There’s no magic formula for writing a full length novel. It just takes time…lots and lots of time. Time to plot, time to research, time to write…review, revise, etc. Each writer has their own method for how they spend that time, getting from a plot bunny to a finished manuscript. I thought I’d share the method that I’ve developed after writing four manuscripts (until I learn something new and change it up).
Every book starts with a plot idea, the beginnings of a story that won’t leave you alone. I spend hours daydreaming about my potential characters before I put anything down on paper. Once my characters become more real, like they could potentially star in their own story, I start writing down details in a notebook. Over time, my notes become more detailed, and I really flesh out who these people are: names, ages, backstory, family, motivations, good characteristics, bad habits, character arch, what’s standing in the way of them reaching their goal.
I plot very loosely. Basically, I break my story into four acts, then figure out the important plot points I want at the end of each section. It’s kind of like riding a wave, up and down, and the waves get higher and more significant as you reach the end. An example would be that half way through the MS (based on word count) I write an emotionally explosive scene, that usually involves kissing! I also start my research when I plot, but most of that comes during the writing phase, since I don’t start out with a detailed plot. I discover what I need to research along the way.
Once I have a loose plot, I start to write. I use daily word count goals and I write every day. When I was working full time, I’d write 1000 words(1.25 hours) on a week day and 2000(2.5 hours) on Saturday and Sunday. Of course, there’s wiggle room for life events. Some days I set a higher goal and others I would lower it. So for a 75,000 word MS, it takes me about two months to write the first draft. The crappy first draft. It is unpolished and full of errors, but I don’t care. I have the solid bones of a story.
Then I let it sit for at least two weeks. I don’t touch it, don’t read it, don’t open the file. It creates some objective distance between myself and my writing. Once I’m ready to work on it again, I print out a paper copy and read the whole thing within two days. I make notes about plot issues or any other issues I see. Next, I start writing my second draft. Up until now, I’ve rewritten my second draft from scratch. My first drafts are that bad. For this next MS, I think I might be in good enough shape that I don’t have to scrap the first draft, but work off it to improve.
After I’m satisfied with my second draft, usually after six weeks of working on it, I send it out to beta readers and critic partners. They have different points of view and can read the MS with objectivity. At this point, it’s a waiting game. This can be black hole of time, but I use it to start another manuscript. Believe it or not, I can write an entire first draft of my next story while I’m waiting for reader feedback.
So, it can be up to two months before I have enough feedback to start revisions again. I read the entire MS once out loud. It’s amazing the small mistakes you find when doing that. I go over it again, and again, and again. Maybe send it out to a few more people for more feedback. This usually takes another month or so, then I finally have a finished manuscript.
If you’re keeping track, you can see that it takes me about 6 months from start to finish. Yes, in that time I write the first draft of another story, but still…that’s a long time. I consider it an investment in a solid book.
That’s the method I found works best for me. If you’re a writer, how do you write?