My Novel Writing Process
by Sheila Path McMahon
I am surprised at how many people have asked me about the writing process and how I decided to use Kickstarter to fund my project.
As far as the writing process, I would first say that I don’t always relate to what people call ‘the writing process.’ I feel like I have many processes that are happening all of the time. But specifically for my first novel, Someotherville, my path definitely didn’t follow what many people would recommend as a ‘writing process.’
First of all, I was not planning to write a novel when this idea came to me. I had talked about writing a novel when I was younger, and I had experience writing a lot of short pieces & I thought, somewhere in the back of my head, that I would like to write a novel some day, but I didn’t really know what that meant.
In fact, I started a novel when I was in my 20’s – it was called “Slice of Life, a Novel.” The cover, which was hand-drawn, had a slice of pizza on it. I wrote a lot, and I was trying to have a stream of consciousness character. It quickly turned into me journaling, but a little on the cutsie side, and it never felt as though it was a novel. So that fell to the wayside.
In the intervening years, I had the thought that “someday” I would write a novel and when people said the cliche that “everyone has a novel in them,” I hoped that it was true.
But writing a novel was really something that only existed in dreamland, and it didn’t seem that it would ever be a reality. So when I was lying in bed one evening and I had a conversation with my husband that led to the initial idea, I said, “would you mind if I wrote a story about a guy who never finishes the novels he’s writing?” and he said “write whatever you want.” (Which I would have anyway.) Then I started writing. I had written about 5 pages before I thought to myself, this could really be something longer. This could be a novel.
I wouldn’t say that I gave much thought to structure. I was much more concerned about creating the stories as I went along. I think that’s probably why this is a very straightforward, linear novel – with the exception of the story-within-a-story elements. But the narrative frame is straightforward.
The process for my next novel has been a lot different. I have spent a lot of time researching different periods of history and different links to Minnesota, because the whole thing is going to be intertwining the stories of a woman and two of her female ancestors. Because there are different time periods, I have had to think about how I will be able to back and forth between the main story lines, and that has made me think about how to structure the novel overall. It’s a much different process. For this one, I actually took an idea that I have seen in movies about writers – which is, that I took index cards and used them to organize the book.
Now, mind you, I had no idea of what to write on these index cards when I started. I just knew that I had three main storylines, and that I wanted them to intertwine. There are also short scenes about modern artists that I also wanted to work in.
So I went through what I had written so far, which was probably about 60 pages, and I basically gave each main event or ‘scene’ a brief title so I would know what it was. It was short titles that I won’t (likely) use in the book – things like “Imogene terrorizes london” and “Suzie fights with Trevor” – nothing to difficult to come up with, but enough detail so that I remember what I meant.
Then I taped the index cards to the wall. I put all of the Suzie cards in one row, all of the Imogene cards in another, all of Margaret’s in a third, with a fourth row for the artists that Suzie either meets or reads about. Finally, I looked at the whole thing and numbered the scenes on the wall, pretty much going down the columns, sometimes combining scenes and sometimes adding extra scenes.
So everything that I have so far is written is organized. Now whether that will translate into a good reading experience remains to be seen, and I’m sure that I will need to make adjustments.