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  • Writer's pictureMatt Peterson

The Creative Process

This post talks about the creative process in working with a ghostwriter, focusing on what is needed in order to draft a remarkable novel length manuscript. It is aimed at those who are taking on the task of writing a full-length manuscript but do not have experience developing one. Writing is rewriting. And it takes time. Regardless of the target audience, drafting excellent material is a process of trial and error, and revision, revision, revision, revision, then proofreading. Many times it takes revision yet again. While people seem to think that it's about writing as a matter of getting your thoughts on the paper and then spellchecking, if your thoughts are worth sharing, then planning is a necessary component of the process. Even most extemporaneous expressions will require tweaking and changing and re-order the presentation of ideas in order to maximize its readability and success.

While getting the right words and grammar is essential in communication, in creative writing, the indisputable element of primary importance is about getting every part of the text to work for the story.

While this sounds like an obvious thing to bear in mind, plenty of writers develop a text retaining elements in it that work against its success. These elements are the difference between a failing story and a publishable one.

What's more is that often an author will not see what is causing their story to fail. This is due to them an seeing improvements in their manuscript in the revision process. Elements they are attached to may not seem like things that they need to change or get rid of. It is more common for authors to see the nonworking elements as needing to be changed rather than omitted. It takes an objective set of eyes to spot the things of a story that need to come out or be rearranged altered in order for the story to work. This is why workshopping manuscripts is important.

How will you write it? Wing it In order to get things right, the author needs to answer certain questions. One way to get things started as just a right from an idea get to 100 pages or so and then ask yourself: “what have I got?” This is a practice Stephen King is known for. While it’s impressive he publishes so often, reading one of them will show you how it’s possible to get it done so quickly. No one will find the elegant prose on par with Marcel Proust in Stephen King. They're different artists. Stephen King writes in a way that content can be quickly generated. This is not comment on his profound ability to create stories so quickly—only the manner in which he chooses to tell them.

Plan it Another way to write is to plan. While planning eventually factors in to the previous method, prewriting planning is a great idea if you're going to write a complex novel such as Underworld or Ulysses. It took James Joyce seven years to write his book and he had a team of assistants working for him. Joseph Heller took eight years to complete Catch-22, and made a handwritten outline for it—his outline happens to work like a flow chart. A typed replication of his outline can be seen here.

A note on word count While a manuscript over 40,000 [approximately 160 pages] words and length is considered a novel, or a “full-length” manuscript, most novels range between 80,000 and 100,000 words long [approximately 320 and 400 pages respectively].

Tools of writing preparation Flow chart A flow chart is an outline that includes anything needed to convey the meaning of your book. Its purpose is to help the author make decisions on what to include, and where and how to include them in their text, so it’s a tool for the shaping the book in its earliest stages—when it is an idea whose meaning is not yet determined. The flow chart can help the author determine the who, what, where, when, why, and how of their project. It may include lines of dialogue, plot points, foreshadowing, images, any scrap the author needs wants to use to convey the mood and content of the story from beginning to end.

It may help to create a flow chart before creating an outline or anyway before finalizing the outline, because the flow chart is a way to get ideas on the paper see what works and get rid of what doesn't, where the outline is going to be a reference tool that can be continuously used to facilitate the construction of the novel on a day-to-day basis.

Outline Questions of a novel’s plot, tone, and structure may be answered by drafting an outline. An outline that details the beginning, middle, and the end of the story, and how to get from one point to the next can prepare the author for their goal. A good one will cover major and minor events in the book. If your novel becomes more complex as you work on it, revise your outline accordingly. Everything is moot when you're writing a big creative project until it's in print.

Writing schedule Another crucial tool to a novelist is a writing schedule. Scheduling when you will write and what you expect to accomplish day-to-day will help you produce more quickly. Don't expect too much from yourself, especially when you're starting out. Create goals you can meet or surpass on a daily basis. Making a record of this will of course help you track the growth of the development of your projects, but also enable the author to see what's working and what's not working in the project along the way. Thus, troubled area of the texts that need to be worked on during the revision process are pinpointed and maybe it dressed first in order to bring them up to speed with the rest of the text.

Habits in the development of the text Since revising is really nonstop from the beginning of the first draft until the novel’s completion, it greatly aids the process to have a uniform text to revise. What I mean by revising being nonstop is that even as you write the first sentence of your book, you may know a better way to express it as soon as you type the period. So as soon as the first sentence is changed, you have begun the revision process.

It is a good idea to let your ideas come out in the first draft. Conserving your ideas here may prevent them from growing to their fullest potential later. Revise after you get the thoughts onto paper. A caveat to this is that a profusion of ideas on the page can lead to overwritten, scattershot material that is confusing to get through in order to see what’s great and where it should go—once a manuscript is few dozen pages long it takes a lot of time to sort out the changes, when time is better spent on developing a clean text.

