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This Writing Life: 3 Months + 120k Words = One Novel!

1 June, 2012

I wrote recently about coming to the end of a novel, and talked then in fairly general times. Today I want to talk a bit more specifically about the novel I’ve just finished. So, as the title suggests, it’s been three months and close to 120k words (120k was my goal – I came in at somewhere over 110k), and I have yet another finished first draft to add to my ever-growing collection. This one, though, is one that I actually still like, despite being glued to it for three months. I also think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever written. So, after tending to hate my first drafts when I’m done with them – or at least be terribly disappointed with them – what’s changed?

  • Planning.  I realised, when I set out to write this novel – codenamed ‘Root’, but only because I can’t think of a proper title for it – that it was going to be the biggest and most ambitious thing I’d ever written. 120k words. Five POV characters. A bigger geographical area than I’ve used in a novel in a long time. As well as knowing something about the ending in advance, I also needed to know how my many characters connected to one another, and as much about the world as possible. There were plenty of things that developed as I wrote, and some I missed out altogether (I realised towards the end that I’d created a world entirely without religion, which was a bit of an oversight, particularly in fantasy), but overall I planned more of this novel than any other I’ve written, and kept working on my planning and world-building as I was writing.
  • Characters I love.  Coming up with characters I really loved, and really knew through and through, was crucial to Root. I’ve made the mistake in the past of world-building thoroughly but knowing nothing about my main characters, but I’ve realised that just doesn’t work for me. I need to know who I’m writing about, even before I know anything about the plot, because they shapes everything that comes afterward.
  • Writing quickly.  I effectively doubled my writing speed with this novel, going from 1k words a day to 2k. I honestly never thought I’d be able to write so quickly, but it was one of those strange instances where pushing myself to write more actually made the whole process easier (just as I never get more done than when I’m already really busy). Getting from the start of Root to the end so quickly is, I think, the main reason I’m not sick of looking at it now.
  • General improvement in writing ability.  I’m fairly certain I’ve become a better writer since I last finished a novel. There’s always improvement to be made, of course, but being able to see a progression in my writing is very heartening. There’s nothing like knowing you’ve done absolutely the best first draft you currently can to make you feel really proud of a novel.
  • Enough plot for sequels.  This one was a bit of an accident, but I realised halfway through that Root was going to be the first in a series. I’ve never before written a novel ending that didn’t tie everything off – well, now I have. In some ways, that means I can’t be sick of this novel, because I know there’s so much more to come, and I’d love to have the opportunity to write it.

From this point, of course, it’s onwards and upwards: time to start a new novel, and to revise this one. I think it’s useful to look back when you’ve just finished a project, though – to congratulate yourself on what you’ve done well, and prepare yourself for doing even better next time.

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