Getting started is the hardest part, but keeping the writing going is just as difficult, especially on large projects like novels. There are a ton of tried and true strategies, here are just a few to get that project going and keep it going.
This is my go-to writing strategy. I simply list out all of the events I want to take place. So, for example:
- John walks home from work.
- He sees a ghost.
- The ghost kills John.
- John becomes a ghost.
Once I’ve listed out all of my events, I take those same sentences, put them in a paragraph/novel format, edit them, and then add more descriptions, dialogue, etc. I prefer this strategy because I am still writing, but it’s just writing out the skeleton of my novel. It takes me a lot less time to write this way, and I don’t feel like I am wasting the time I could be writing by planning what I am going to write. This works great for people like myself who respond well to lists.
This is similar to the list strategy, but relies more heavily on formatting with chapters and scenes involved. So this is a more structured format. For example:
- Chapter 1
- Scene 1
- John is walking home.
- John sees a ghost.
- John is killed by ghost.
- Scene 2
- John wakes up in the street.
- He walks home.
- He tries to open the door, but his hand goes through the knob.
- Scene 1
- Chapter 2
- Scene 1
- John tries to get help.
- Realizes no one can hear or see him.
- Scene 1
Using this strategy, you would be pre-formatting your novel as you write. This is super helpful when you go into the actual writing phase as you have all the same content you would have from the list strategy, but you will also know how you want it formatted. This strategy saves a lot of time on the back end, but can take a bit of time to figure out on the front end.
This is the most fun writing strategy for me. This requires space, though, so if you are in a cramped environment, this may not work well. Pick a wall, get a whiteboard, get a cork board, etc. Then write out your novel scene-by-scene using post-it notes, note cards, or just write them out in little blocks on your whiteboard.
As you write, you’ll be able to move things around, add things, etc. I always found this helpful when writing short story collections because as I wrote each short story, I would find that I like a particular story to appear before or after a different story. By having your work appear in this physical, malleable format, it’s much easier to let the work flow in whatever order or shape it decides to do so. If you like writing out of order, I think this is the best strategy.
While writing out a list or outline in a word-processing software means you can move things around just as easily there, I find that sometimes it feels limiting just by the nature in which the software forces you to write and edit. In order to move anything around, you have to copy-and-paste, delete, or continuously move things down the page. With it being on a wall or a board, you have these little compartments of text that you don’t have to worry about copy-and-pasting, deleting, or just moving down the page. You can physically pick up the paper and move it around wherever you see fit. There is something extremely freeing about that. It’s also just a lot more fun.
This is probably the strategy most people know about from their school days. Writing in webs is a powerful strategy that can help with bodies of work that have a ton of moving parts (think Lord of the Rings, or something on that scale). If you have a large project with many different settings, characters, and concurrent story lines, a web may be the best thing for you. For example:
Of course, my example isn’t super realistic, but I think it gets the point of across. You can map out large worlds and story arcs using webs. Even if your story isn’t of a large enough scope for web outlining, perhaps the relationships between your characters needs to be webbed out. Webs are a great tool for every writer to use, even if they don’t use it for their story outlines.
“Is free-writing even a strategy?” you may ask. Heck yes it is. In a world with so much available at our fingertips, I think it’s worth reminding everyone that outlining isn’t a strategy for every writer. You will read plenty of blog posts, articles, how-to books where they all suggest outlining your work beforehand. While outlining is super helpful for a lot of writers, it won’t be for every writer.
With all of the gurus out there telling you that you have to outline, you may be limiting yourself by forcing out an outline. Some people work better without a set outline, and that is okay. Don’t stifle your creativity by trying to be someone you’re not. If you write better without an outline, then write without one. That is your strategy, and as long as the book gets written, who cares how it happened?
Thank you all so much for reading this. I hope it was helpful. Are there any other writing strategies out there that I didn’t cover? Let me know, and comment below.
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