It takes years to write a novel

Ten years ago I attended a workshop at the Sydney Writer’s Festival.

The author gave us an insight to the industry, but the most important thing I learnt at this session was the art of letting your manuscript rest between drafts. I mean, really rest. Not a couple of weeks, but at least three months.

She advised us to print the text out in a font we’ve never seen it in, grab a red pen, and read it as if you didn’t write it.

Since that workshop, this has been my process.

I often have three works in progress at various stages of development sitting in my laptop. When it’s time to go back to one, I use her method, although these days I pdf the most recent draft and use the red option on the stylus pen.

I look for underdeveloped characters or underwritten or overwritten scenes. Or if there are plot holes, or daggy dialogue, or anything that jumps out at me that needs fixing. Then I work on the new draft for months before it gets put aside as I use her editing process on another work in progress.

When a manuscript needs hardly any changes, I submit it.

This was a gift from a friend many years ago.

Which brings me to what inspired me to write this blog.

On a writer’s Facebook group, a question was asked about how many drafts an author works on before their book is ready. Several stated only one. Seriously?

As authors, we want the best for our readers, and a first draft is where you get your ideas down. Or as someone once told me, it’s where you initially tell yourself the story. After that, we finesse. Like a sculptor shaping their art.

My first novel took eight drafts.

Current novels take less because I have a better idea of what I’m doing. Yet I’m still learning. I read novels that help me with my works. I read several dystopian novels while I wrote my first in that genre. I read successful novels along with indie ones, to understand different markets.

Characters in my notebook for my first dystopian novel.

Writing is a journey. A chance to learn and improve on our craft. My husband has told me often that my books have improved. I recently read an earlier published work of mine and felt the urge to rewrite the entire book. The characters could be deeper. Some could be darker. The language needs more flair. More nuance. But it was refreshing to realise how much I’ve improved.

Yet this journey isn’t over.

I’ve recently discovered a new method for outlining my stories and developing my characters before I embark on that first draft.

And as I’m a fussy Virgo perfectionist, I want to develop the best version of each novel before it’s available to readers.

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