It's about finding harmony between free expression and refined purpose when scribbling with the pen. That's why having a plan, using the tools mentioned above is integral to the creative process. It facilitates the capacity to generate good material with a sense of uniformity. Doing this will save you hours or days of time.

This is infinitely better than revising a manuscript all the way through skipping under / poorly /confusingly written sections along the way. If you get those underwritten sections up to par with the rest of the text before revising, you’ll have a clean environment—yes, I’m calling the manuscript an environment—to figure out the solutions to problems in the text. The result is the material gets tighter more quickly. If you have never been bogged down by the conundrum of a chaotic manuscript—never go there—adequate planning will save you an unbelievable amount of time.

Lines of tension The author ought to consider long lines and short lines of tension. Say you’re writing a mystery novel. What happens on the page to make one turn it to the next? That's a short line of tension. Who killed Mr Body? That’s the long line of tension. A mystery novel that's worth reading is going to have both lines of tension. Indeed, most creative works that succeed in sustaining a reader’s attention and interest from beginning to middle to end are going to want to have both lines tension. More about lines of tension and other techniques will be discussed in another post.

Shaping the text Eventually, a writer will know what goes and what stays. Before becoming an expert, a writer has a section of text—be it stretch of dialogue, a length of prose, or even a sentence gracing a page somewhere in their book. It's meaningful to the author. But somewhere along the way they learn that it's not working for the text. Maybe they discovered on their own, or someone pointed it out to them. Either way that section of text becomes a problem for the manuscript. There may not be anything wrong with the section of text itself but rather its presence in the novel. This is a “darling,” something that must be omitted for the improvement of the manuscript. The term “Kill Your Darlings” has to do with things that exist in a text the author favors to an error. The darlings of a text are elements within it that are not right for it. In order for the story to be successful they must go. Or they must be changed. Either way during the development of the contents the author was not able to see that these “darlings” were getting in the way of the success of their project. This would be because their “darlings” have merit warranting their inclusion. They may seem integral to the story. They may demonstrate a remarkable use of language, an impressive scene, an absolutely beautiful sentence, or a plot development, but for some reason which is clear to the reader—and hopefully the author as well—it's not right for the text. It might become right at another place in the text, or it might be right for something else, or never used anywhere. “Darlings” can be hard to spot. So, have an objective audience read your work. If you don’t have an editor, an honest friend will do.

A writer is a curator. Like those who select and designate what gets hung on the walls of museums writers need to choose what goes into their texts.

Fiction is a medium where neither grammar nor spelling needs to follow a standardized format. William Faulkner is a case in point. But while spelling and grammar are second to creativity, order needs to be maintained.

Faulkner used to pepper his text with variant spellings in his dialogue to convey the way he thought the characters in his books should speak. He valued using colloquialisms, accents, and slang just enough to convey the message of how the character talks. His informal theory on variant spelling advocated that there should be just enough variant spelling in a work to guide the reader through the idea of the character, and let their imagination do the rest. You can listen to William Faulkner talk about his writing style here. It's not spelling alone that makes Jason of The Sound and the Fury sound like he does. Characterization, pacing, and plot factor into a character’s voice as well.

On average eight months are needed to complete a 100,000 word manuscript for a client. While it varies by author, you could double the amount of months for writing one’s own novel. Marlon James stated he researched for two years before he picked up the pen to begin writing Black Leopard Red Wolf. But his novel is fantasy, you know, how could one need two years to research a work of the imagination? Consider the scope that James was working in as he began his Dark Star Trilogy. The first installment is rife with African jargon, customs, history, geography, folklore. It's not rangers and wizards fighting dragons, there’s real life, customs, geography, history, and language woven into James's text. An author needs to know more about their story than their reader. Backstory is important because it shapes the way a story is told. If the author knows just as much as the reader, how could they convey a persuasive sense of reality to their world the reader? The reader of a lazy text will observe loopholes and impossibilities all the way through the story. Loopholes can be found in endearing works of literature. Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn left out a crucial section known as The Raftman’s Passage. The Raftmen’s Passage are fifteen pages omitted from chapter sixteen which tell how Huck knew where on the river his and Jim’s raft was—information Huck later uses without the reader having an understanding of how he came by it. An exemplary display of knowing more than your audience was given by John Ronald Reuel Tolkien who constructed the Quenya and Sindarin languages for his Lord of The Ring novels.

Great writing takes knowing a story, planning how to write it, trying to write it, trying to write it better, nearly getting it, finishing it, then proofreading it.

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