1. Know your beginning, middle, and end.
At a minimum, you should know where your story is going. In working with all types of writers, as well as drawing on my own process, I’ve discovered that it doesn’t matter whether you have a detailed chapter outline or only a vague idea of the story. As long as you have a general idea of the way the story starts, what happens in the middle, and how it ends, you will find it easier to finish. And, yes, the idea can be as simple as: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl over.
2. Write the first draft as quickly as possible.
Don’t worry whether your first draft is “good” – here’s a #prowritingtip from Ernest Hemingway, “The first draft of anything is s**t”. So stop trying to be good and focus on what matters: writing. All you need to worry about is getting words down. At this stage, don’t bother too much with the finer writing skills, such as description, whether you are showing instead of telling, character arcs, snappy dialogue, setting, and so forth. The first draft is the basic story – beginning, middle, and end. Having the skeleton of something to work with – that also has “The End” written on it – is highly motivating and means you will be more likely finish your novel.
Once you have completed the first draft, take a deep breath, pat yourself on the back, and go out to celebrate. You have earned it! Plus, you are about to enter one of the hardest parts of writing: rewriting. Some writers and writing coaches suggest leaving time between drafts (at least a week), and I am of this camp. Giving yourself some distance does tend to help with clarity. You can see what parts of the story need tweaking with clear, fresh eyes. While you wait, you can read up on the craft of writing or do what I do: start a new writing project.
When you are ready to jump into the second draft, head to the next step:
3. Writing is rewriting.
This is the point where you are really going to learn that writing is hard work. You will need to rewrite your manuscript multiple times. Every writer has to do it. When (yes, when) your manuscript is accepted by a publisher or agent, you will have to do even more rewrites. If you want to be a professional writer, you had better get used to this concept “write now”. With each new draft, your aim is to make improvements. However, it can feel overwhelming for aspiring writers to tackle everything in one go. Hence, it is perfectly acceptable to use each draft to progress one aspect of your novel forward. For instance, you might add detail and description to your second draft. In your third draft, you could focus on dialogue. The fourth could be about exploring your character arcs. And so on until you have incorporated as many writing skills into the piece as you can.
4. Do the math.
Another way to stop the process from overwhelming you and making you lose passion for it, is to “do the math”. If you want to write a full-length novel in one year, you will need around 50,000 – 80,000 words depending on which genre you are aiming for. This seems a daunting figure until you calculate it into a minimum weekly or daily word count. You can do this by dividing the total word count by 52 weeks or 365 days. For instance, 80K total words divided by 52 weeks equals around 1540 words per week. This equates to around 219 words per day. Not so shocking now, is it?
5. Once you’ve done the math, give yourself a deadline.
Having a deadline pushes you, motivates you, and holds you accountable to your writing. It is also helpful to have deadlines throughout the process. I have deadlines for every draft I do. Publishers and agents will give you deadlines as well, so being able to reach them now will work in your favour in the future.
6. Find your champions.
I was not always supported in my dreams of becoming a writer. In fact, sometimes I was actively discouraged from it and told that I would never be published – and this was from people close to me. You might have encountered this. If so, I understand how disheartening and discouraging it can feel. I want to say this to you: don’t give up. Instead, find your champions. There are hundreds of writing groups, organisations, and communities both online and physical that you can join to gain that encouragement. I am a member of the Romance Writers of Australia. They have numerous resources available to writers as well as critique partners and a yearly conference.
Do you have any other steps you would add? What has your experience been with writing your novel? What have you found the most challenging? Let me know in the comments below.
Yours in writing,
A.K. Leigh xxoo