More questions. More help. Introducing Mastering Table Topics Second Edition.

Is there a right way to write a novel?

During Fun A Day Reseda 2019, I’ll take breaks from writing my new novel, Snow in Los Angeles, to share with you themes and other insights from writing this book.

A question that often comes up among new writers on Twitter is, “Is there a right way to write a novel? Is it better to be a planner (who develops the structure and characters before writing) or a pantser (just start writing and develop the story as you go along)? How much backstory should you give a character? Is it better to start at the beginning or create the ending and work backwards?” They want to know if there is a methodology for writing a novel.

Methodology is important in my job as a technical writer because we have to work with a variety of teams to ensure accurate documentation. In fact, I maintain a help system with 175 topics just to describe how to tag and generate documentation with DITA. When it comes to my fiction writing, my process is more nebulous. Here’s why.

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My mom’s world

During Fun A Day Reseda 2019, I’ll take breaks from writing my new novel, Snow in Los Angeles, to share with you themes and other insights from writing this book.

My mom would have turned 90 on Thursday. She was a teenager during World War II. She told me stories about what it was like to grow up in the Fairfax District during that time.

Those stories inspired me to write Snow in Los Angeles. As I write, I need to reconnect with her world and figure out how to share it with a 21st century audience. Here are some things that stood out to me.

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Using the past to understand the present

Fun A Day Reseda 2019 has begun! My project is a new novel, Snow in Los Angeles. During January, I’ll take breaks from writing to share with you themes and other insights from writing the book.

It seems like a strange choice to write a novel set in the winter of 1948-1949 when there are more important things happening in the world right now. But I set Snow in Los Angeles in the past specifically to understand these issues. America after World War II may seem alien to us in the 21st century, but many of the problems we struggle with today are rooted in this world. The beliefs people had then persist today. And when people say “Make America Great Again,” this might be the era that they want to go back to.

So what was America like 70 years ago, and what can we learn from it? Here’s what I’ve discovered so far as I begin writing Snow in Los Angeles.

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1979 and 2019

Me at ages 17 and 57.As I look ahead to 2019, I also have to look back 40 years to 1979. That year started magically. My mom turned 50, I went to my prom, I was showered with awards by my high school, graduated as a valedictorian, and looked forward to going to UCLA. Then things took a horrible turn. I was robbed at gunpoint at Carl’s Jr., my mom had a stroke, and I faced an uncertain future.

Uncertainty is what I feel as we begin 2019. With the economy staggering, our already unhinged president sinking to Shakespearean levels of madness, Brexit, populist totalitarianism, and impending environmental disaster, the start of 2019 could be more tragic than magic. Would that mean 2019 could turn out, um, great?

A lesson I learned since 1979 is that we can’t control what happens to us. We can work with the hand that circumstances has dealt us, set goals for what we want to accomplish, and work to make the most of life and the world around us. Here’s how I seek to create my own magic in 2019.

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Technology that changed my life

My first computer, a Commodore 64This month marks two pieces of technology that changed my life: the word processor and my first computer. Read more »