Writing is Not a DIY Project

I have drafted quite a few novels over the years (12 I think??? Geez), but I still can tell you, every time I sit down to do prep before I write a novel…I’m never sure what it was I did the last time.


It’s officially October, which means preptober for those of us doing NaNoWriMo. Time to get ready (or else suffer).

I love October, but I won’t make you slough through more paragraphs upon paragraphs of how much I love autumn, because I’m sure it will bore you to death. But I couldn’t go on with this post without mentioning how happy I am that it’s October. And so I got a pumpkin cake pop.

Look at that yummy little guy!!

Ok. I mentioned it. Now let’s move on.

Novel prep. Where do I begin?

Even if you’re not doing NaNoWriMo, prep for writing a novel is still relevant. So that brings us to today’s topic *you breath a sigh of relief wondering if we would ever get there*, how do I prep for a novel.

The truth is I don’t.

The truth is, that’s kinda a lie.

I’ve written plenty of novels, but still do not have my prep down to even a vagueish science. Heck, there was even that one NaNoWriMo where I didn’t do any prep at all. (Read more about that here).

(I need to sidetrack for a moment: it was the 1st of October, and I thought it would be really nice to go to a coffee shop and write outside, right? NO. Because there is just this ONE wasp who has made it his life’s mission to harass me. Does he harass the other guy sitting outside a few feet away with an open coffee cup?? No. Cause this wasp is a sociopath.)

I’ve done scene cards, half outlines (like literally only outlined half the novel because….I’m dumb???), full outlines, outline as I go, and nothing. I have no set system for creating characters. If they happen to get both a first and last name they’re lucky (one problem I’ve encountered with many first drafts is that some characters will have full names and others will only have a first name. Like???).

However, there are three things I always do:

  • Name the characters
  • Write down all the plot ideas/snippets that I have
  • Make a playlist (obviously of utmost importance) (actually, I do personally find it REALLY important for NaNoWriMo)

And viola! I do those three things and I’m ready to write my novel. Obviously, this is THE method to ensure a New York Times bestseller.

So what’s my point here of going on about my “non system” of novel prepping?

(Update: I have moved inside the coffeeshop away from the sociopathic wasp. But now I’m sitting at a counter and like….these barstools are a little short. Or else I’m short).

The point. What is the point? The point is a point that I’ve made many times before: it’s not about how you do it. It’s about getting it done.

If you’re prepping for NaNoWriMo (or just getting ready to write a new novel), and feeling like you’re being hit in all directions by an insane amount of novel prep methods, don’t worry.

Just pick which one sounds good to you. Pick the one that sounds like it will work for you. Or, pick none and just do your own thing. I’m all for doing your own thing. Nonconformity man.

I’ve been listening to a lot of writer interviews, and you know what they all have in common about their writing method? Nothing. Everyone writes differently, everyone preps differently.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There is an uncountable amount of writing advice out there, and a lot of it is great. BUT, in the end you just have to find out what works for you. Trial and error.

One thing that I’ve discovered is important for me when I start to prep a novel, is that I need to feel the world. The story’s world needs to be a tangible place, a headspace that I can easily enter and easily stay in. I need to repeatedly feel enmeshed in the world. If it’s a place my imagination can constantly return to, and wants to return to, then yes, I’m ready to start work on the novel. That is the most important thing for me.

(I have now moved from the coffeeshop to the library. I was only able to work an hour at the coffeeshop before it closed, so now I’m at the library. It also closes in an hour. Benefit, I may pick up a few books.)

And when it comes to “methods” of writing, I believe it’s important to remember that writing is an art, not a science. And though all arts can be studied (studied by science no less), can have theories and practices, can be analyzed, they remain art.

And in the end, art digs deeper than our human knowledge often goes. Art digs in deep to where science can’t explain. Stories tell the things we can’t quite explain. Stories tell the things we are afraid to tell or don’t know how to tell.

That should never be reduced to, “if you have this spreadsheet, you too can write an amazing book!”

To not sound too hippy dippy, or like some person who strolls around Oxford in a tweed jacket just to be cool, I think we can lose the magic in writing if we focus too much on the how.

Writing is an organic process and cannot be forced, which is why I believe you need to find the method that works for you.

I guess what I’m saying is that writing isn’t a DIY project. It’s not a three-step process, and sometimes I feel like people boil it down to that.

Again, not trying to sound pretentious like I sit around all day in coffee shops reading The Catcher in the Rye (which I have never read, in fact). I’m not a pretentious writer (for goodness sake, I found the words “palsy-walsy” in my high fantasy novel), but I do believe in protecting the integrity of art.

Writing isn’t a DIY project. It’s so much better than that.

And I have nothing against using the Snowflake Method or Save the Cat method or whatever. Scene cards are great (until you lose them, like I did). Heck, I think all you writers out there using Scrivener probably have the jump on me because I’m over here still using Microsoft Word which I’ve been doing for 14 years now.

Tools are useful. Methods are useful. Science is useful.

Just don’t ever squeeze the magic out of writing.


Well this really went some places. Maybe it’s because I personally wrote this is in three different settings, all in the same day. This ended in a more serious tone than intended, but with starting prep for NaNoWriMo, these things are on my mind so *shrugs*

Don’t squeeze the magic out of writing.

I’m really saying this from personal experience. Because for me, there have been so many times that I tried doing characters questioneers, tried filling out sheets for worldbuilding, plot building, etc.  And all the forms and methods and spreadsheets and questions just squeezed the creative energy right out of me every. single. time.

But that’s just how I work.

I guess you could say I’m an organic learner and an organic creator. I don’t like long lists on instructions, I don’t like webinars, lectures, or anything of the sort.

I just like sitting down and doing it, and then I’ll learn from there.

And sometimes I make a mistake and think, you know what, I better look this up on Google.

Because you can learn everything on Google.


Ok, second epilogue. I just want to leave on a happier note that I AM SO EXCITED IT’S OCTOBER. And I’m absolutely PUMPED for NaNoWriMo. I got a story set in fall with moodiness and goblins and monsters and small towns and fay people and like….a bulldog. There’s a bulldog.

Which is becoming a common theme in my stories. The main character always has a dog.

Is this because I want a dog?

Anywho, who’s doing NaNoWriMo? Do you have a dog??

9 responses to “Writing is Not a DIY Project”

  1. I don’t prep either beyond knowing the characters and basic plot. NaNoWriMo should be interesting this year.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When you said bulldog, the first bulldog that came into my head was Winston from Longest Day 🤣🤣

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Your nano project sounds so cool! A LOT of my prep for stories tends to be in my head and then I forget to write it down, it’s a bad writing habit of mine, lol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh forgetting to write stuff down is the worse….but I do feel like in the beginning of story ideas it can be really hard because (at least for me) it’s so vague there’s really not that much to write down XD

      Liked by 1 person

  4. (Ughhhh sociopathic wasps are the WORST. XD)

    I love your simplified prep system! That sounds kind of like what I do, as well…although the playlist is optional, generally, because I’ll just listen to whatever I feel like while I write.

    Trial and error really is the only way to figure out one’s writing style…thanks for the reminder. :) AND the reminder not to squeeze the magic out! So important.

    I don’t know if I’m doing NaNo yet…I like to live dangerously. XD

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This was probably the most inspiring NaNoWriMo advice I’ve ever read. XD
    Thanks for sharing, and letting me know it’s okay to write even if I don’t have a super amazing outline. <3

    Liked by 1 person

    1. oh my gosh that’s so good to hear XD but YES! You’re outline doesn’t have to be amazing (or there at all)

      Liked by 1 person

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