My novel writing process is like making a fancy layer cake  

I’m in the process of writing my umpteenth novel (I’ve no idea how many exist on dead computers or in notebooks probably recycled into toilet paper) but I’m still learning what my process is. I’ve decided my process is like making a real fancy layer cake.

Warning – this blog post is going get a bit hippy-dippy. You have been warned.

I can be a force of nature when I put my mind to something. Get out of my way, people. I can make anything happen through sheer will power and hard work. Until I can’t and I end up banging my forehead against a wall. The universe kicks me in the bum quite often and tells me I can’t force everything. Like creativity and inspiration.

But where’s the cake, you ask? I’ll get to it…

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I learned to write novels through Nanowrimo. Sitting at my keyboard and bashing away 50k words for 30 days, I’ve got that covered now. But it’s 50k words, not 50k pretty words. Nanowrimo taught me discipline and gave me the confidence that I could do this novel writing thing.

But I can’t force a quality novel out in one go. I can’t force creativity or inspiration when it isn’t there. The story needs time to evolve and grow. I need time to learn about my characters – let them blossom and tell me what they want to say. Through a first vomit draft, I learn what the theme really is and what I’m actually trying to say. Information I can’t articulate until I put fingers to keys and start spewing out a story. The skeleton of the story can be knocked out in a month of slog but something more nuanced, richer and more satisfying can’t happen if I’m sitting at a keyboard feverishly banging away for four hours at a time. Believe me, I’ve tried. And written a steaming pile of crud.

Editing is a different process. A different use of my brain. I can sit in the chair all day on a Sunday and edit away merrily for hours. But writing a first draft of 75k words. Nope. The process takes time to mature.

But that doesn’t mean slacking off, waiting for the moons to align and using this as an excuse to do nothing. I’m a firm believer that I need to prove myself to the Muse. Put in the hours and she might flit by every now, spread her fairy dust and wow me with some plot twist or character insight. But I never know when she’s coming. I’ve got to be ready and show your commitment.

Instead, I’m being kinder with myself and letting go off the tight reins on the workhorse. If I’ve exhausted the creative thoughts for the day, it’s OK to give myself permission to stop. Watch a movie or read a book (especially in the genre – I’m calling it research). Then the flashes of ideas come. The coincidences, the serendipitous moments. On the train, at the supermarket, doing the dishes (thank you Agatha Christie) or baking.

Over time, my story is richer, more intricate and more satisfying.

But where’s the cake?

So what is my current process? Here’s the cake analogy

  1. Use the Story Grid/Foolscap Method to outline the major story elements – Decide what cake I want to make. Check the cupboard to see if I got the ingredients.
  2. Bang out a first draft/more detailed outline – Bake the base cake, chocolate of course.
  3. If there are gaps, skip and keep writing
  4. Review the first draft/detailed outline – Slice the base cake into layers
  5. Fill in gaps, brainstorm plot devices, develop sub plots, build out characters  – Add the fillings, the creams, then the icing, the chocolate curls and toffee shards on top

And hopefully I’ll end up with a glorious fancy cake to share with you all.

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4 Comments

  1. Considering how awesome Evangaline has turned out – I think I might need to steal some of your process ideas!

    • Madeleine D'Este

      Because the Evangeline stories are short and simple novellas (not a great deal of sub plot), I spend less time on the fancy fillings. Evangeline is more like a swiss roll with the jam in the centre than a ten-tiered Black Forest.

  2. It sounds so simple when you put it that way!

    • Madeleine D'Este

      I forgot to put in the time allocation for each section. Step 5 takes 6 months or longer 🙂

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