"The Writing of a Novel" OR "What the heck does her author page status mean?"

I get this a lot—someone who doesn’t write asks me about the progress on my sequel and I tell them, “I’m in my x# draft.” And then they look at me with that kind of “deer in the headlights stare,” or they nod their head and smile, probably thinking, “What the heck did she mean?” Which leads me to why I’m putting up this post.

If you don’t write, you may have no idea what I mean when I post in my status about writing “9000 words for the third draft of my sequel.” So I thought I’d try to explain in non-writer terms the process I go through when writing a novel. First, you need to know that this process varies from writer to writer, but generally we do this the same way. Some writers are just faster. They’ve done this so many times it’s like second nature. Some skip steps. Second, it will sound like the steps progress in a nice orderly fashion, but there can be a lot of backing up to the previous step.

Ahem…the easiest way to do explain this is to use an analogy a friend and I came up with a few years ago—the analogy of moving into a house, and since I’ll be moving in the near future, it seems appropriate.

First draft = Buying the house you want and moving your stuff in. The house is like the general structure I want for my story (plot) and the furniture is like the events I use to tell the story.

This is where I decide on what my story will be about (plot) and who I want to have tell it (characters) and how I want to tell it. This is the stage I absolutely love. My mind can play because I’m not worried about how my story sounds as it comes out. I don’t care if I call a character by the wrong name or if things don’t make sense or if I’m not following the rules on how to write a story. I just write. The words pour out of my mind so fast sometimes that my fingers can hardly keep up on the keyboard. My word count goes up by at least 1000 words per day, usually more. I can get a first draft written in a few months, depending on time constraints.

By the end of the first draft, I’ve discovered what my story is really about. For example, in Eldala, I thought my story was about a potter who finds out he’s a prince and he has to travel around and finally overcome the evil king. When I reached the end, I realized that wasn’t the story I really wanted to tell. I wanted it to be deeper, I wanted the stakes to be higher, and I wanted Kieran to have to sacrifice something in order to win. So I started over.

The second draft = Doing a major remodel of the house you bought (adding on rooms, getting rid of some of them, knocking out a wall, extending the porch, remodeling the kitchen, etc) and deciding which pieces of furniture to keep.

The general plot doesn’t change, but parts of it change. I write more slowly because I don’t want to have to change as much in subsequent drafts. I think things through before I write them. I re-write scenes several times to get them just the way I want them. Since I’m not under a contract with a publishing house and am not under a deadline, there are days when I have to stop to let my mind rest. If I get stuck on a scene and don’t know what’s supposed to happen there, I may go a week or two without writing until I figure out what to do.

In Eldala’s second draft, I changed Kieran’s character from potter to blacksmith. The king was bad, but his queen was worse. She had the land under a curse. I also added the Eldala connection with Jessa. I kept the parts about Kieran having to travel, but I raised the stakes for him. If he became king, would he have to give up his Eldala? Did he have the courage to be king? I added the battle with the Zagorans, the part about Kieran the Valiant from the past, tied the past and the present together.

The story gets its final structure, but there are some details to add in the next stage.

The third draft = Painting your house, putting in some new carpet, and arranging the furniture.

Not a lot changes in my third drafts. I might move parts of the story and take things out that aren’t necessary, but the plot pretty much stays the same. By now I’ve discovered the story I really want to tell. I add a scene here or there. I add description. I fix my dialogue between characters. I take out unnecessary words—what some authors call “writing tight.” And then I send it to another writer for an outside opinion.

Fourth drafts and beyond = Hanging pictures, adding pillows to the couch, updating the window coverings, putting knick knacks on the bookshelves.

Any draft after the third draft is about cosmetic details, catching spelling errors, grammar errors, taking out a few more words, etc. The structure of the story doesn’t change at all. This is where a writer gets the story ready to publish. For writers who want to have a publisher publish their book, this is where they get their manuscript ready to send to agents and editors. Some writers call this “polishing” their story.

As a self-publisher, there is also the stage of formatting the manuscript so I can upload it to my printer (Lulu.com) so they can turn it into a book. Once they’ve printed it, I order a proof copy so I can make sure all the chapter headings are in the right place, check for typing errors, make sure the words ended up where I wanted them, check the cover to make sure the colors are good. For Eldala’s first printing, I had to go through this stage two or three times. I hope to not have to do that for Black Heart.

So there it is—probably more than you ever wanted to know about how writers put together their novels. At least now when some writer tells you they’re stuck on their third draft and they have no idea what to do next, you can nod with understanding.

And if you want to read the very first draft chapter of Eldala, you can read it here: Eldala's First Chapter, first draft.