my new approach to writing a novel

The first book on outlining that I’ve read hit me very hard and ever since I’ve been thinking about a novel as something presented through 3 acts and delivered with a precision of a surgeon.

That first book taught me an essential lesson; each story requires a shape like each living being needs a shape. A tree has a shape of a tree and a bird has a shape of a bird. Not all birds or all birds have the same shape, but they are still birds and trees.

This novel also gave me a shovel which I used to dig a grave for my second novel because I couldn’t use it for building it. The same way I can‘t build a bird or a tree just because I know how they look like.

What I want to say is that it didn’t work for me. I couldn’t follow a strict outline for a novel. The farther I moved from the planned beginning the more I deviated from the plan. Although my subconscious knew that there is nothing wrong with going off the course as long as you’re going to reach the destination. My critical mind was constantly looking back and wondering what went wrong.

Being in a fog, with no headlights, I thought, maybe I didn’t get it right; maybe I should learn more. And I did.

I read a book after a book, hero’s journey, character, conflict, story structure and all that goes into an art of writing a novel but none of that helped, none of that gave me a blueprint for building a novel.

That blind journey through studies of the craft enabled me to speak about art of writing with a great confidence, but it didn’t help me to write a novel. Instead, It blocked me.

Longer than ever before, I lived in any writer’s fear; in the inability to bring a project to an end. Tens, if not hundreds of thousands of words went into the oblivion each time I pressed that delete button on my keyboard, each time I tossed away an entire notebook or a deck of index cards.

Idea after idea proved wrong and nothing seemed to work.

Until, the things cleared up in front of me and I could finally see the shore. Beware, that I haven’t swum to the shore yet, but I know that once I can see it, I’ll find the way to reach it.

Being a man who adores simplicity, I tried to break down writing into the smallest self-sustainable unit. I thought if I could produce a single unit each day, that in a certain amount of days, I could have a novel. There is no reason for this simple formula not to work. The only problem was – I didn‘t know what that unit was.

For example, the smallest sustainable unit of each living organism isn’t an electron, or a proton, or an atom or a molecule. It is a cell.

Every single cell lives a life of its own. It’s born, it eats, it breathes, it reproduces, it gets sick, and eventually, like any other living thing, it dies.

But, when you combine a countless number of these wonderful tiny living beings, you get something unique that has a life of its own, life in its singularity. Life so diverse and specific in its unique way, but yet dividable by these simple units called cells.

It takes only two cells and an adequate environment to make something remarkable as a human being or any other being. Why should it be any more complex with something much simpler but if done well, not any less remarkable, as a novel?

What is a cell of a novel, I wondered. What is a unit which I need to create and then reproduce it to fit its environment and grow?

At first, I thought it was a word, but no – it’s just a particle which has different meanings in different sentences. It doesn’t have a life of its own.

What about sentence? Of course not – if you take it out of context, it loses its meaning. So, it’s still an interchangeable part. I’m sorry Mr. Hemingway, but a true sentence is not all I have to do. Maybe it worked for you, but it doesn’t work for me. I need more.

Paragraph? Doesn’t tell you much unless you combine it with more of its species. It’s still a part, it’s not a whole, it’s not alive.

A scene? Of course!

Each scene, like a novel, has a beginning, middle and an end. Each scene like a novel, looks like one thing at the beginning and it’s an entirely different at the end. Each scene, like a novel, has a life of its own but when you put a sequence of scenes together, they work like a remarkable living being in its singularity.

Scenes form chapters, like cells form tissues. Tissues form organs, like chapters form an act. Acts form a novel, like organs form an organism; each different and unique but the same if observed with the proper spectacles.

It hit me like a lightening.

I could write a scene in a day. Why not? There is nothing easier than writing a scene. If it’s bad, I’ll throw it away and write a new one. If it‘s good, I’ll keep it and move on from there.

No word counts, no time set goals, no outlines, no plans, no character sketches, no nothing else but the scene. Write a single scene and close the lid of your laptop until the next day.

No more micro and macro editing and managing. No more speculating what will happen in the middle of the second act, because I don‘t know just as the stem cell doesn‘t know whether it‘s going to become a liver or bone at the end of its development. Once it becomes a liver or a ban, it can tell – Oh, I’m a liver. The same with the scene in the middle of your novel it can tell – Oh I’m a turning point.

If done properly and regularly, in 60 to 90 days you could have the first draft of something that will one day, when it finishes its development, be a novel. Simple as that, but yet, it took me years to realize.