Writing that much prose is one thing, but weaving it all together into a story with a strong arc, purpose, and impact is another entirely. Here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way that might help you in your writing process — whether your own writing is an “accident” or not.
First, copy and paste everything into a single word processor document, in the best narrative order you can determine at the time. Having everything in one place will feel like an important milestone — your work will seem more like a cohesive book-in-progress and less like a collection of fragments, scenes, and vignettes.
Edit at will
As with the initial drafting of any book, use what minutes you can find in between other activities to clarify the language, put pieces together, or review something you wrote months or even years ago. Sometimes that means searching for a particular scene or experience that’s been caught in your memory and reexamining how it fits into the overall story. Other times, it will mean scrolling randomly through the document and working on whatever paragraph catches your eye and the mouse falls on. Focus your time on what I can do right now to get yourself closer to the finish line, knowing you’ll get to it all completed real soon.
Label and shuffle
With tens of thousands of words and dozens of narrative episodes, keeping track of everything can be a challenge. To help, start labeling significant portions of your story with unsexy and utilitarian titles like, “Argument about green vs. black tea” and “Weird surveillance grocery store encounter.”
Will the chunks I’m currently defining end up as chapter partitions in the final novel? Probably not. But for now, functional titles help you know, quickly and efficiently, what the landscape of my work-in-progress looks like.
Having well-labeled portions of text also helps you put things in the best order for any narrative. Does a certain scene play better in the second third of the book? Does a character’s backstory suddenly become more resonant when presented after a traumatic incident involving an ex-lover? Cut-and-paste is a wonderful thing, and you use it to experiment with all sorts of structures and event orders.
After significant editing sessions, you save a new version of my document with a title like “Draft_v2.0,” Draft _v2.1,” and so on. This way, you can always go back and see previous manifestations of my ideas, as well as what I originally wrote on my phone. Having copious backups makes you more comfortable experimenting — you always know you can revert to a previous version if a creative risk you take doesn’t work in the end.
Fill in the gaps
If you discover that additional text is needed to make the story flow (and this will happen quite often), it’s always fun to return to writing mode. Either on the spot with your laptop or on your phone the next time you have a free minute, add the words, sentences, or paragraphs the story needs to smoothly flow and then go right back to editing mode.
Be patient and stay focused
It can be overwhelming to look at a 60,000-plus-word document, completely unedited, and realize it’s up to you alone to get it all in order. Try to stay micro-focused as you work, polishing only whatever sections are in front of your eyes at the moment and losing yourself in the task at hand. Just as the crafting of the original text happened gradually and organically, so too will the acts of compiling, editing, and revising.
Keep the big picture in mind
At this point, YOU know where your characters begin, the struggles and triumphs they go through, and where they will end up physically, circumstantially, and emotionally when the story concludes. You’ll want to keep this whole arc in mind as you’re editing, compiling, and reordering. In subtle and not-so-subtle ways, the big picture influences everything from word choice to plot adjustments and acts like glue, helping to stick the entire story together as a cohesive narrative.
To Your Success,