17 August 2015

My 3 Rules to Finish a Novel Faster

I started writing in 2009 and I finished my first full length novel in 2015.

It took me five years to write my first book. Not this time.

After three months, I'm halfway finished with my second novel.

No one can make a career writing novels if they publish only twice every decade. In fact, some people will claim that you need to publish every 90 days in order to stay ahead of the Amazon ranking systems. Write short stories, novellas AND novels?

Plot Map for the second book of the Immortal
Coffee series
I wholeheartedly endorse whatever works for other authors, but right now, my objective is to write books.

Here's what I've learned:

1. Plotting vs. Pantsing

Some writers refer to those who plot as plotters and those who just charge forth on their keyboards, pantsers. I started a pantser and ended up a plotter, because I get better momentum and speed from doing the bulk of the creative plot work before I start.

I have one major theme for the story that focuses on the main character, which is accompanied by subplots involving the other characters. I keep them organized by stages on a spreadsheet. And even as I write the second book, I'm collecting ideas for the third book. But, for me, I'm finding I get where I'm going faster if I have a "map."

2. Do not revise until it you reach "the end"

After trying other software, I am using Scrivner
Upper Right Corner: Pending revision notes
Lower Right Corner: Chapter Synopsis
I can account for two to three years of my time on the first novel being wasted on early OBSESSIVE revisions. At just about the four chapter mark, I would go back and change things. I added details and foreshadowed, but mostly I just drowned in doubt about it all.

As I revised, the direction of the novel often changed. I changed names. I changed characters. It became a habit to redo everything. I lost count on revising the first chapters after the 11th overhaul and I don't even want to think about how many times I rewrote the first page.

On the second book, instead of making sweeping changes, I collect notes on what will need to be added or changed during revisions. I keep a list for each chapter and a synopsis so that I don't go reading the chapters and find myself tempted to revise before I know exactly how it all ends.

3. Focus each draft on increasingly less critical elements of the story

While writing my first novel, I got sidetracked for months at a time inventing details that demanded changes in other parts of the story. I kept meticulous notes on characters, locations, histories and elements of the various cultures. Most of the backstory was not featured in the book, because I wanted to avoid the dreaded information dump, the long sections devoid of action and advancement, just a whirlpools of "neat" ideas that make most of us close the book.

Backstory, however, is essential to maintaining consistency and developing an immersive world. Readers may not have all the details, but they know they're there, because the actions and interactions ring true to what causes them.

While writing my first book, I found creating draft after draft focusing on certain aspect at each pass though often starting over to work on a different one. To speed up the process of revising, I've categorized what I did during the first novel and made a schedule for the second novel based on the degree of changes each type of revision required:

First Draft: Action + Conversation
Second Draft: Foreshadowing + Consistency + Pacing
Third Draft: Character and scene enrichment
Fourth Draft: Fancy Language + Intellectualisms + Sensory data

As an inexperienced writer, I often found myself rushing to write the non-essential parts of the story. I felt they were what separated good books from boring ones, but what I didn't realize was that I was going to end up deleting 90% of my clever wallpapering. If I had to make a major structural change, they had to go.

I regularly copied and saved them in other files just incase I could work it back in at another point in the story, but at the point I really got serious about writing, most were abandoned.

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