I’ve been talking to a lot of writer friends about #NakedNoveling, and one of the questions I get about it is, “So when do you actually write the novel?”

My promise with #NakedNoveling is that there is no word counting involved and that your novel springs forth readily because you are letting your inner flow become the compass.

But practically, you’ve gotta actually write the damn book at some point.

So how do you move from “journaling your book into existence” to actually writing your book?

Allow me to explain this concept, step by step, using an example from a project I’m working on right now, called Emma + Elsie.

Stage 1: The idea

Emma + Elsie started with a simple premise: “What if Emma Woodhouse and Elizabeth Bennet were best friends in modern times?” The premise came from a combination of a few ideas I connected:

  • I had just re-read both Pride and Prejudice and Emma
  • I was also reading some New Adult genre fiction, which got me to thinking about how much these two books fit the New Adult genre
  • I was watching The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved web series, which are both pretty damn incredible
  • In watching several versions of these two books in tandem, I noticed some patterns between Emma and Elizabeth—namely, that Emma was an extremely active character, while Elizabeth is quite passive. Both are bold in their own ways, and kind in their own ways… and I thought, “I wonder if they’d compliment each other?”
  • I noticed that these two character archetypes are very common in television, movies, and books, and they are often either best friends or frenemies. Here are a few you might know: Serena van der Woodsen and Blair Waldorf from Gossip Girl, Lemon Brieland and Zoe Hart from Hart of Dixie, Elena Gilbert and Caroline Forbes from The Vampire Diaries (yes, I realize I watch way too much CW). In all cases, there’s the one whom everyone loves, the everygirl, and the one who tries harder than her but never quite gets there, sparking jealousy and conflict between them.

I was so curious about this mixture of ideas, that the premise immediately hooked me, and I knew I wanted to explore it. However, I would have never reached the premise without journaling about all these ideas separately, and later connecting the dots between them. That’s what #NakedNoveling is all about—a scavenger hunt to find ideas that you want to explore more!

Stage 2: The Outline

In my case, I already had an outline for the series—I simply needed to put the two books together. Not as easy a task as you might think, though!

I realized early on that I didn’t want to simply tell the two stories in parallel, because what would be the point? Instead, I wanted to make the friendship the center of everything and give that its own story, while still selling the original plots.

Again, no easy task!

This one decision has spawned a number of additional questions that the books need to explore. For example:

  • Emma takes Harriet under her wing because of the loss of Miss Taylor. Why would she need to do that if she still has Elsie? (Answer: Elsie is preoccupied with her elder sister Jane coming home for the summer.)
  • Emma considers herself as having no equal. What happens when the Bingleys come to town? And more importantly, what happens when Emma and Caroline Bingley meet? (Answer: ??? But I’m excited to find out!)
  • Elsie is in a lower class than Emma, and her mother and younger sisters are OBNOXIOUS. Why does Emma accept them anyway, when her counterparts (the Bingleys and Darcy) turn up their noses? (Answer: Because Emma lost her own mother at a young age and her sister moved away. Family is family!)

These little questions have been tough to solve, but by pouring over the original texts I’ve been able to pull the outline together in a way that will be reminiscent of the original stories but will also throw a few curve balls into the mix.

All of these little decisions go into an outline, which is a structure you are going to follow as you write your book. Everyone’s method of outlining is personal, but all outlines generally encompass four categories: the plot, the characters, the setting, and the themes. With #NakedNoveling, you start out finding pieces of these four categories through exploration, then you start structuring and connecting those pieces to form the outline.

Notice how each of these decisions lead to another question or three? That’s how the outline is built—by collecting pieces and scraps for the four categories, by using each piece to find more pieces, by organizing it all into one comprehensive document. While it sounds intimidating, it’s really easy to do using #NakedNoveling techniques.

Stage 3: The Beats

You’ve probably heard of telling, not showing, right? Well, writing out beats gives you the permission to do the exact opposite, which is often a relief to new writers!

Often in an outline, you write out what happens in each chapter, who the main characters are, what the message of that scene is, what the surroundings look like. The beats are a longer version of that where you write down all your notes and basically tell yourself what’s going to happen in the scene. This is surprisingly easy to journal out—you’re really just taking notes on what you’re going to write someday!

Here are my raw beats from the first chapter of Emma + Elsie:

From Elsie’s perspective.

It’s Friday. Emma is going crazy with her to-do list of last minute items that will make her bff Miss Taylor’s wedding to die for.

Elsie is over at her house, looking through a scrapbook of their high school years, which Emma has just completed in the last week. It goes all the way up until graduation and includes every little thing that Emma has achieved over the entirety of her four years. There’s a section where Emma refers to herself “smart AND beautiful” which Elsie can hardly keep from laughing at.

She finally gets Emma to put down the to-do list with the promise of gossip.

The Gossip: Remember the hot older guy that they looked up when they were putting together the seating chart? Charles Bingley, totally rich, totally perfect for Emma—if she were looking for a boyfriend, which she isn’t. He’s bringing a friend who is totally hotter, totally older, totally richer.

And no, they’re not gay!

She reminds Emma that she invited her over for a reason—she wanted to show her “the wall.” The wall is a full-display board with images of their high school times scattered about. There are neon pens so people can add fun comments to the pictures.

She sees pictures of everyone from their school—She comments that all the images on the wall include Emma. Show that Emma’s slightly vain and self-interested here.

