A few weeks ago, I got an e-mail that grabbed my attention.
The e-mail was from Geoff Dresser, a Canadian writer who started writing just two years ago. He did an online search for “how to write a novel” and came to the wildly popular Snowflake Method article here on my website.
Geoff read the article, bought my book on the Snowflake Method, and worked through the steps. Pretty quickly, he wrote the first draft of his novel, did some revisions, and submitted it to the annual writing contest sponsored by The Word Guild, the premier writing organization for Canadian writers who are Christian.
And his book was shortlisted for “Best New Canadian Manuscript,” which is the category for unpublished works, both fiction and non-fiction.
I thought that was pretty cool, so I asked Geoff if we could do an interview on this blog. Geoff agreed, and so here we are:
Randy: Let’s talk about your writing process. When you emailed me recently, you said that you Googled the phrase “how to write a novel” and came to my website and wound up buying my book How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method. Then what happened? What was your actual process for writing your book?
Geoff: As a musician and songwriter, I understood the importance of form and structure in art. So when I came across the snowflake method, I knew this would give my book a firm foundation. I already had the basic story and main characters sketched out, but I went to work on the 10 steps in the snowflake method. Each step helped to strengthen the story and refine my focus. I created spreadsheets for my character bible and scene plans. Then I started writing. As a full time pastor, husband and father of three active teenage boys, I wasn’t able to block off large amounts of time to write, so I’d be lucky to get a an hour or two, here and there, three or four times a week. Here’s where my scene list was so important. I always knew the next scene that I’d be writing so I’d be thinking about it through the day, as I was driving or doing the dishes. So when I got around to actually writing, the words would start flowing very quickly. I would easily produce 1000 words in a one or two hours. My most productive times were in the evening after I dropped one of my boys off at a volleyball practice. I’d head to my favorite coffee shop, put on my headphones and crank out the next scene. Writing that first draft was exhilarating.
Randy: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your novel, and were you surprised at how long it took (or how fast it went)?
Geoff: I began the first draft during the summer of 2016, mostly writing in the early morning. It was slow going. During the fall as my work schedule got busier I just couldn’t sustain the early mornings so the first draft stalled and I wrote very little until January of 2017 when I hit my stride. I found a rhythm that worked for me, writing mostly in the evenings. By May 2018 I finished the 80,000 word manuscript. I was surprised at how quickly it went once I found my rhythm. I was also surprised about how much fun it was to write that first “no-looking-back” draft.
[Note by Randy: As I was posting this to my blog, I spotted what I think is a typo in Geoff’s answer above. I’m almost certain he finished his manuscript in May of 2017, not 2018, since the deadline for submitting the manuscript was several months ago. So Geoff actually wrote most of his first draft in just a few months. That’s a pretty good pace for a first novel.]
Randy: The hard part of writing is always rewriting. How did things go on the rewrite? Which parts did you find easy and which parts did you find hard?
Geoff: Oh, the rewrite! I hit a serious block here. One of my problems was that I read so much about the dreaded rewrite that I was expecting it to be a major ordeal. But as I read over my first draft, there weren’t a lot of major issues. I realized I had to make my protagonist more active (a typical issue for first-time novelists) but there were no major structural issues in the story – thanks to all the planning I’d done and thanks to snowflake. Eventually I made the minor changes and surface-level fixes and then gave the manuscript to an uncle who is a retired journalist and editor. I had the first inkling that the book might be good when he told me that his plan had been to read it slowly and edit as he went, but that after a few chapters he abandoned that approach and read it quickly because he just had to know what would happen next!
Randy: If you could give any advice to your younger self from two years ago, what would that advice be, and do you think your younger self would be smart enough to take it?
Geoff: My advice to my younger self would be to seek out a critique group or some fellow writers who would help me along the way. I think it may have prevented me from stalling out during my rewrite phase. Would I be smart enough to take the advice? Considering the fact that I’d already ignored the advice from seasoned writers… probably not!
Randy: What’s the one-sentence summary for your novel?
Geoff: A young man hopes to find fulfillment as a music minister, but encounters the megalomaniacal leader of a failing church.
Randy: Is your novel published yet, and if not, what are your plans for publishing it?
Geoff: The book was recently shortlisted for the “Best New Canadian Manuscript” contest run by The Word Guild – Canada’s association of Christian writers and publishers. If the book wins then it will be published by the sponsor of the contest, Castle Quay books. If not, I intend to self-publish.
Postscript by Randy: We did this interview about a week and a half ago, but I’ve held off posting it here on the blog because the awards gala was scheduled for June 15, 2018, and we wanted to include the results here. There were four manuscripts shortlisted in Geoff’s category. The winner was Kevin John White, who submitted a collection of short stories about his life as an alcoholic homeless man. I know how tough the competition can be in one of these national writing contests, and I say CONGRATULATIONS to both Geoff and Kevin. And I wish them great success in their writing careers. Writing is hard work. Completing a manuscript is an achievement to be proud of. Finaling in a major competition is an achievement to be very proud of.
Closing thoughts. In his first e-mail to me, Geoff thanked me for the help that the Snowflake Method gave him in writing his manuscript. I’m delighted that I could help get him rolling in the right direction. My thinking is that the Snowflake Method doesn’t make people more creative—it just channels their creativity so that they know what to be creative on next. In my view, there is no substitute for talent and hard work. So get to work—and have fun!