The process of writing a novel is to travel along a spectrum of “knowing”.
At first, you know nothing about your story.
After a few weeks or months, you know everything.
The time in between not knowing, and knowing is called “Work”.
How long it takes you to travel across that spectrum is based on how many hours you put in each day.
If you’re staring at a blank screen thinking, “This is never going to get finished”, the antidote is to put in more time each day. That’s how you speed up the process.
Think of your novel like a burlap bag with a top that won’t open.
Inside the bag is the entire universe of your story.
In order to get your story onto the page, you have to cut into the burlap.
But be careful…
Cut a hole too big and the entire story comes spilling out at once. Only having two hands, most of it slips through your fingers and you’re left with the residue of a story instead of a compelling yarn.
The key is to cut a very small hole in the bag and pick out one thing at a time.
One thing you can manage. One thing you can grasp in your hands and control.
Don’t try and create your entire cast at once.
Pick a character. Pick one thing about that character. Develop that.
Don’t try and create your entire plot at once.
Pick one moment (since I’m writing murder mysteries, so far I’ve found thinking about the murder is helpful. I don’t think about motive or who did it yet. just focus in on the murder itself until that single moment is compelling.) . Pick one detail.
Keep doing this everyday. Don’t stop.
Eventually, you’ll have collected a very large number of moments and character traits, and scenes.
Put them together. Like pieces of a puzzle. Draw lines connecting them.
Stand back and admire what you’ve done.
Then rearrange the pieces until they fit the way you want.
That’s how you write a novel.
To start, pick one small morsel of your story and love it. Nurture it. Grow it. Then add a little more. And a little more.
Don’t try and swallow the entire novel in one 30 minute brainstorming session.
How do you eat an elephant?
One bite at a time.
One idea at a time.
One line at a time.
Be kind to your brain. It can’t hold an entire novel at once.
But it’s undergone millions of years of evolution to become an absolute super-computer when it’s time to hold on to a single idea.
Don’t wish for a different brain, instead leverage the one you have to get the things you want.
One idea at a time.
If you’re suffering from writer’s block, start there. One simple idea. A scene. A character flaw. A situation. A premise.
Play with it until it leads to another single idea. Then another. Then another. Then a novel.
Don’t stop playing.
Mike “Do I Really Want To Keep Coming Up With Middle Names For Myself” Shreeve
P.S. Today I did this exact thing until I had written 4,325 words which I think are keepers.
I did it by writing one line at a time. One idea at a time. One character at a time.
It’s the only way I know how.