Guest Eileen Cook on
The Secret to Writing a Novel

Guest Eileen Cook on
The Secret to Writing a Novel

[After a long, hot summer Labor Day celebrates the promise of fall. Fresh crisp air — along with the return to a normal routine — energizes and inspires one to sharpen pencils, fill blank notebooks, and go offline to write. It’s a brand new year, the year to write THE novel. Eileen Cook (Unpredictable, What Would Emma Do? YA, Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood YA, releasing in paperback September 21, 2010, The Education of Hailey Kendrick YA coming January 4, 2011, and Fourth Grade Fairy ages 9 – 11 coming April 19, 2011) — with her credits — knows something about writing a novel and, in today’s guest post, she shares the secret. ]

The Secret to Writing a Novel

In order to be a successful novelist you must:
a) always create a detailed outline before you start to write
b) avoid an outline at all costs and instead let your imagination run wild
c) use your spiritual guide to channel your characters and let them tell their own story

Any of the Above

My best advice to writers is to be leery of writing advice.

What works for one writer may not work for another. There isn’t one right way to write a book, there’s only your way. I’ve talked to many writers about their process. Mystery writer Elizabeth George creates very detailed outlines, collects photos/images and has a three ring binder for each character before she puts a single word of the book on the page. In a presentation the literary author John Irving said he likes to start with the last line of the last chapter and work his way backwards.

When I wrote my first book (and by first I mean the first book that ever saw public eyes, there are several others still buried in a drawer in my desk) I had a general idea of the story. I knew I wanted to write about a woman who was pretending to be a psychic. Armed with only that knowledge I fired up the computer and started typing. There were many, many, many, drafts of that story, but the process of writing it was certainly an adventure. Now I am more likely to have a general outline of the story I want to tell, but I find if the outline is too detailed I tend to lose interest in the story. After all, I already know how it ends.

There will be writers who tell you that if you are serious about writing you must do it EVERY day. They will point out that Stephen King writes even on his birthday and Christmas. Does this mean you’re a failure if you realize it’s Wednesday and you haven’t touched your book since Saturday? What if you are a mom with small kids who all have the chicken pox? Or what if you’re juggling a day job and can’t get in your target of a 1000 words on a particular day?

While I agree that getting into a regular writing habit is best, I don’t think it is as black and white as writing every day. I set a weekly goal for my writing. I have a choice of writing a bit every day, but if I know that there is a day that is going to be eaten up with some other demand, I tell myself it’s fine to write for a longer period another day. I try and take at least one day off every week to recharge my imagination by reading, walking on the beach, or seeing friends.

There will be writers who tell you that you shouldn’t think about the publishing side of the business, and instead focus on your craft. Other writers will tell you that failure to consider the market before you start writing means you’re leaving yourself open to spending a year (or more) writing a book only to discover the world doesn’t want another vampire tale. Once again, I’m going to suggest there is a wishy washy middle. If publication is your goal, you’ll be smart to be aware of what is happening in the publishing business, but at the end of the day you still must be true to the story you want to tell, trend or no trend.

Everyone wants there to be a secret to writing. If there is a secret then all we have to do is master it and we’ll be on our way to publishing fame and glory. Here is the secret: there is no secret. Find the path that works for you. If you aren’t sure what works, try different approaches. Write in the morning instead of at night, set weekly word goals or write every day, make collages, outlines or mind maps. Write by hand or on a laptop or dictate. There are thousands of writing manuals so try different approaches until you discover your own unique writing style. The only thing I am certain about with writing, is that if you don’t keep trying, you won’t ever reach the finish line. Whatever process you decide is right for you- just keep writing.

6 thoughts on “
Guest Eileen Cook on
The Secret to Writing a Novel

  1. You’re so right Eileen, it’s true that every writer has their own way of writing.

    I’m like you, I need to recharge and I find that if I do, I get more inspired. I don’t tend to write in the weekends – I try to rest, read and research – mostly rest.

    Recently I had a reading retreat for a week, just reading and it was wonderful.

    Thanks for the post.

  2. You couldn’t be more right. It took me 3 years of searching and failing to find the magic answer before I realized that I had to create MY OWN magic answer. Now I’m much happier, and while I haven’t pulled a rabbit out of a hat (yet!), I can see that little white cottontail waggling at me, ready to come out!

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