The Agile Novel

I started for two reasons. 1) Finally share the stories I can’t shake, stories I think deserve to see the light of day whether or not they are loved or hated. 2) Force myself to do the thing that scares me the most and put myself out there. I’ve decided to write novels the way I build software, the agile way. That’s agile with a small ‘a’. This is either because I have a lack of imagination, or because it’s the awesomest idea there ever was. Ever. This is the process I am using and will use to write at Robot Is Smiling:

Start with the Soul
It’s essential for me to find the soul of the story. I like to call it the ‘hook.’ Whatever it is, it’s the thing that creates emotional resonance for the reader (and me). I start by writing sketches or short stories about the world I’m creating, and the people who inhabit it. I may use this stuff later, but I often put it in my pile of stuff I don’t use but refer to later on to ensure I remain true to the hook.

Love the Plot
I map out the plot. I like to write 3 or 4 long paragraphs of run on sentences and character sketches that outline who does what and how that made them feel. I need to understand how it’s all going to fit together in the end. This is the one piece that I can’t break so it has to be a lasting plot. I have to love it so much that it’s always in the back of my mind when I write. I can’t change it once I push publish the first time. To change it means the story won’t be cohesive by the time I get to the end. The plot has to stick.

Establish a Voice
I’ve written 25,000 words so far in Sol. That’s more than enough to establish the tone I want for the novel, fall in love with characters, and get the emotional cadence right. I iterated (read: threw a bunch of terrible writing away) on the first chapters of Home: Sol until the trajectory of the story felt right. If it doesn’t feel right, I won’t want to write it, and I need to make sure I can’t let it go. This is a long haul and will, most likely, last months and months for Home: Sol. I Am Jim is probably novella length, but that’s still around 40,000 words.

Get on a Schedule
Now that I know where the story is going, what voice I want to use, and there is an emotional core that means the world to me, I put myself on a schedule. Originally, I was going to publish once a week, but that’s too frequent to keep ahead of the curve, given the amount of writing I can do. So, I’m keeping to a two-week sprints, and the sprints look like this:

Week 1
This takes a team. My wife is my editor and partner in this whole thing (in life as well. Hi, Babe). We share a Google Doc for the master story, and she reads it throughout the week, giving me notes about punctuation, discrepancies in the story, missing details, etc. Editing starts the first weekend of the sprint, which allows me to write on the train ride into work, if I don’t have work to do. I’ll also start writing the next chapter farther on in the story at night. I’m on chapter 13 of Home: Sol right now.

Week 2
I give the rewrite to my wife and she gives me more notes and thoughts. This goes back and forth all week until Wednesday night when I take the text out of the Google Doc and put it in the blog editor. I’ll spend a while reading, editing, and rereading until I feel good. Then I’ll schedule it and forget it. I then push hard to finish the chapter I started earlier in the sprint. It’s important that I’m always ahead. It’s really hard to write a new chapter and edit a previous one in only one week.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

This takes dedication, and I would be lying if I didn’t say that I am scared I won’t be able to do it. But people are starting to read my work, so I feel compelled to tell the story even more than before. I’m excited to write and put it out there, and I work hard to make it the highest quality. It’s nontraditional, sure, but the most important thing to me is that my stories are read.

That’s how I write the agile novel, and that’s what I’m doing everyday to build great stories for you.