Every novelist has a unique process. A certain breed of writer can write a novel in fifteen or thirty days, some taking part in NaNoWriMo. It’s not something I’ve tried, but, time permitting, I want to in the future. It’s a good way to get down a solid first draft, writing freely without time to entertain writer’s block. But surely the writer would need to spend significantly longer editing the novel after the writing exercise. The other extreme has novelists spend decades on one story, reworking it over the years to try different styles and methods of delivery.
I’m somewhere in the middle. I start with a rough outline of a character or a mood, and I live with the idea for a couple of weeks, with my character as a kind of imaginary friend. I’m open to all of my ideas becoming a poem or anything else. But if it feels like a long piece of fiction, I write for my character, usually in the third person, and I scan over my work for an appropriate starting-off point.
When I have a few thousand words on the page, I take time to think about my character’s future. I like to write without knowing too much about the plot. I think I’d become bored with the story if I knew the end, and I’ve found that it’s easier to avoid cliched story arcs and endings without planning too much.
How to write a novel: the end stages.
I write for around six to nine months, by which time the first draft is complete. The first draft is usually between 80,000 and 120,000 words. The Little Movements was over 80,000 and gradually became around 50,000 at the time of publishing. After finishing the first draft, I put my novel aside for around six months and think of something else, anything and everything else.
I do this because I’m a one-man team. I edit my own novels, and I try, as much as possible, to remove myself from the work. Some don’t have the luxury of spending six months away from their work, and some don’t want to. But the point remains. When editing your work, try to forget that you wrote the words. Removing everything that doesn’t need to be there will be much easier.
My way is one way to write a novel, but there are as many ways as there are writers. Choose a method that allows you to stick to your writing principles. Originality and quality are high on my list, which is why I prefer to take longer. If prolificacy and profit are high on your list, you’ll need a very different model to mine. It’s about knowing who you are, what you stand for, and how to get your best words on the page.