How to Write The Great American Novel?

So I’ve owned Scrivener for ages but I’m really like, you know, still basically new to this writing thing and, seriously, before I actually write something I really think I need all the help I can get if you know what I mean.

The other day a friend from Mountain View showed me this new guide:

Which led to this older one on a related subject:

Can following these pointers (using Scrivener of course) turn me into a global phenomenon?

And do I really have to stay out of Brooklyn and Starbucks and stop wasting time on the internet, even serious places like this forum?

The problem I have with these sort of articles is the same problem I have with some of my own early efforts at writing: It’s not so much about writing as a transcription of bad stand up. You know, where the writer has sat down and brainstormed every possible idea on a single theme and then decided which order to write them in, and then written them. So you end up with dialogue that reads like two amateur comedians on an open mike night saying every single joke they can think of on the subject of, say, airline food.

Best advice? Writers write. It doesn’t matter where. You will eventually find where is most productive for you. The other thing writers do is edit. By all means go through the brainstorm process to produce a list of 11 funny things to say about airline food. Just don’t include them all. Pick the funniest / best and just use that one.

Yep. I summarise PF’s 3-steps to great writing as follows:

  1. Write.
  2. Edit.
  3. Repeat as needed.

Certainly dropping out of school could help, or at least save money. Over the past few years, the second largest block of rejections in my slush pile came from recent MFA graduates. Who knew you could workshop the uniform application of nonconformity?

They still have a way to go before catching up with the decade’s category leaders, who believe the Great American Novel is basically a country-and-western song, only with more words and brand-name product placement.

To the PF 3-Step, I’d add:
4. Finish.

Then maybe this should be the PF 5-step:

  1. Think.
  2. Write.
  3. Edit.
  4. Repeat as needed.
  5. Finish.

I’m firmly on step 1. But someday, someday …

Drop step one. Not really, but just get to step two. If Mr Coffee were to see this he would bring up “ass-chair” as the only real method. Put the ass in the chair and write. The thinking seems to work better for me when I am staring at the screen wondering “where could this go?”

That said, I only do this for fun. I really don’t know much of anything except that following the Mr Coffee-method I actually have something to edit and throw away. Emphasis on the last phrase.

Jaysen is spot-on (yes, you read it here first!), drop step 1. Not necessarily saying, “don’t think” (although not thinking can improve writing no-end, see Natalie Goldberg’s 5 rules for writing practice for details) but that it can be incorporated into the writing and editing stages.

No matter how much thinking I did for my doctoral thesis (and, surprisingly, there was a lot!), it was only the writing, editing and repeating that got me to step 4 (finishing).

If you want to write, you must write. Thinking might (but only possibly) improve the words on the page, but only writing gets them there.

Now I’m waiting for Pigfender’s new book: The PF 3-step (+1) guide to successful writing.

The whole “drop step one” thing kept me up last night (which is why I so vehemently discourage thinking). The thinking needs to be part of editing. It should show up in questions like:
• Is this the right word?
• Would really say it this way?
• Does this scene fit the flow (my word for plot) of the story I am telling?

I guess I see writing as the natural extension of an over active imagination. The intellect is the control valve for that imagination. Let the imagination act in the raw writing, and let the intellect refine it in the editing.

For the record, nearly all of this is stolen from the much wiser minds that have been educating me on these forums. Keep asking questions and you will get advice that comes from experience. At least the posts that aren’t mine. Or vic-k’s*. Or wock’s*. Or … you get the point.

*[size=60]Just playin’ guys. Although we three really have undermined any credibility we could have possibly had in our funnin’ around. :slight_smile:[/size]

Are you sure your clearly better half is sane?

Those two statements really call into question you ability to tell good from “let’s usher in the end of the world”. With so many rational men available, there must be something wrong with her to cause her to pick you.


I like how I’ve managed to gain credit for a three-step plan (with five steps) that has been completely devised in the posts following my own. It’s particularly impressive since (gasp) I’m not sure I agree with it!

