It's November, which means a lot of folks are embarking on that annual journey called NaNoWriMo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month! We at The Once and Future Podcast celebrate writing all year long--after all, we ARE authors--but we are spending October and November with a special focus on writing to show our support for those maybe trying their hand at it for the first time, or maybe those trying to get back into things after taking a break.
Our guest author today, Alexandra Monir, has written young adult novels that have captured the imaginations of readers both teen and adult-aged. Her new upcoming book, The Final Six, marks the beginning of an epic new series set in deep space, and has already been optioned for a movie by Sony Pictures! Here, she talks about how the story ideas that intimidate us are often the best ideas yet!
As writers, we all know the thrill of the lightbulb flickering on with a Shiny New Idea—just as we also know the gripping fear that follows when an idea seems too big, too outside our comfort zone, too something, to write. It’s so easy to let that fear paralyze you into procrastination, or to switch your focus to a project that seems “safe.” But if there’s anything I’ve learned in my years as a published author, it’s that the ideas that intimidate us are often the best ones.
When I came up with the concept for my upcoming sci-fi novel, The Final Six, I was exhilarated—having an idea like that pop into my head was like being given the ultimate gift. But then I had to contend with a nagging voice in my head asking, “Who am I to write a sci-fi epic?” Yes, I’d been a mega-fan of space and science fiction all my life, but did that mean I could write in this genre? The only way to find out was to throw off the shackles of self-doubt and give it my all. Along the way, I found a few tools especially helpful in transforming a dream into an actual, publishable book.
1. Research, Research & More Research
When writing beyond your comfort zone, the best thing you can do is know your subject, genre, and setting inside out. Becoming an expert on what you’re writing gives you infinitely more plot possibilities, helps the words flow faster, and brings your scenes to life. For Final Six, I read and watched as many books and movies about space as I could get my hands on, I met with NASA scientists, and even attended a weekend of space camp. The more you know, the more you can do with your story—and the more confidence you’ll have in the face of the blank page.
2. The Scene-By-Scene Outline
With my previous novels, I was what you’d call a “pantser”—writing by the seat of my pants rather than adhering to an outline. But when my proposal for The Final Six sold to both a publisher and a movie studio, I suddenly had a lot riding on this project—and some big players waiting to see if my manuscript delivered on the proposal’s potential. My producer on the movie adaptation, Josh Bratman, suggested that I sketch out every scene in the book before I start writing. It seemed daunting at first—normally I let inspiration and immersion in the story guide the directions the book takes, rather than planning upfront—but it ended up being a lifesaver. Fleshing out the plot ahead of time gave me the freedom to just write when it came time for drafting, instead of having those moments of freezing in front of my computer, wondering what should happen next. Especially when my deadline started looming closer, my outline became like a compass to guide me. I’ll be following this outlining method with all my books from here on out.
3. The Right Critiques
Once you have a finished draft, it’s time to get some early reads and feedback from the right vetters. If you’re a first-time romance novelist, for example, you might join Romance Writers of America and find a critique partner who is well-steeped in the genre. In my case, I reached out to a NASA scientist and a climate scientist, both of who were kind enough to read the manuscript and let me know what I got right and which areas I could improve. This type of feedback is always invaluable, but even more so when you’re trying something new in your writing.
With these three tools—Research, Outlining, & Critiques—even the most ambitious projects become attainable. And the more completed stories you have under your belt, the less intimidated you’ll be when a Big, Bold Idea pops into your head. You just might find yourself racing to the computer instead!
Alexandra Monir is an Iranian-American young adult novelist and recording artist. She often integrates music into her work by writing and recording original songs that are released in tandem with her books. She lives in Los Angeles and frequently speaks at schools, book festivals and fan conventions across the country. Visit her website: www.alexandramonir.com Follow her on Twitter: @TimelessAlex, Facebook: @AlexandraMonirAuthor, and Instagram: @alexandramonir