Then, Emma realizes that if the Bingleys are bringing friends, they have to add more seating at the wedding. They need to rearrange the tables! She calls to her daddy and says she needs to get Jace Knightley on the phone to handle his best man duties.

Explain why they’re friends in this opening: Emma’s sister moved out early, having gotten married very young. Elsie and Emma were in the same grade, and their friendship developed as a result of proximity. It was solidified when they were forced to play tennis in pairs—and turned out to be pretty good together. Emma hated the sport and eventually quit, while Elsie went on to play singles. When her older sister Jane left, and when Miss Taylor started dating Mr. Weston, they started spending a lot more time together.

*****
Basic stuff, right? The beats are nothing to be afraid of. You’re just elaborating and journaling through each chapter on its own.

Stage 4: The Sketches

Once I have the beats, I let myself deviate wildly from them and just go wherever the story takes me. Yes, this is the writing part—but it’s the my-writing-doesn’t-have-to-be-good part.

I took a few lines from the beats:

From Elsie’s perspective.

It’s Friday. Emma is going crazy with her to-do list of last minute items that will make her bff Miss Taylor’s wedding to die for.

She (Elsie) finally gets Emma to put down the to-do list with the promise of gossip.

And turned them into a little sketch of the opening of the scene:

“Emma.”

“Emma.”

“Emma!”
She spun around. “What?”
“Set it down.”
“What?”
“The pen, the book, the whole shebang. Step away from the to-do list before your head explodes.”
“I am the maid of honor,” Emma said, clearly in distress. “I will not rest until my list is complete and I’ve ensured that Annabeth’s wedding is absolutely, 100% perfect.”
“But Emma,” she said, a light grin dancing on her lips. She plopped down onto her best friend’s 4-post princess bed, sprawling out across the crisp, fresh, and pristinely lightweight comforter. She was bursting to tell her what she had just learned, but Emma was wrapped up in her own world, as usual.
“No buts,” Emma said. [She’s rushing around]
“You’re going to want to hear this,” Elsie said in a singsong voice. She sat up, slightly annoyed that Emma was still staring at that blasted list.

*****
Notice that I left spaces around Emma’s name and put little notes to myself in brackets ([She’s rushing around]). I call it a sketch because it is one! Imagine drawing a picture of someone in pencil—you never draw extended lines, you don’t worry about getting the nose just perfect. It’s a practice run so you make the big decisions instead of the detailed ones.

Keep doing little sketches like this until you run out of beats. As you’re doing the sketches, add any additional stuff you think of to the beats. Do this every day, and pretty soon you’ll have an entire scene sketched out.

Stage 5: The Draft

Next, I go back and fill the blank sections in. Here’s what it looks like:

“Emma.”

Her best friend paced back and forth in front of her dresser, mumbling to herself. “Flowers, shoes, necklace…”

“Emma,” Elsie repeated.

“Gift!” Emma exclaimed, marking something on the small notepad she was holding. She set the pad on her dresser, scribbling furiously.

Elsie heaved a huge, exasperated sigh. “Emma!”

Emma spun around. “Elsie! You’re here.” She tilted her head, letting her blonde, bouncy curls fall to one side. “When did you get here?”

“Set it down.”

“What?”

“The pen, the book, the whole shebang. Step away from the to-do list before your head explodes.”

“I am the maid of honor,” Emma said. “I will not rest until my list is complete and I’ve ensured that Annabeth’s wedding is absolutely, 100% perfect.”

“But Emma,” she said, a light grin dancing on her lips. She plopped down onto her best friend’s 4-post princess bed, sprawling out across the crisp, fresh, and pristinely lightweight comforter. She was bursting to tell her what she had just learned, but Emma was wrapped up in her own world, as usual.

“No buts,” Emma said, digging through her purse. She pulled out tubes of lipstick, notepads with scratchings all over them, dozens of tiny barrettes, hair clips, and bobby pins, before finding what she was looking for—her keys.

Elsie knew what that meant—Emma had once again invited her over before having to run out the door. “Let me guess—you’re leaving.”

Emma gave her a pouty face. “I’m really sorry… It’s an emergency, I swear. A real one this time! Talk later?”

“You’re going to want to hear this before you go,” Elsie said in a singsong voice. She sat up, slightly annoyed by Emma’s dismissal. “Where are you going anyway?”

*****

This draft obviously has a long way to go, and I will be doing many more revisions on it. But that’s the basic process to getting from journaling to writing!

In my opinion, it’s incredibly painless compared to staring at a computer and typing like crazy, hoping your story goes the direction you want it to.

#NakedNoveling in Practice

So, THAT is how you get from journaling little snippets and notes of your book to actually writing the book. It is extremely easy and fun once you get the ideas flowing. You are essentially just a documentarian, seeing what comes together from all the dots you are connecting.

If you are adventurous, you can use all of these stages to share your work publicly, so people can see the book coming together in real-time. It takes some vulnerability to do this, but it is a great marketing tool to get eyes on your work without posting your book online. That’s why #NakedNoveling is also a hashtag—so you can tag your snippets as you work out loud, sharing your progress every day and staying accountable to the small audience you’re building!

If you have any questions about this process, feel free to leave them in the comments. And if you are interested in learning more about #NakedNoveling, you can sign up for the free tips list and be notified when the lessons are ready!

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