Want to be the next Elizabeth Gilbert or Liane Moriarty? It’s a dreamy thought indeed, and dreamy it will stay unless you get those fingers typing. Words. Around 90,000 of them. And while asking how long it takes to write a novel is much like pondering the length of a piece of string (J.K. Rowling took five years to pen the first in her Harry Potter series, while Bryce Courtenay smashed out a bestseller every 12 months), there’s a system to getting that book of yours out of your head and onto the page. We’ve got it down to six steps.
1. CLARIFY WHAT YOU’RE WRITING
…and importantly, who you’re writing for. Will it be fiction or non-fiction? And which genre tickles your fancy? (Hint: take a look at your bookshelf, and maybe don’t attempt science fiction if you’re more of a Mills & Boon-er). Also think about your why. Are you writing this book as a hobby or professional pursuit? What is your book about? What inspired you to write it? Does it have a title? Have a good hard ponder on these questions before you launch in.
2. SCHEDULE (AND STICK TO) WRITING SESSIONS
Hold the excuses here. If it’s important to you, you’ll find time. Liane Moriarty, who’s sold six million books and inspired the recent HBO series Big Little Lies, works around the needs of her two kids, writing for three hours a day in-between school drop-offs and pick-ups. Zoë Foster Blake turned in her social life and spent her twenties writing books on weekends and at nights (she’s got seven titles to her name, so far), while Love Warrior author Glennon Doyle Melton gets up at 4.30am to write. Try setting a word target each week and get to it.
3. SUCK IT UP
There will come time, maybe just a few lines in, that you will decide your writing stinks. “All writers think they suck,” according to Eat Pray Love author Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote her ridiculously popular memoir with “a strong mantra of THIS sucks” drumming in her head. “One day, when I was agonising over how utterly bad my writing felt, I realised: ‘That’s actually not my problem’…” she says on her blog. “So I put my head down and sweated through it.” As should you. Write on.
4. FINISH YOUR FIRST DRAFT. THEN RE-WRITE IT
You should sit on a first draft for a few months before going in for the re-write, as a bit of cooling off and creative distance will help you come at this (generally detested) stage with a more critical eye. Be brutally honest with yourself. Are your characters believable? Does this plot actually go somewhere (or even make sense)? Would I want to read this book? To get a sense of your work as a whole, try making a visual storyboard of each scene. Then chop, change and add as required.
5. EDIT SCRUPULOUSLY
The time has come to kill your darlings, so take out words and sentences that aren’t absolutely vital to your story (as far as Stephen King is concerned, “the road to hell is paved with adverbs”). Don’t know your ‘affects’ from your ‘effects’? Stick your nose in something like Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, and if you’re going the self-publishing route, bring in professional help. As in someone who doesn’t love you, that can cold-bloodedly say you must murder that line you agonised over for three weeks. How will you know when your book is cooked? Every author must answer this question for themselves (sorry). But consider this: would you be proud to put this work out into the world, as it is now? And if all else fails, hit submit.
Want to get published? Here’s how to do it.