My novel-writing journey has taken an unexpected turn. Last month, I sent my completed novel draft to four beta-readers, including Barbara J. Webb, co-instructor at the CSSF Novel Writers Workshop I attended in June 2013.
Barbara and I had a Skype call a few weeks ago to talk about my manuscript. She praised me for “paying attention during the workshop,” agreed that yes, 88,000 words is too long, pointed out the many other things I had done wrong, and then she dropped the bombshell:
“My main recommendation is set this book down. Write a new book before you come back to this.”
My plan, my very existence, for the next few months was founded on the notion that I’d be whipping this thing into shape and sending it out to agents by autumn. But now she wants me to take (at least!) 3-4 months off and write a whole new novel first? And she was very clear: time off doing nothing wouldn’t count, and neither would spending that time writing short stories. It had to be a new novel, from scratch.
The first thing I did was panic. The second thing I did was check with my neighborhood writing confidant Ashley Pérez–was this Barbara woman out of her mind? But Ashley said no, she thought I should take her advice. Since she’s published two novels and contracted a third, I conceded she might know a thing or two about it.
Problem is, since I was planning on revising this story, I hadn’t been giving a lot of brain space to what I wanted to write next. And now I needed to start a new novel. Preferably tomorrow! (Well, okay, in a week or two.) What to do?
Enter prewriting. According to David Farland, “Prewriting is that time you spend imagining what you’re going to write.”
There are lots of ways to pre-write a novel, including some that don’t involve any writing at all.
- Jennifer Crusie recommends collage as a discovery tool, a communication line to “The Girls in the Basement,” and a way to get excited about your book.
- For an example of this at work, check out the gorgeously oogly scrapbooks Margo Lanagan made while working on her acclaimed novel Sea Hearts.
- Pinterest! While working on my own soon-to-be-shelved novel, I made pin boards to remind myself of the true personalities of ponies and to help my craft-deficient self visualize all the glitter and furbelows for the Pony Prom.
If you’re not feeling visual, there are other ways of pre-writing, such as freewriting and asking yourself questions about the nebulous story mass wobbling around in your brain case. Holly Lisle has a really good list of intriguing questions here.
Now it’s time for me to put on my smock and get out the scissors and glue, because I’ve got a lot of imagining to do. Wish me luck!–And let me know if you have any tried-and-true prewriting techniques.