Today, I finished writing Book 3 in my series. Finally. And that is definitely a finally, because writing a book is a marathon–the hardest part is to keep going. I’ve written a few of them now, and ending is always the most difficult part.
Of course, the only thing I’ve really finished doing is writing the book. It isn’t done, not even remotely. So, for those of you still working on your first draft of your first novel, or who have not embarked on one, or are just plain interested in how it happens, this is the answer to that almost-rhetorical question: how do you write a book?
I started writing Book 3 on August 6th, and finished on the 7th of November. It took me three months and a day to write a book that is, at this moment, 94,841 words long. For comparison, that’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets plus an extra chapter. Or almost the length of The Hobbit.
Now, either you’re thinking, “that’s not much for three months considering that’s what you do full-time,” or you’re going “three months, are you crazy?”
— Steph (@ShunterNi) August 10, 2015
I admit, this pace was a bit slow for me, but in this time I also started a blog (which I update three times a week), revised a play and put it up for publication, copy-edited Book 1, hired a copy editor, had a short story published, moved house, bought a household full of furniture and assembled it, bought a car, and did various other tasks that took up plenty of time and energy.
Plus, next to my “Book 3” document, I have a document titled “Book 3 Extras,” which is made of the 59,496 words worth of complete scenes I wrote for Book 3 and then cut as I went. So really I wrote 154,337 words in three months.
(Alright, I might be bragging there. Shh, let me have my moment.)
Basically, I typed away for three months, ended up with these two documents. And now what do I do? Yes, yes, I drink, but after that? I’m writing a book. Is the book done?
No! It’s time to edit. Yay! Huzzah! Editing! The best part!
Editing is a love-it-or-hate-it process, and it’s unavoidable. Because that manuscript I just finished? It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense yet.
See, where the story was going when I started it three months ago is not necessarily where it went. I can already think of two sub-plots I straight out abandoned which will need to be cut, and three minor characters who need to not just magically appear in chapter 72, but actually be there all along. Not to mention that one character who just sort of disappears never to be heard from again, he needs a bit more closure.
In fact, I need to read it all over again and change a lot of stuff. And that’s exactly what I’ll do.
I do my edits in phases. The first is an immediate soft-edit starting tomorrow. This is where I just read it on my computer and do stuff like delete obsolete sub-plots and confirm, in my brain, that this actually is an okay book and doesn’t have glaring problems. Or, conversely, see those glaring problems and make a note of them for later. It’ll take me a day, maybe two, depending how thorough I’m feeling.
— Steph (@ShunterNi) September 28, 2015
Then I wait. For at least three weeks, to be specific, but long enough to get the story out of my head. In this time, I might start writing another book, I might do a lot of formatting stuff, I might edit Book 2 (I will probably run a final edit of Book 2).
After that, I’ll be ready for the real editing! The first hard edit. What makes it a hard edit? The fact that I print it out, get out a blue/green/purple pen, and start scribbling. I might rewrite anywhere from a couple chapters to an entire point of view character. Words might get added, words might get deleted. Things will change in a big way. This edit can take between four to six full eight-hour days, and then I’ll put it all into my word document, which takes another three to four and counts as a soft edit.
And then I wait three weeks or more, and do it again. And again. Basically, I edit until I feel the manuscript feels solid, tight, and plot-hole free. Depending on the manuscript, getting there can take between one and four passes. For Book 2, which took me a month to write, I’ve literally spent more time editing than I did writing it.
At this point, an author may ask others to read their book and give feedback. Those are called Beta readers, and I’ll talk about them another time, but know that they will give feedback and sometimes authors will re-edit based on what they say.
Now, you ask, now is my book ready to be published? It’s written, it’s edited, it’s beta’d, is it done?
Not remotely. Because now it’s time to let the professionals have at. I’ll tell you straight out, that’s the new stage for me. December 2nd, Book 1 A Better Man is going for a copy-edit. I’m pretty excited to have a professional take a look at it, clean it up. I can’t wait to see how it looks when she’s done with it.
This is beginning to feel like a car trip, isn’t it? “Are we there yet,” you ask.
— Steph (@ShunterNi) September 23, 2015
Almost, because last comes formatting. Once it’s formatted, a book is ready to be published. Done!
All that is what it takes for one book. One measly little book. Now, look at your shelf groaning with the weight of them.
So if you’re writing a book, I wish you the best. If you’re thinking of writing, I encourage you to try. And if you’re happy just to read–well, I’ve got a couple novels coming out soon that I might recommend.
I love writing, and even editing isn’t as awful as I tend to make out. It all has its moments of excitement, of tedium, of just plain work, because it is work. Not work I get paid a lot for yet, but work nevertheless. And really, I’m telling you, I wouldn’t choose any other career over it.