Wednesday, June 5, 2013

How to Write a Novel in Three Years or More

It’s often said that writing a novel is akin to running a marathon, not a sprint. For me, it’s felt more like the long, painful, drawn-out process of training for a marathon.

I am two and a half years into the process of writing my fantasy novel, and even though I write for about an hour every day, I’m only starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot of lessons about how I could have made this easier on myself … and become an expert in the many ways to make this process take as long as possible.

So allow me to share my wisdom—you too can write a novel in three years or more!

Make your introduction perfect before moving forward.
Since this was my first novel, I wasn’t sure what my voice was yet. I didn’t even have much confidence that I could write anything worthwhile. So instead of ripping through the first draft and getting my ideas on the page, I obsessed over my opening. I reworked it over and over and over until it was perfect. THEN I moved forward. I wasted a few months doing this. Months.

Don’t worry about worldbuilding.
I knew my main character when I started writing, and the general trajectory the plot would go in.  And … that’s it.  So as my character moved through each scene, I had to figure out where he was, what the rules were there, and why. What was the world’s history? Myths and beliefs? Social structure? This meant a lot of stopping and thinking during my precious one hour in the morning. Time that could have been spent writing. This is more intense for a fantasy novel, but every story has a setting that the writer must know intimately.

Plot threads what?
As stated, when I started writing I had only a general sense of my main plot line. My first draft helped me find the path and conclusion for that trajectory. But when my first draft’s word count hit only 45,000 words, I realized I hadn’t thought a dot about any other plot threads—I’d been too consumed with coming up with my primary arc.  My last eight months of writing have been dedicated to creating and untangling these supporting plot threads.

Update changes as you go.
Because I made such a mess of my plotting, there’s been many significant changes to my story’s details as it has developed. At first, I wanted to keep everything nice and clean, and went back and corrected inconsistencies right away. Then I realized it didn’t matter how much cleaning I did in the rough draft phase, because soon as I cleaned up one mess, I was sure to find another. Much better to finish the draft, then go back and address all the changes together.

Spread yourself thin and overcommit.
I like to tell myself that my novel is my top priority. But if I’m really honest, I’ve spread myself too thin. My family is a priority, and my full-time career has to be a priority too. On top of that, I run my own blog, with posts three times a week. And just because I’m a special brand of crazy, I also launched a short story zine last January. I have my reasons for holding on to these other pet projects. But let’s get real—they’re getting in the way of finishing my novel.

How much does it really matter how quickly you finish your manuscript? Well, that depends on you and your goals. We all write at our own pace. Taking your time is not necessarily a bad thing—after all, it took J.K. Rowling six years to write the first Harry Potter book, and literary history is littered with other greats who take their time with their works. I’ve learned invaluable lessons from my sluggish process.

But if you dream of supporting yourself from your writing, you can’t afford to take three years for each book—even J.K. Rowling picked up her pace, releasing all seven books in the Harry Potter series in 10 years. It’s a fast-paced world, and the more you can organize your process for efficiency (without losing your creativity or quality of writing, of course), the greater your career potential. More finished works means more opportunities for success. 

Emily Wenstrom is the editor of wordhaus, a weekly short story ezine. She also blogs about creativity for writers, artists and professionals at Creative Juicer. Follow her on Twitter @emilywenstrom.