Our Writing Method, A Novel Case Study, Part 3

Lawrence Articles

When we last left our heroes, they’d just completed a multi-week 3rd draft of the outline. Using index cards instead of sticky notes, Chloe and Lawrence took what was a series of well intentioned ideas, and transformed them into real scenes, with locations and characters and everything.

Start at Part 1, if you need to catch up.


What we found, in going through the process one draft at a time on the cork board, was that rewriting needed a rest sometimes. You get to a point where you want to move on while outlining. Where you want to really start writing. The characters are jumping to life and talking to you while you’re driving. It’s creativity and it feels a little like madness.

And in these moments, you should write. You should sit down and hammer out character descriptions, backstory, anything they tell you. Just keep it before page 1. Page 1 is waiting for you. Just as soon as you do a bit more book keeping.

During the outlining with index cards, it’s helpful when you’re just sick of birthing new story points, to back up all these amazing work in your writing software. If you’re choosing to write long hand, back them up elsewhere. You can make photocopies and bind them in a book but it helps the process more if you rewrite them from your handwriting on the card, to typed somewhere else. This of course has the benefit of preserving your work but there’s a second benefit of equal importance that underlines this entire method.

Think about it. At each step we’ve been creating from scratch and then recopying that work in a clearer and more detailed fashion. This creative exhale is just as important as the inhale. Copying your cards to a blank page in your writing software organizes you for the moment when you begin real pages. It makes sure you’re never starting from a blank page. It’s also requires no real thought. It’s just idle work, when you’re creative juices are tapped. Once this step is complete and every card is on it’s own file on your computer or tablet, you are ready to begin writing.

For Chloe, that meant prose. She wasn’t writing a screenplay, but the mechanics were the same. By this time she’d written shor descriptions of her characters and they were really biting to get on the page. I’d held her back from the actual work of pages for so many weeks that the block was nowhere to be found. It’d been replaced by pent up creative frustration and as she pulled up the first file and saw her scene prompts, a strange calm settled over us. She knew who she was going to write about and where they were, what would happen and how they’d get form point A to point B in this scene.

It’s also just a scene. A bite, not the whole pie. She knew, because she’d done the work, that the rest of the scenes in her novel were equally as prepared and waiting for her to get to them. So the goal was simple, get this scene done and take the rest of the day off.

That’s right, your homework is one scene per day. No more. Sometimes you won’t finish, some days you’ll finish it early, but let these scenes get full. Explore the limits you’ve imposed through the structure of each and write outside those limits when the inspiration strikes you. This is simply another draft and any draft can be edited later.

When you’re done, email the document with just that scene to a trusted friend. They don’t even have to read it, they just have to know that you wrote it and that it’s not just the same scene from last week. They will be your accountability that you’re moving forward. Card by card, scene by scene until you’re done.

Start with a new file every time you sit down to write so you’re not tempted to reread what you’ve done so far, judge it and drain your creative energy before you’ve had time to write something new. A novel can be hundreds of pages, a screenplay can too. The wait of those documents can sometimes be overwhelming when you’re in the middle of it. So I suggest breaking them into scenes.

Pin each card to a wall. When you’re done writing pages for the day, print them out, replace the card with your pages. This will become your visual progress bar. If you only write once a week and you count your cards left, you’ll know exactly how many weeks it’ll take to finish. The opposite of writer’s block is knowing when you’re finished.

At the end, you’ll be able to copy and paste each scene into 1 document, the book keeping again. Read it over, correcting typos and such. Then send it to people who want to read it. Who’ve been asking about it this whole time. Then, take a break. You deserve it. You’re too close to it to rewrite now. In a month or so, you can return and go over any notes you receive. But that’s for another article.

As for Chloe, she’s not page 60 and climbing. It’s a several month to several years to finish a draft, depending on how often you sit down to write. It will never be a small task to complete a project so large, but hopefully with some of the ideas I’ve shared here, we can take something overwhelming and break it up, until it’s manageable.

Good luck writers.