If I was to come up with a three point plan it would be:

  1. Decide to write something
  2. Produce it
  3. Disseminate it

The first step would be very short: Deciding in your own mind what you want to write. Eg, I’m writing a science fiction novel, in the 2nd person future tense about a telepathic immortal alien who visits Earth to try make it as a painter and decorator.

The second step is the long one, and it involves actually producing the above novel. I see the writing, thinking and editing to be concurrent tasks not consecutive steps on a linear process. I’m not an advocate of the NaNoWriMo approach for regular writing; edit your ideas and edit your writing as you go. Also think about your writing and write your ideas. Do all of them.

The third step is similar to Hugh’s addition: stop at some point and publish it to whichever audience is most appropriate.

I’m pretty sure Nom is just politely mocking me.

Well I’m not complaining. :smiley:
Anyway, I’m not sure I understand your point as you seemed to use the phrase “let’s usher in the end of the world” as if it were a bad thing… :wink:

As long as we get a share of the commissions, I won’t tell.

I’m not like that, I’d rather share a couple of beers in public and speak in such a way that observers couldn’t quite tell if I was genuinely insulting you or if we were just old friends having a laugh. Nothing polite about that; it’s the Australian way of showing we care.

By the way, with the impending success of your new ghost-written writing book, it’s your shout. I’ll have a Mountain Goat Hightail Ale…

On a serious note, I actually do think that writing is the most important part, and that an awful lot of thinking can be done through one’s writing. I used to hear some of my qualitative research colleagues talk about working out their ideas through writing, and never understood. I use to think one should think first, know what you are going to write, then write it (except when it came to my own fiction pieces, but I digress). In writing my thesis, I realised what they meant. The more I wrote, the more I understood my own topic and knew what else I had to write in order to make sense of it. Sometimes it took a lot of writing about what I was reading to work that out. Which is really the one critically important step that we did not mention above:reading. But that would ruin the catchy title.
Maybe it could be marketed as The PF 3-step (+1) guide (with 2 secret bonus steps!!) to successful writing.

Presumably it can be both!

That has a real ring to it! And plenty of PF authenticity too, per Jaysen’s Law lifted from another thread: “It isn’t what you meant, it’s how folks choose to twist what you say that matters.”

Only two problems for me: 1) Actual writing is required, not just thinking about writing, and 2) The steps can lead to unsuccessful writing too.

So, applying step 2 (or is it 3?) the title needs revision. Perhaps to this:

The PF 3-step (+1) guide (with 2 secret bonus steps!!) to successful (and unsuccessful) writing.

Just the thing for people like me. When will it be disseminated?

You understand the Aussie way! :smiley:

Yeah, I suspect that’s why so few people are writers. On the plus side, reading about successful writers one learns many of them were unsuccessful writers first — sometimes spectacularly so. Hence the need for editing and repeating (and finishing)…

  1. Yes. Sorry. Only people who produce actual words count as writers. Any idiot can stare at a blank page.

  2. Unsuccessful writing is a necessary precursor to successful writing. Anyone who claims differently is either (a) not a writer, see 1), or (b) thinks he has managed to destroy all his first drafts and early efforts.


I’ve worked out a formula for success. If you know which of the following elements you are missing you can use these to work out what you need to compensate.

(1) Talent + Experience + Effort + Luck = Success
(2) Idea + Execution + Market = Success
(3) Talent + Experience + Effort + Luck = Idea + Execution + Market
(4) Luck = Idea + Execution + Market – (Talent + Experience + Effort)

Hmm… Idea + Execution + Market – (Talent + Experience + Effort)
That’s a familiar one…
Idea + Execution + Market – (Talent + Experience + Effort) = Harry Potter books
Harry Potter books = Luck

(PS, I have never read any of the Harry Potter books, so please make your own mind up on that one)

Does this strategy apply to dating as well?

oh absolutely

No. That one is much simpler.
Success = Luck * Luck * Luck * Luck

Notice I said simpler not easier.