If you are an aspiring writer, you might know that there isn't one fail-proof path to writing a novel. After sifting through countless dog-eared pages of "The Writer" and "Poets and Writers," I've found that the true commonalities writers seem to share include: consistency, distraction-free writing time and an ability to drown out the noise of the critics. The rest is up for grabs.
Here's what I know works for me: if I need to produce something with minimal edits, on a time crunch, an outline with major character names and the story arc will serve me well. In the years I've written Thanksgiving stories and the Christmas series for The Columbia Basin Herald, I haven't had much margin for error. The deadline comes fast, and especially with a six-part series, I need to know where I'm headed. If not, I could write myself into a corner or end up with too many loose ends for word count. As a result of the story arc chart I make, I write much more fluidly, and there's no last minute panic about how I'm going to pull off such a winded effort.
When I'm writing a novel, I've been known to abandon outlines and only keep a list of character names at my fingertips. I'm trying not to do this anymore. The general outline serves me too well to skip it. When my stories are really starting to flow and characters seem to be acting without my making them, I'll often deviate from the preset outline, but it's nice to have it there as a guidepost.
In addition to always keeping a running outline, I need to keep working on a distraction-free environment. I do this best when I frequent my local coffee shop, Whiskey Gulch and give myself a preset time (or amount of words I want to produce). Unless I'm in the final stages of a novel and my attention is riveted on my story, it's best to stay away from home, where I am overtaken with breakfast dishes left out by my kids, piles of laundry, beds that still aren't made...The last, but perhaps most important distraction to rid myself of is social media. The successful writers I know will turn off their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts entirely while they write, and their word count and the projects they produce give testimony to the importance of shutting off the noise.
It can feel as daunting to me as any new writer to start typing when a white page looms in front of your eyes. But there's a beauty in getting started, pressing in and sticking with it even if some writing days are more promising than others. Writing-just like a planned presentation, a race, or a lesson plan-doesn't always produce the desired effect, but there are no regrets in showing up and giving it what you can.