How to restore order in the midst of a chaotic novel

How to restore order in the midst of a chaotic novel

(Feature photo source: Aloba)

I’ve never been much a fan of outline formats and skeleton drawings when it comes to writing. I remember being taught this form back in college during composition writing classes. I could never do it. Even my news writing for the Army is unstructured. I just begin, work and finish. I’ve always done it this way. I jump right in. It’s easier that way.

Except this time.

This time I’ve hit a block. Not the dreaded “writer’s block” that everyone talks about. But a flow block.

I’ve been writing JUMP, my latest novel, since I deployed in Iraq in 2008. It started out as a short story idea and then grew to 60,000 words and I’m likely only half-way through the first draft. This novel has been an off-and-on writing project that has started and stopped due to other life obligations: adjusting to civilian life after a deployment in Iraq, finishing my Bachelor’s degree, maintaining a healthy marriage, starting a photo business, raising a boy who is now two years old. Somehow, along the way, more than 5 years have gone by and I still haven’t finished this thing.

Now the problem is not lack of time or motivation or diligence. The problem is poor memory and self-produced confusion. It’s been so long since I wrote the first words to this novel, that as I try to write new chapters and scenes, I can’t remember what I’ve already written. Part of the problem is that I didn’t write this novel from start to finish (like everything else I’ve ever written). I’ve jumped around. I wrote whatever chapter came to me, whether Christopher was 10 years old, or 16, or running away from college. I would skip to whatever scene felt the most pressing on my fingertips to type.

As a result, I’m all over the place now. So it’s time to clean things up.

My goal is to finally and officially finish this first draft by September 15 of this year. No exception. But first I have to reassemble in my mind where everything is.

Through the process of writing this novel, I have compiled more than 20 pages of typed notes. Going through the notes alone is overwhelming.

So I’ve decided to draw the dreaded outline.

Chapter 1 – This happens.

Chapter 2 – One sentence.

Chapter 3 – Keep it simple.

Chapter 4 – Just finish.

And so on…

Sometimes artists and writers become victims of their own passion. We put everything down rather than filter our thoughts into a process. I need to remember to write only what’s important. Write only what will be useful later. Refine. Revise. Move on.

So that’s going to be my first step. Today. Right after I get home from work. Not tomorrow. Not next week.

Sketch out the entire novel’s outline, one simple chapter at a time.

After that, I’ll create separate documents: One document for all my characters and a quick sketch-up of who each is and does, another document for the rest of my notes.

That’s a good start.

It’s important not to get overly consumed by the organization process. The whole point is to be organized enough to get back to writing. Then write.

So if you ever hit a writer’s block or a flow block, take a step out of your novel and try to look at the whole thing again like a web of connected chapters on a wall.

Sometimes restoring order is a matter of doing the simple things and only the simple things. Filter out the clutter. Don’t over-complicate the work.

Then get back to writing.

What about you?

What simple technique do you use to organize your writing?

About Michel Sauret

I'm a independent and literary fiction author and Pittsburgh-based photographer

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