The Long Hard Road to a Finished Novel

The Long Hard Road to a Finished NovelPhoto license

Writing a novel is a major writing project. Many established writers say it will take about three years to write your first novel. Some say one year. And then there are a few who claim to write their novels in a few days or weeks.

My Experience

My first attempt at a novel began with no idea about what I was getting into. I was reading up to three short novels a day at the time. I had never studied anything on how to write and assumed I could write a novel in a week. I grabbed a stack of loose leaf and a sharp pen and set to work. Years later, I had an 8000 word short story, Grun on the Run. There were at least a dozen revisions and at one point it was up to 50,000 – 60,000 words. I read a lot of writing books and magazines along the way, but concluded I couldn’t write a full length novel.

I forgot about writing fiction while I got a BA in psychology with a minor in philosophy. That course of studies gave me a lot of practice writing non-fiction. So much practice that, after I finished, I created a 100 page outline for a non-fiction book. I could see that the language was far too academic. The 32,000 word outline became a shelf book.

My third attempt at writing a book was another novel. I began writing this one with only a bullet outline, got stuck, and decided to re-write it in first person. After several re-writes that never got past 25,000 words, I put it on hold. Another shelf book.

My fourth attempt at a book wasn’t meant to be a book. My notes on how to make money writing online were over 33,000 words when I realized it may be a book some day.

My fifth and current attempt at a book began after two years of blogging. I’d begun blogging as part of a group project that later fell through. Since I was still reading books and articles about writing, I made writing one of my blog topics. In the summer of 2011, I decided it was time to write a novel the right way.

I began the outline at the end of July 2011 and put a lot of time into it. There needs to be a lot of story behind a 100,000 word novel. I began the first draft in March of 2012. It’s been slow going because I have a full time job and learned that now publishers want an author to show they can do their own marketing. I take that to mean, sell a book on the internet. Well, okay. I can do that. Since I believe non-fiction does better on computers, I’ve started outlining a non-fiction book on writing. To market the non-fiction book, I need a popular blog. That means, post lots of articles. One project has turned into three.

1. Write a novel.

2. Write a non-fiction book.

3. Write a couple of hundred articles.

This novel attempt is looking a lot like a three year project. Is there any way to speed things up?

Other Writers

Steven King is a fast popular writer. Part of that is because he’s written so much, but I’ve also noticed he writes in god mode. That gets around the problem of perspective. You can write from any point of view.

In his book On Writing, King stresses the importance of cutting. The most important lesson of the book is his anecdote about his high school newspaper editor looking over an article he wrote and crossing out words and sentences. The editor told him that if he could learn to do that he could be a writer.

How can cutting make you write faster? When you know you’re going to be doing a lot of cutting, you don’t need to wonder what to write next. You write everything. The quality improves because you have more options for what to cut.

James Patterson is pumping out lots of books. Part of the reason he’s so fast is that other people are writing many of the first drafts. He’s said he has dozens of 50 page outlines written. That’s another way to be fast. Only work on one stage of the writing process and you’ll get fast at it. Are there any other lessons we can get from Patterson?

Most of his books are thrillers with short chapters that jump back and forth between the killer and detective. Writing similar stories speeds up the writing process. Most writers do that; stick to a genre.

In the intro to Lonesome Traveler, Jack Kerouac said his first formal novel took three years to write using the write and revise method. Then he discovered “spontaneous” writing and his writing time went down to between three days and three weeks per novel. That’s one hell of a time savings.

Lonesome Traveler was an example of terrible spelling and grammar, but with an interesting story. I’d read more Kerouac but I wouldn’t want every writer to write like that. With revision, he could have written much better books. The lesson would seem to be that you can write a first draft in a matter of weeks if you don’t care about spelling and grammar. Another good point.

Lessons Learned

Write the first draft fast and sloppy so that you can write super fast.

Put everything in the first draft and plan to cut heavily when you revise.

Write in god mode.

When you revise, focus on cutting. Spelling, grammar, and story problems are also important, but cutting is what produces quality.

Become a faster writer by focusing on only one type of writing at a time. Outlining, for example.

I’d like to be able to use all of these lessons. I can’t focus on only one type of writing with three major projects on the go (and several minor ones). I can work on writing first drafts faster. My non-fiction book is in the outline stage. That can be fast and sloppy too. Even with the extra projects, I might just get my first novel completed by summer.

How long is your novel going to take? Somewhere between three weeks and three years. I hope these tips will help speed things up for you.

Article by Ivan Izo.


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