I started noodling on the idea that became The Scarred God in 2005, sat on a balcony in Italy, trying not to worry about my grandmother who was lying sick (dying as it happens, I didn’t know that at the time) in a hospital in Wales. The project was really nothing more than an exercise to see if I could write a coherent story at that length and a way of distracting me from how upset I was at what was happening at home.
Last week I finally finished the book.
In the course of writing it, I’ve learned lessons (mainly the hard way) about writing at this length and about how the process works for me. I’ve done one of these posts before, shortly after I finished the fourth (and what I assumed was the final draft), but these observations should sit with rather than contradict any of those points. I hope they’re of use to people.*
1. Writing novel length fiction is hard. Don’t take on a novel lightly, it’s not the first draft that is particularly trying (sorry NaNoWriMo’ers, it isn’t) but the work of redrafting, of polishing while maintaining enough critical distance, of making it good – that’s the tough marathon of minutia that wears you down. Make sure your novel is about something you find *really* interesting and are passionate about because you’ll be spending lots of time together.
2. Deadlines are important. It’s a long project, the need for drafts critical and the process of drafting one that eats time. You’ll always be able to think of new stuff that you can shoe horn in, new ideas will always occur mid draft, and the whole thing will go on forever. Set yourself a cut off point (draft wise and time wise) and stick to it. Bear in mind you need at least three drafts, more depending on how you proof.
3. You’re not Stephen King. Be wary of adopting other writer’s processes without tweaking them for your own circumstances and personality. It is unlikely that someone – however talented – can maintain a reasonably challenging day job, family life, and a novel length project without some planning, notes or even, dare I say it, an outline. Take what works for you, leave everything else.
4. Redrafting a novel is hard work. Don’t redraft your first draft while you’re writing it but equally don’t leave stuff you know to be wrong to “fix later” as you will be building the rest of the story on faulty foundations and the size of the fix will grow exponentially as you move on. This is a hard balance to strike but it is critical. Unless you have time to do full rewrites on stories running from 90-140k.
5. Have a safety net. Pick your test readers in advance, choose well and treat them right. They are the people who stop you becoming the literary equivalent of an X-factor contestant.
6. Don’t dwell. Start something else while the project is being test read, they always take longer than you think (rightly so) and you need some distance before you decide to make alterations based on feedback.
7. Length is important. If you think you might submit the story, if you entertain the notion at all, check the min/max word limit for the type of book you’re writing and try to bring your final draft in to this length. If in doubt write long and cut back as it’s easier to take out than put in.
8. Have fun.
* Note: I have no contract for this book, have a handful of publishing credits and make no claims as to the mileage others will get from it. I’m not trying to tell you what to do, just what works for me.