Well, it’s done – almost. The first draft of The Tor is pretty much complete; I’m just giving it a final read through prior to my beta readers get to let me know which bits suck (are the motives clear? Should the ‘foundations’ section be a separate novel? Should I work in more of Georgia’s backstory?)
It’s been fun, and a Hell of a lot of work. I’ve learned plenty, too. Writing The Tor has been a very different experience than writing Reformed, not least because the latter was conceived as a collection of short stories whereas The Tor was always going to be a novel. I’m certainly a stronger writer, having had enough time now to critically appraise Reformed from a longer perspective, and I’ve a far better understanding of the editing process also – one of my future projects will be a rewritten Reformed, together with a sequel. Reformed has garnered four and five star reviews, and I remain convinced that better editing on my part would have boosted the four stars to five.
The main thing I’ve come to appreciate during this process is the importance of planning – both in terms of the novel’s structure and in terms of planning the time spent writing.
With regard to planning the structure, I found it really useful to ‘sketch out’ the entire book from start to finish. The next stage was to divide the sketch into chapters – each chapter at this point consisting of a few sentences that summarised what was to happen. Then I expanded each section, adding detail and action. Often at this stage I find myself breaking the chapters up further as my writing expanded the content of each section. Then it was a case of going through the whole document so that it felt it feels like a cohesive body of work rather than disjointed sections, or detailed notes. This, I think, is as close to a formalised writing process as I’m ever going to get. As I write this I have already more-or-less sketched out my next horror novel, The Swarm, and compiled a notebook full of ideas for my urban fantasy horror The Angelcutter. It sounds more complex than just ploughing on with writing, but really it’s a far quicker, more organised way of doing things. Think of it as drawing up the building plans for a new house and then working from the foundations to the roof, rather than picking an arbitrary starting point and trying to build room by room and having to adjust what you’ve already built in order to accommodate new extensions. Not that I actually start at the beginning and work my way chronologically through the text; my ideas for key events and scenes still come out pretty much in a random order, but putting the sketched versions of those ideas together before starting the ‘proper’ writing speeds up the overall process by far more than you’d think. When you have a good idea of where you’re going, the route is always more straightforward.
With regard to planning my time… well, this only comes with experience, and is something I’m still working on. Day to day, juggling writing time amongst your many other commitments is always going to be a challenge: at least until you’re successful enough to write full-time. But what I’m referring to here is medium and long term planning for your novel. How long to plan, how long to write the initial draft, to redraft, to edit, to proofread… again, the nature and size of The Tor has meant that not only has each stage so far taken longer than it did for Reformed, it also took much longer than my initial estimates. When I first started to plan The Tor I really did expect to have it available by the end of July; yet here we are in August with the first draft nearly complete, and the editing and final proofing still to do. The Gantt chart I created to plan The Tor and the three or four following projects is hopelessly out of date. The rule for estimating timescales so far seems to have been ‘double it, and add 10%’. I’m sure I’ll get better at it.
But as well as the importance of planning, I’ve also come to develop a deeper appreciation of the language used in the books I read. An author’s choice of words can have a great effect on a reader’s engagement. An obvious statement perhaps, but until you are in the position of having to express even a simple sentence to a reader, it may not be something you’ve considered. Plot, certainly, along with characters and setting are vitally important; but the vocabulary choices of the author can change the feel of a whole piece of text. Why did that character ‘run’ across the field? Why not ‘sprint’? Or ‘dart’? And why ‘across’ the field as opposed to ‘over’ or ‘through’? Small choices can affect the reader dramatically, and as I begin the editing process (a task as arduous as writing the first draft), word choice is just one of the factors I’ll be looking at. I’ll blog about editing another time; until then, happy reading and writing!
The Tor is scheduled for release this Autumn, via Kindle and Createspace.