I’ve not done a post about writing in a while and given where I am at the moment it seemed appropriate. This post is going to be all about my experiences with writing novels but this also applies to writers of other long-form projects. This is for all writers, whether you are published are not.
I wanted to talk about the slog. That is the effort to keep going and press on no matter how tired or fed up you are with the book. No matter how much you hate it and think it’s crap. No matter what else is going on in your life with your family, your friends and your day job. No matter what time of year it is as sometimes you want to be outside doing something else, anything else, rather than staring at a screen and writing the damn novel.
I plan my novels. I know the start, middle, end, and milestones. I don’t have every single detail plotted out, otherwise it would be boring to write, as there’s no discovery for me, and therefore boring to read. But with that structure in place the story can’t go off the rails sending me into a dead-end where I have to backtrack, delete a huge chunk of text and start down another track. Been there, done that, never again. Everyone has their own style of story plotting, architect, organic or somewhere in-between. However you approach it you still have to finish the book. And that’s a slog.
Someone recently asked me if the next two novels in my new trilogy, the Age of Dread, would be longer or shorter than the first book, Mageborn. Honestly, I have no idea. I know what the story is but not the final word count. There’s always some flex. Some chapters end up shorter than expected and others longer. Sometimes after scanning the first draft I realise it’s missing a beat here or there on certain characters so I might add in an extra chapter or two. So it really can vary up to a point. Even with all of that planning, and preparation, the toughest part of writing a novel is still getting to the end.
It takes me months and months to write a novel. Anywhere from eight months (my quickest ever) to three years. That’s a lot of time. A lot of evenings and weekends. A lot of hours. And a lot of time. And it’s tough. It’s tough to focus on the end goal for all of that time. To think, great, when this is over I will have a finished book. So like a marathon runner, I’m always looking ahead to the finish line. Sometimes that’s all that keeps me going and it can be really hard to keep writing. (I’m not even going to touch on what happens after the first draft, that’s for another day).
The grind of it can be mentally and physically exhausting. I’m not going to compare writing novels to the difficulty of other jobs, like being a doctor, nurse, police officer or school teacher. They are all very difficult jobs. This isn’t a competition or a game. But that doesn’t mean writing novels isn’t difficult in its own way. I write because I love it and it’s my job and it also helps pay the bills. I was writing for years before I was published, many years in fact, producing novel after novel. I just kept going because I had to and I needed to write. Would I still be writing novels if I wasn’t published? Absolutely. It’s who I am. It’s what I do. If you think this post is me moaning about writing, or a pity party, you need to go back and reread it from the start. This is about the slog. This is about stamina.
Writing novels requires effort. It means digging down inside yourself and bringing forth an idea into the real world. Ideas are easy. Everyone has ideas. Hundreds every day. Turning that idea, for whatever it is, into a real finished thing is the hard part. How many people say they are going to write a novel but never actually do it? Tens of thousands is my guess, if not many more.
Writing means exposing a part of your mind to strangers who will then hold it up to the light and scrutinise it. Writing means readers will go through what you’ve been working on for months or years in a matter of hours or days. Writing a review can take 30 seconds and if you do read reviews, which I don’t think is healthy, they can be quite unpleasant, especially after everything you’ve poured into the project. No one sets out to write a bad novel.
I’m often asked if at this point, working on book 6, it gets any easier, and the answer is no. It should never be easy because I’m still working hard every time on every book. If it was easy then it means I’m phoning it in and not really putting in much effort. I wrangle with dialogue and rewrite it over and over. I worry about characters arcs and their development. I worry that I’m just stuffing in too much exposition or world building that will bore people and slow down the pacing. I work hard to create satisfying stories with complex characters that feel real and relatable. I worry because I care about the book, every single time.
Getting to the end of that book and finishing it requires a lot of internal fortitude. A lot of stamina and it is a real slog of will. So. If you’ve made it this far, and you’re working on a novel, your first or fifteenth, it doesn’t really matter, know that you’re not alone and that there are many writers out there that are going through exactly the same thing as you.