How to Write a Novel in Pieces


I feel like a lost a friend, but the friend just cut her hair and stopped communicating with people. She still has a complex inner-life, I assume, but she’s been really out of it lately and though I feel bad for her and I sort of want to see her, she’s just too much work. And then I’d have to apologize. And she has all these problems I forget the nature of and this new boyfriend who I can’t figure out.

My novel has been on a stand-still for months now after a one-year passionate love affair. I’m back at school and ignoring it. Then again, I feel it’s living on without me, because every time I return to it it seems to have evolved.

I’m trying my best to figure out the formula for how to work at a novel when I don’t have time for a novel. How am I supposed to write a novel in pieces of twenty and thirty minutes? How am I supposed to write a novel that has fallen into disrepair?


(from Wikipedia)

First, I think I have to acknowledge that my novel is a living thing. It’s not being led by me anymore. I created it and it’s constantly living in the sinews of my body. It’s living in notes on the backs of store receipts and in endless disjointed notebook entries I try to convene under the header “Journal of a Novel.” It is living in this blog and it is living in it chapter documents I open up and write notes on, like I am God and my novel must listen.

I tried a strategy today I would like to name flashwriting, because it happens quickly and it resembles writing. It’s all about going into one moment in my book and writing about it, all the while forgetting there is a book that exists around this moment. It’s about creating a book out of images. If I created two thousand beautiful postcards, because I had two thousand periods of twenty or thirty minutes in which I wrote, then that’s almost a novel.


Another strategy I’ve been doing is larger, an all-encompassing strategy. Unfortunately, this method involves direction – a compass – and I only have this kind of confidence on certain days. It’s a clear-sighted method of editing, where I rearrange chapters, write out scene plans for scenes that were already written but suck, where I see things in ways that suddenly seem obvious.

This is the beauty of leaving my novel aside – it falls into pieces, yes, but sometimes those pieces scattered out in a new way show me something I didn’t know before. Before, I knew nothing, so anything is always an improvement.



Journals of a Novel

I might have already written a post with the same name! That’s an exciting thing that happens when you’ve written 100 POSTS! I took a picture of my computer screen yesterday when WordPress announced this milestone. No I didn’t take a screenshot, I don’t know how to do that. I used an actual digital camera to take a picture of my computer screen. Like when we used to pause the television to take pictures of Tommy from Power Rangers.

(image from

I called my blog A Novel Journal because I wanted to call it Journal of a Novel. That is what I call pages in my journal where I take notes about my novel. I took this idea from a book on writing called Write Away by Elizabeth George. She quite clearly took this concept from John Steinbeck, who actually has a book called Journal of a Novel.

(image from Wikipedia)

So every once in a while I open up one of my two notebooks (one stays at home, one travels with me if my bag is big enough) and I open to a blank page. At the top I write Journal of a Novel (like this is the first journal, but like I have many novels on the go). Then I write down the reason why I opened up the notebook in the first place. For e.g., “Medicine Wheel”. Then I close the notebook and not once ever again do I look at the pages called Journal of a Novel.

This is my next step. This is what I should be doing. I need to take my Journals and apply them to my Novel. I need to find the place where the idea of the Medicine Wheel can be applied and then I need to just apply it. I need to stop thinking of my novel like Point A to Point Z and remember that actually Points D to Z need to be rewritten so I should just get in there. I should stop rewriting Points A, B and C and congratulating myself and trying to show them to people. Points A to C are not a novel! They are like an awful short story with no ending!

I really like that I write these pages called Journal of a Novel. The notes actually give me a lot of clarity. When my ideas aren’t tied up together in prose, I am better able to see how they are connected. The ideas in my novel are closely woven themes, and it’s only by writing little notes and discoveries about these themes that I realize they live on without me. It’s these themes that are ruminating and building upon one another as I let my novel sit. I keep rediscovering these themes in other pieces of literature – in life even – and feeling like I’ve caught on to something real.

My Journals of a Novel let me realize my novel is good. It’s a complex story with important characters and human discoveries. It’s almost a piece of art. Though the prose isn’t yet the prose I want to be reading, there are moments where paragraphs and lines could stand their ground. My novel has a few characters who are fully-formed and others who are getting there. There are moments where I reread bits of my novel and I feel pride. I feel myself thinking, I wrote this?

My journals of a novel help me remember this. They help me realize I’m making something real. At least I can open up to a blank piece of paper in my notebook, write Journal of a Novel at the top, and feel like my thoughts are productive. They are a part of something bigger, something that though not yet done, will someday be great.