Month: October 2016

My Timeline for Writing a Novel

One thing that I have struggled with lately is creating timelines for my novels. In my career as a nonfiction writer, I’ve published 19 nonfiction books with major publishing companies. The timeline for those books was a lot different than what I’m learning I’m capable of when writing fiction books.

Nonfiction books, at least when I was writing them, had to be put together on a very short timeline. On average, I had about 90 days from the day that I signed the contract until the book went to print. 90 days for an 80,000+ word manuscript is not a lot of time. Especially when you consider that much of that time is spent editing the first draft.

Now, typically how that happened, was that I would write the first few chapters – maybe a quarter of the book – and then I would start getting the first few chapters back for editing. So, my day consisted of both editing existing chapters, and writing new chapters. To say that I have long days was an understatement!

When I transitioned from writing nonfiction to writing fiction, I thought those same habits would transition with me. What I’ve discovered, however, is that writing fiction is an entirely different process. And as I’ve written my first few fiction books, I have struggled to find a timeline that would work well for me.

One of the problems is that my nonfiction – paying – work and my daily life get in the way of my fiction schedule. As a result, I have underestimated the time that it takes to write a 75,000 word novel. What I think should take me about 90 days has up to this point taken considerably longer.

So I’ve been working on finding a schedule that works for me. And recently what I discovered was that part of the problem is that I am not putting my fiction writing first. I’m actually putting everything else first. Which doesn’t make a lot of sense. My fiction writing should be my first concern, however, like many other authors, I still have to pay the bills.

So, I’ve developed a system that I hope will help me going forward when planning my novel. I estimate that it will take me about 90 days to write the novel so I multiply that times three to get the amount of time it will actually take.

Okay. I’m joking. Kind of. The truth is I have learned to block 30 minute sections of time out of my day in which I focus on my fiction writing. On average I can write about 500 to 1000 words in that 30 minutes section. (Here’s a hint, I use Dragon naturally speaking to help me write faster without having to be tied to the computer.)

So if I can write 500 to 1000 words in about 30 minutes, and I can block out several 30 minute sections of time from my day, then writing 4000 to 5000 words a day. Isn’t that unreasonable. On average, it should take me 2 to 3 hours at the most.

Now if I can write 4000 to 5000 words a day, and I can do that 3 to 4 days a week, then I am writing about 12,000 words to 20,000 words per week. Figuring my rough draft will come in around 70,000 words, then I should be able to write the rough draft of a book in about a month.

Now, here’s the rub. Life gets in the way. So all joking aside, will increase that rough draft timeframe to two months. That’s just the rough draft. Once the rough draft is complete, then I have to go back and edit that draft.

Here’s another spot where I get hung up. Because the editing, while it is my favorite part, is also not the easy part. So, on average, I give myself another two months, sometimes three to complete the first edit of the book.

Once that first edit is complete, then I usually send the book to a couple of pre-readers. It can take those prereaders anywhere from a week to a month to go through the book and make suggestions about any changes that need to be made.

Then I’m back at the desk working on those changes. I need to decide which ones work and which ones don’t, and I need to make the changes to the manuscript. That usually takes me another two weeks.

Let’s say at this point we’re at about 6 1/2 months from beginning a nonfiction book to the point at which it goes to the editor. Add another month for editorial, and another half of the month for layout and proofing, and we’re at eight months. Then you configure another couple of weeks for the final proofreading, so will round that out to a nice number of about nine months.

For me, that means it takes me nine months to produce a book. Notice I said “produce a book.” That’s because I’m not just talking about writing the book. I’m talking about creating a book from beginning to end. From the first words on the page to the final product.

During this process, the actual writing of the first draft only takes a couple of months. The editing of that first draft and any editing that comes after is done while I’m writing another book. So, if I can stack books so that I’m writing the first draft at the same time that I editing a sequential draft of another book, then I can have books rolling out  two or three times a year.

That’s my system. That’s how it works for me. I know that other writers can produce books much faster, but I’m a one-person shop, and I like to produce books that I know are high-quality. So, what does that mean for you?

You can try to use my timeline, it might work for you. It might not. So my suggestion to you, is that you find the schedule that works best for you. Remember that while your writing and editing the book, there are also other activities that need to be handled. Cover design, interior design, marketing. All of these activities also need to be done. The best suggestion that I have for you, is to find a schedule that works for you. You might learn from other authors, but don’t compare yourself to that. You work best at your own pace, don’t let anyone tell you that’s wrong.

How long does it take you to create a book? Do you consider book creation just the writing or the entire production process? Share your thoughts and strategies below. I would love to hear how you work best.

My Guidelines for Refilling the Writer’s Well

The view of Lake Michigan from Petosky, Michigan during the fall. The Petoskey Lighthouse is one of many along Lake Michigan.You may have noticed that there was no blog post last week, and that I’m running a little late this week. Believe me when I say this is no excuse. I’ve been on vacation. I took a trip to Traverse City, Michigan to partake of wine tastings, rock hunting, and hanging out with some very dear friends at the Mitchell Creek Inn. And I wrote very little while I was there.

The plan was not to write at all – a sometimes tough task for a writer. I didn’t quite hit that goal because I had a couple of deadlines during the days that I took away from the real world, but I came pretty close. It was difficult the first couple of days. I went through withdrawals from feeling my fingers on the keyboard, the pen on the paper, and the constant stream of words flowing through my brain in my writer’s voice.

So, why not just take a few minutes and write each day?

I could tell you it’s because I was on vacation and I wanted to be lazy, but the truth is, it was because I really needed to refill my writer’s well. Making daily withdrawals from the well takes a toll when there’s nothing going back in.  All too often, that’s how it happens with writers.  We stay shut-in, rarely interacting with people or our environments, but building worlds and scenes, people and information products. Eventually, all that’s left in the bottom of the creative well is sludge, so occasionally it needs to be refilled, and I have some guidelines when I’m in refill mode:

  • Take at least three days, but 5-7 is better, and get completely away from your normal environment. Don’t go visit family, and only go visit friends if you plan to do something more than just “visiting.” Whenever possible go somewhere completely new.
  • Try something new every day, even if you do end up in a familiar location. It doesn’t matter if it’s tasting a food you would usually turn your nose up at or getting on a zip line for the first time. Hike, climb, bike, walk, eat, swim, explore, but most of all experience something new. The new is what refills the well. It gives you new experiences to draw from.
  • Don’t write any more than is absolutely necessary during these days. If you have a daily writing or morning pages habit, continue with that, but resist the urge to do more than the daily minimum.  And if you need to record details in reporter’s’ notebook, keep them brief. Hold as much as you can in. Save it until you get home. Let your writer’s brain mull it over, turn it inside and out, and play with all of the new experience that you’ve had.
  • Plan a day of downtime when you get home. Vacationing makes you tired. You’re constantly in motion, absorbing new experiences and when you get back to your familiar environment your body and your brain just want to relax. Don’t fight it. Rest well.One new experience - Beer tasting with friends at the Jolly Pumpkin in Traverse City, MI.
  • Then write. Write about your experiences, about everything you saw and did. Write the characters you saw or created. Write the scenes that rolled through your brain. Write the stories you heard or imagined. Just write.

As writers, we are constantly taxing our creativity. Without adding experiences, you will eventually run out of material to draw from. For me, taking a break from writing a couple of times a year is essential. When I do, I find that just about the time that I’m struggling to come up with things to write, I take a break, come back and I’m ready to roll again.

These are my guidelines. They work for me, but they may not work for you. What does? Share your well-filling strategies with us below.

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