Learning journey – how to write a novel

My learning journey – a new adventure, how to write a novel – continues. I write regularly but, as I explained in a previous post, which you can read if you click here, writing fiction doesn’t yet  feature among my skills. I hope that will soon change.

Learning Journey

The idea that I could deliberately take the time and learn how to write a novel took root the instant I saw a book in the SubiStrand library downstairs where I live. My new learning journey started.

Where I began

Writing Fiction for Dummies probably isn’t the most sophisticated place to begin a learning journey. But to me the title rang like magic. After all, I learned to blog from following the instructions in Blogging for Dummies and WordPress for Dummies. Basic instructions for basic needs, I always say!

start of my learning journey 'Writing Fiction for Dummies'

I began my tertiary education in the 1960s when  external tuition was rare. A woman in my late 20s, I often crept into the children’s section of the local library. I’d look for simple books  as background for topics I knew nothing about.

I wrote fondly about how I became a mature-age university  student thanks to a public library. Click here to read more.

Like those kid’s books, Writing Fiction for Dummies would help me learn what I need to know, a good place to start a new project.

Early in the book, the authors pose the question,

Are you a planner or a pantser? *

They quickly add that successful novelists fall into both categories.

I plan a lot, for many different purposes, often on paper, sometimes on my laptop. But I’ve  written two (unpublished) novels as a pantser,  partly because I didn’t know then that one could plan a novel.

I thought novelists simply had an idea and wrote a story, then edited it. No wonder my novels fell, mmm, a bit flat! I don’t think I (yet) have the skills to plan a novel.

One of the authors of Writing Fiction for Dummies, Randy Ingermanson, says there’s a middle paradigm between planning a novel and being a pantser. He calls this paradigm which he developed further the Snowflake Method.

Learning journey and a new paradigm

A scientist before he became a successful novelist, Ingermanson bases his method of writing a novel on the idea of a mathematical object known as a snowflake fractal. Fractals also occur in nature and in art.

Ingermanson says,

A fractal is an object that you {can} keep drawing and redrawing in ever finer detail, but it’s never actually finished.

He applies this concept to a way of writing a novel. The method consists of a continuous cycle of planning a little, writing a little and editing a little until the novel is completed to your satisfaction.

This creative paradigm struck a chord with me, so the next book I read on my learning journey was Randy Ingermanson’s How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method.

At first I felt let down because the book seemed too basic, even childlike in its presentation. But I persevered until I became clearer about the paradigm itself and the next steps I would need to take if I were to use this method in my search a successful way to write a novel.

The method appeals to me because it means that a novel  grows organically. At the end of each cycle, what had been accomplished would be ‘perfect’ although never completed. There would be room for adjustments at each stage, rather than finding plot holes at the end, or the need for major recasting and rewriting.

As an experiment, I plan to continue my learning journey with this paradigm rather than planning or pantsing. I’ll report back here when I work out more about what I’m doing

*A pantser is someone who flies by the seat of their pants. In other words, they just start somewhere and trust they can do whatever they want to do by instinct.

This is far from the end of my learning curve. I feel as if I’ve just started on something new and wonderful.

14 replies on “Learning journey – how to write a novel”

  1. Wonderful! I’m so glad you are on this journey. I too have a few unfinished novels that turned into disasters because I didn’t plot. I’ve heard of the Snowflake method before but haven’t read the book. I might check it out.

    1. Thanks, Sandra. I’m sure there are as many ways to write a novel as there are fiction-writers, and everyone needs to find their own method. I’m not yet sure the Snowflake method is right for me, but it seemed like something I could try without too much effort. I need to do lots more thinking and research, but worth a try.

    1. It certainly is a big challenge, Elizabeth. But I think it is worth a try. I’m prepared to put in the work (I think?) and learn the new stuff I need, even if it takes a while.


    1. Thanks, Sue. Not sure how far I’ll go, but it’s worth playing with and being honest about whether I can really write a novel, and if that’s what I want to do.

        1. I’ve already got two very bad first drafts of around 70 000 words each, Sue. Nothing to say I’m not going to get stuck again a few pages in! I can only have a go at it.

  2. I love the idea of the snowflake method!
    I think I’ve stumbled into it.
    Once again you amaze and inspire me to keep going.
    Thank you for your openness and sharing your journey, Maureen.

    1. Yes, Susan, I think the Snowflake method has distinct possibilities, but I also wonder if it might not be a bit simplistic. It probably needs a lot more reading and thinking on my part before I’ll be happy to commit myself. I’m having fun playing with the ideas in between all the other things I’m doing at the moment.

  3. Ok, now you’ve got my interest. I have 2 books on the brew, and I guess what I really need to do is plan properly. This comment is partially me testing the comments section (while logged out) to see if anyone can post and if it gets “held in moderation.” But it’s also a comment from a wannabe novel writer. I found a very good writing tutor on Udemy.com – I think he writes for the Guardian. Udemy is like an online University and I always recommended my students (I taught screenwriting and web development at Curtin Uni up until 2012) do online courses udemy.com/topic/writing/ – there’s a Black friday sale on now where courses are about A$15 across the board. A good, interactive alternative to how-to books – although I love those as well.

    1. Hi, Edwin. I think your test worked. Negatively! Your comment and twenty-odd others got caught up in the spam folder until now. I can’t think why I didn’t check it, especially because I’ve had emails from friends telling me they couldn’t post.

      Thanks for the tip about Udemy.com. I’ll check it out. I’m an enthusiastic (although often secretive) reader of how-to books. Amazing some of the things I’ve taught myself through using them.

  4. Curiously, I recently made a small leap into Indie publishing (Independent, or “self”-publishing), a compilation of blog posts over the last decade. Writing its book description, I penned the line “It is equal parts journal and journey.”
    Old-fashioned journaling and blog-writing is still writing, and I was pleased to note that I had, in fact, created an entire book’s-worth of compositions. (I limited myself to 100 entries, resulting in a book of 230-odd pages)
    My first “panster” journey actually began as a lark, to write a blog “serial”. I didn’t even take it seriously until I found I had 30 “chapters”, and had actually started the “second book”!
    I don’t expect Pulitzer or Newberry to call me soon, but I am proud of my little literary children. The move to publishing was a second journey we’ll share perhaps another time.
    I myself have become enamored with my own story and characters, and crafted the second book as a blog serial, but with intent to publish.
    I’ve begun the third book in the series (up to chapter 4), and I am having the time of my life being a “writer”. Fortunately, it’s a hobby, and I needn’t be concerned with promotion, marketing, sales or book-signings, so I have it pretty easy. Perhaps by the time I retire, I’ll take the time to sit in the library and offer to sign a book if anyone is interested!

    Best regards,

    Scott R. “Pazlo” O’Connor


    Seek peace,


    1. Hi. Paz. What a lovely story. What an interesting way to write books. I think it’s a really good idea, to put blog posts into a more permanent form. I wrote a couple of ‘proper’ books a few years ago, and one in particular did pretty well, being a finalist for a prize in a national journalism but nowadays I stick to my blog. Being eighty has its rewards. I’ll check out your book on Amazon this evening!

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