How long does it take to write a novel?
The back story includes a completely fabricated synopsis and no concern about deception because these pages would surely go no further than my private one-on-one critique with Elana K. Arnold. Right?
So. Later that month, when I was theoretically supposed to give my finished draft to my new mentor, I had written…30 pages. Of scenes. In no particular order.
You can imagine my first mentorship meeting. I sat across from Jennifer Ziegler and sheepishly begged forgiveness. She displayed remarkable equanimity, patience, generosity and kindness. And a fantastic sense of humor.
We made a plan. We would do a new kind of mentorship. She would mentor me through writing my first draft. It worked. I finished the draft on February 28, 2019, in a wild end-of-month push that included writing 30 pages on the last day.
When I look back at my process, the short version is that it took me nine months. But my files tell a different story. I actually began playing with scenes and characters in 2015, four years ago:
I begin writing scenes inspired by real life.
I write more scenes inspired by real life. Children of Wrath is the working title. (Catchy.) Anya is the main character.
I write more scenes. I draft a Table of Contents to try to give structure to the scenes. Anya becomes Maura – I begin working with the characters of Maura, Mose and Chris.
August 27, 2016
I attend an SCBWI Full Novel Workshop in Round Top to try to figure out what I’m doing. At the conference, I discuss my concept with Anne Bustard. She provides critical guidance.
I try to fill in a Save the Cat Beat Sheet. I realize I’m not a good plotter. I write new scenes.
I work on characters.
I spend an entire year working on a picture book concept that attracts interest but no deal.
I go to a church retreat to re-submerse myself into a Christian camp experience. I dive back into the novel and revisit the scenes, then step back to tell the story I’m trying to tell to myself.
I clean up 10 pages of scenes, fabricate a synopsis and submit my pages to the SCBWI Conference for a critique with Elana K. Arnold.
I meet with Elana. I love Elana. She enters my pages in the conference’s writing contest. I am so delighted that she thought the project had merit that I don’t even think to worry about it actually winning. In my mind, I’ve already won.
I attend a Texas Writer’s League event: The Writer’s Field Guide to the Craft of Fiction with Michael Noll to acquire skills to help me polish my book. (I’m so far from needing to polish my book.)
I work on more scenes.
I find out I’ve won the mentorship. I move from “!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! to ?!?!?!?!?!?! to OMG what have I done” in three seconds.
I try to attend a Dreaming the Novel to Life with Sheila O’Connor. I get a flat tire on the way to San Antonio. I miss the workshop.
I send my first batch of pages – 96 total including TOC and a page of questions – to Jennifer.
I get pneumonia. I lose two full weeks of writing time and a lot of momentum.
I send my second batch of pages – 208 total including TOC and two pages of questions – to Jennifer.
I take myself on a wildly successful writing retreat. I submit 43 more pages to Jennifer.
I make a leap of faith and attend the same church retreat I attended last year the weekend before my manuscript is due. It pays off incredibly.
I write 75 pages in my last week. 30 pages on the last DAY.
I submit my completed first draft – 374 total pages, including TOC – to Jennifer.
Just the beginning
All this to get to the first draft.
There’s a reason “writing a book, running a marathon” yields more than 44,000,000 Google results. But since I only run when chased, I asked runner/writer Sean Petrie for his take on first drafts - what mile marker is the first draft?
For him, the first draft is actually more like the first week of training for a marathon. It’s the hardest part. But it also means I still have miles (and a whole lot of time) to go.
To be continued…look for a soon-to-come post on the hard costs of writing a novel.