) when it comes to figuring out if you’re dealing with a full-length novel. And, yes, certain types of novels have a general word count. Yet, if you get absorbed in the little details (like word count…especially for your first experience), you’ll end up hating or stressing out over the process. I don’t want you to hate it or stress out. I want writing to become a lifelong pleasure for you. Okay? Okay.
Pre-writing Your Novel
I want you to use Word, Google Docs, a notebook, construction paper, whatever it is that you have that makes you enjoy writing and get all your ideas out. I am not necessarily saying you need to outline every detail, every character, and every scene. Although, if you love outlining, knock yourself out. There’s no actual right or wrong way to start (or write) your novel.
All those exciting, memorable, soul grabbing, heart breaking, things you want in your novel? Write them out. They don’t have to be in the correct order. I just want you to get everything from your brain written out. Why? Because I don’t want you to forget. Write about key characters, put in notes, whatever. Your pre-writing doesn’t have to be written in any special way.
Of course, I want you to take whatever time is necessary to get it all written down, but I don’t want you to stress if you have plot holes, a shortage of ideas, or anything else. I also don’t want you to go back and edit (you’ll see me write that a lot until it’s time to edit). The only changing I want you to do here or during any other part of the writing session is if you get another idea or want a scene to have a different outcome (or you want to rewrite the scene altogether). By all means, go back and add it.
I don’t care if you end up with one page or 100 pages of notes.
Once you have your basic notes, I want you to go back and do a little bit of organizing. First, make sure all your information about your characters into one part of your document. If you have notes about scenes, try to put those notes in the proper order for your novel. You should consult your notes during the writing process, but you don’t have to use them at all if you decide to go a totally different direction with your work.
So, now comes the good stuff – it’s time to write all the things.
So, it’s time for you to start writing your novel. No, you don’t have to start at the beginning. I had the hardest time with introductions when I was a teenager. My 11th grade literature teacher told me to leave space at the top of my essays (about five lines worth – because back in the old days, we used pen and paper…). I’d start my paper with the real stuff and write it all the way through the conclusion. Then, I’d go back and review the topics I included and write the introduction.
Start where you’re comfortable. As you’re writing, don’t go back and edit. Don’t try to edit as you write. The only time you go back is to add more detail or if you decide that you want a scene to go a certain way other than what you’ve already written down.
An important question you should ask yourself before you start your novel is if you want to write in first or third person. You’re the only one who can answer that, but here’s something you might find helpful:
With first-person, remember that you’re going to be extremely limited in what you write. When you’re writing from your own perspective (“I went to the store.”), you have no power to tell the reader what another character is thinking. You’re limited to your perception. With third-person, you can talk about the look one character gave to another, how the recipient interpreted it, and what was actually going through the head of the character giving the look.
Can you or should you switch between first-person and third-person? Well, it’s your book…so you can do whatever you want. However, you must keep your reader in mind. That could quickly become confusing for your readers.
When you’re writing a novel, the general rule is to show…don’t tell. Yet, at the same time, you do not want to make it seem that you think your readers are stupid. It’s okay to leave a little bit to the imagination. Whether you choose to include micro-details is another one of those things that’s totally up to you. Consider your favorite stories. Which things did the author tell you in extreme detail? Which things were left to your imagination?
Remember, just write. No editing as you go. (See? Told you that it’s something you’d keep seeing in this post!)
Okay, so what about pictures? No, you cannot just go to Google Images and take things that don’t belong to you. Think about how upset you’d be if someone stole your novel and passed it off as their work. You’re doing the same thing – you’re taking ideas that aren’t yours. Your options for images include:
- Buying images (paying to use them from sites that are designed for that purpose). You’ll want images for commercial use. I know you don’t think you’re a business, but when you’re writing and selling books, that’s still “commercial use.”
- DIY it. If you love photography or drawing, you can always do it yourself. I don’t have that sort of talent.
- Look for creative commons (CC) images. When an image is CC, it is in the public domain. While this is a very good thing, you still need to give credit where credit is due. Generally, a CC image will include something called an “attribute” or “attribution.” Include that in the caption or description of the image.
- Use images from sites that provide royalty free images for commercial use. Those sites are out there. Pixabay and Pexels are two examples. I used an image from Pixabay when I published Self-Publishing School.
Oh, and don’t worry right now about putting together a Table of Contents or numbering your pages. Word can do both for you with just a few clicks. Doing it now will just create more work for yourself during the editing process.
Don’t try to be perfect in your rough draft. All rough drafts are…well, rough. Just write, okay? Okay.
Soooo, how long should writing your rough draft take? Well, that depends on your devotion and how much time you have. For NaNoWriMo (the non-junior version…although there is NOTHING wrong with the junior version), a 50,000 word novel is done in 30 days provided that the author can knock out 1,668 words each day.
How does one get to such a big number?! Details, baby, details!! Or, you just keep adding scenes. Remember, though, your novel does not have to be 50,000 words. It’s okay to write a short story. It’s okay to choose a different number. You do NOT have to write 50,000 words. I wanted to show you the math so that you could see how realistic it is to reach a big goal. You can reach a big goal.
This is the stage practically all new writers hate…unless they love grammar. There are several different types of editing. There’s good old fashioned proofreading where you go through your work and look for typos, misspellings, and the easy to see stuff.
There’s line editing. With line editing, you read each sentence (not just for typos) and look for problems with things like sentence structure. Ask yourself: does this sentence tell the reader exactly what I want them to know? This is all about making sure your writing is clear.
There’s developmental editing. You’re looking at the story to determine if there are plot holes or other problems.
Let’s talk about some of the things I most commonly run into when I’m editing (and I work as a copy, line, and developmental editor):
- Use a font that is normal. Don’t use a crazy font that prints in all-caps, bold, cursive, or anything else. Use a font that is easy for your readers to…well, read.
- Use the right font size. When I write, I tend to use Bookman Old Style, size 12. I just like the way it looks.
- You do not need two spaces between every sentence. Of course, you youngsters may no longer be taught to type that way. It took me forever to unlearn that…and a lot of adults still do that.
- If you don’t know how to properly use a semi-colon, don’t use it.
- Save widow / orphan control (which have to do with the end of one page and the beginning of another) for the very end of your editing process.
- Put in your TOC and page numbers dead last.
And a very important tip:
I know editing is a painful process. It’s hard to hack and slash at your baby (or to let anyone else do it). Editing doesn’t mean there’s something terrible about your work. The purpose of editing is to make sure you’re presenting the very best finished product that you can.
Before you go through publishing of any kind (traditional, small, or self), make sure that you read over your work one more time. You can even ask one or two trusted friends or family members to read it. I’d recommend an English teacher or someone else that you trust to give you honest feedback.
Cover art is a whole ‘nother ballpark and it should be handled before you (self) publish.