- Shelley Dark
#3 How long does it take to write a novel?
A few of you have asked me when my novel will be finished.
Poor answer: I don't know!
Let me explain by sharing my instructions to myself.
This is my process. I'm up to #12:
the idea: hear about a story idea and let it bubble in your brain for 15 or so years, without ever considering writing it, then.....
💡 blithely decide to write a novel based on the story: you've never done anything like this before but you're retired now, with time on your hands, and no one tells you that you can't...
research - spend eighteen months hunched over desks in musty libraries, inhaling the plague-ridden dust of centuries in city archives. Sit for 8 hours at a stretch trying to read old-fashioned bleeding ink script with more old-fashioned script on the reverse, until you experience your first bout of vertigo and throw up in the corridor.
Oh, ok, throw in a little fabulous overseas travel. -:)
begin first draft - listen to the advice - 'Get it down, anyway, anyhow. Doesn't matter how rubbish it is.' Obey these instructions to the letter, including the rubbish.
Scrivener - teach yourself book-writing software so diabolical it would turn the Pope into Jack the Ripper. (many authors just use Word, or even pencil and paper) Tell yourself it's worth it - it's wonderful for historical fiction.
rude awakening - after you've written about 30,000 words, attend a writers' conference, and discover what every other writer in the world knows: you're either a natural story teller or you're not..... and you're not.
start reading how-to books: read books on how to write a novel, the theory of story, listen to podcasts, enrol in courses, decide what genre you are writing. Try to balance all this with continuing to write.
continue first draft: take the ugly stepsister manuscript and force it into what you now know is the required Cinderella structure. Steel your heart to deleting vast tracts of prose. In the trade it's called murdering your babies. Cheat a little, keep them in a cot somewhere just in case.
read other people's novels: while you're writing you must still read. Try not to be depressed at the jaw-dropping skills of published novelists.
finish first draft: OMG a reason to celebrate! Crack open a bottle of champagne. Take a couple of weeks off just to put some distance between you and the book. Try to forget that you're taking this relaxing covid-conforming break in the same room as you write.
*this is where I am now: second draft - ok, now we mean business. Make sure you have nailed down what this book is about, delete anything which doesn't drive the theme, fix holes in plot, structural problems, work on characters, remove anything extraneous, check timelines, check for inconsistencies, fix syntax, grammar and spelling errors. Drive husband insane asking him to read same thing over and over. Be grateful he hasn't left home. Check that he hasn't.
finish second draft: crack open another bottle of champagne! Take another break to clear head - also in same room as you write.
another rewrite? - no way (I hope) - some authors do TEN drafts!
beta readers: ask friends, book club buddies to read the manuscript - don't be surprised when they all chorus they're travelling intra-state for lockdown relief.
third draft - totally rewrite novel based on much-appreciated feedback from beta readers
editorial assessment by a professional: your novel is in the best shape you can achieve, so now spend the kids' inheritance on professional in-depth feedback on plot, characters, structure, consistency, style, pace etc
in response to editorial comment, commit hara kiri, throw novel in bin, or begin fourth draft
finish fourth and last draft: drink an entire dozen bottles of champagne, at a sitting.
proof reading/copy edit by a professional - this is the final nuts and bolts polish, so sell the car to pay for it. Have therapy in the hiatus.
THE HARDEST JOB OF ALL: write a convincing, intriguing query letter for agents, plus an ‘elevator pitch’ and synopsis.Don't even think about what you'll do if you can't even find anyone to read the first chapter.
apply to literary agents - as a final act of masochism, send them the query letter. Hide all sharp instruments and wait.
pitch: if no agent will take you on, forget the sharp instruments. Pitch instead to every publisher of your genre in the world.
wait: for rejection slips, if you haven't died of old age by then.
or/then: (wait for it) you or your agent find a publisher who wants to publish. 💫
throw a party: preferably outside the room where you have been locked for months/years. 🎉🎊🥂🍾🎈🥳🍸🦐
take a break (in the room where you write), and start thinking about marketing.
There you have it buddies. It might sound painful, but I am absolutely loving every day of this process. Hope you didn't die of old age just reading about it. What's more, every day I think I should do it in a different order.
Gives a whole new meaning to 'I wait you', doesn't it? Thank you again for coming along for the ride. So far at least. It means a great deal to me,
Until next time, I wait you,
PS Something is wrong with the comments box below, as you've very kindly made lots of comments but only a couple are showing. Wix is trying to solve it.... please do leave them anyway. I'm receiving email notifications when you post one, and soon they'll magically appear below when they find a fix.....