As with all new things, it took me a while to work out the best way to write a novel. The first time I wrote one, it was a junior fiction book for my daughter, so the pressure was off – she’s my kid, she was going to love it, regardless! Then I started writing Still Waters, and again, there was no pressure, because I never intended on publishing it. It’s been four years since I sat down to write that first children’s book, and I’m now seven books into my writing journey. Working on my latest book, a thriller that’s currently out with beta readers, gave me the opportunity to fine tune the way I get through an 80 – 100,000 word novel. All writers do it differently. This is my process.
I’m often asked if I plan out my novels before starting them, and I have to confess that I do not. I usually have the arc of the story and the ending in mind, but I don’t sit down and plot it out by chapter or scene. I need the freedom explore different ideas as I go along, and often I don’t know what’s going to happen until I’m at that point in the story. I like to start by writing a simple scene and I’m a little funny about how I do it. I usually open a new document and write it without my usual novel formatting in place, and I never use any headings like Chapter One. With these first few scenes, there is no expectation that it will become a novel. It’s a time for play, for testing the waters to see if I want to keep going or file it away for another day.
Once I’ve committed to seeing the idea through, I work in Scrivener, which is a program for writers. Scrivener allows you to break your book into chapters and scenes, which can then be easily moved around. You can also storyboard your scenes, add keywords such as whose POV each section is from, things like that. If you’re thinking of writing a book, I recommend you check it out. There’s a free trial available.
My writing day goes something like this:
7.30am – Get up, get kids organised, drop my son at school
9.30am – Climb into bed with a cup of tea, snacks, my laptop, Kindle, and phone (turned on silent)
9.30am – 10.30am – Read the previous two days’ work and make changes. I do this every day before I begin any new writing. Some writers like to write their first drafts without any censorship or editing at all, but I prefer to edit as I go. It means that by the time the first draft is finished, each scene has been looked at two or more times already and the novel is in pretty good shape.
10.30am – 12.30am – Once I’m happy with the last couple of days’ work, I begin writing new material. I usually have a rough plan in mind for what I need to accomplish in that scene or chapter, but I keep this in the very back of my mind when I’m working. If I’m writing a difficult scene, I sometimes listen to music beforehand to get me into the right mood.
After my writing session is over – and this could be an hour or it could be four or five hours – I try to get some fresh air and do something else.
9.30pm – Before sleep, I read through the day’s work and mull that over as I’m lying in bed. When I’m in an intense writing phase, I often dream about my book or wake up with new ideas or ways to solve a tricky plot problem.
My latest novel took just over three months of working in this way for me to get a complete draft. I moved it onto my Kindle and read it as if I had just bought it, making notes as I went. Once those changes were made, I read it again, then sent it out to a couple of trusted readers who have read all of my work so far.
Then I waited.
There is an important but uncomfortable step in writing books, and it’s not something I’m very good at. Waiting. After a book is finished, you have to forget about it for a while, which is just about impossible because it’s all you can think about. I like to leave mine for a minimum of six weeks. It gives my readers a chance to look at it, and by the time I get back to it, I know that I’ll have a new perspective on the work.
Once the readers have come back with their comments and the book has come out of hiding again, it’s time to get to work. This is the time to think with your head, not your heart, and consider every aspect of your novel. Does that character add anything? Does that scene need to be there? Is it too slow at the end? Too rushed? This process took me over a year to get through, and then I did it again after an agent read it and gave me some feedback. I have no doubt that I’ll be doing it again and again, if I am lucky enough to sell it to a publisher.
With my other books, I really hated the editing part. I love writing so much; it’s almost a high when things are going right. Editing felt like work. But with this latest work, I’ve learned to love editing as much as writing. I want this book to be the best it can possibly be and I’m prepared to do everything, anything, to make that happen.
So that’s how it’s done! Or at least how I do it. If you’re a writer, let me know in the comments if this is different or the same to how you work.