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.