Before I decided to start writing my first novel, I read a few books from well-known authors about their writing processes. What can I say? I’m a planner. However, I was quickly dismayed by the fact that most of these writers listed author as their full-time job. They weren’t commuting two hours a day and balancing a professional career with writing bestsellers. They had hours every day to dedicate to putting words on paper, and I’d be lucky to score an hour of quiet time without my kiddos getting into an argument.
Like Stevie Wonder was a Part-Time Lover, I’m a Spare-Time Writer. I have to be. I’m a busy nonprofit executive who rarely leaves work at the office when I come home at night. I have two girls who play travel softball, and I’m shuttling them all over Northern Virginia every week. When they’re not playing, practicing, or getting private coaching, they’re Girl Scouting, and I lead both of their troops. I somehow manage to clean the house, pay the bills, and weed the garden, but it leaves very little time for me.
Depending on who you ask, the writing process has 5-7 steps that get you from beginning to end. You start with planning and move all the way to publication. The steps in between involve drafting, revising, and editing and can take anywhere from 4 months to a year (on average). Most authors recommend that you carve out time every day to write, measuring your progress by counting words and pages. While the number one thing you need to write a novel is a good story, it takes time and discipline if you want to attain publication.
Now let me tell you about my writing process, which has been completely unconventional and devoid of all discipline. I was inspired to start writing back in 2016, and I commenced by drafting scenes. My goal was to piece the scenes together to create the full novel, but truth be told, I’m probably a better screenwriter than I am an author. I write in dialogue and add the details later. I can’t rely on a schedule, so I write when I’m inspired or when I have the time. This often means I’m writing between the hours of 11pm and 2am (that is if I don’t fall asleep in the process). The problem with this method is that I’m not living in my characters’ world every day. Sometimes I don’t live in it for weeks. Every time I want to write, I have to go back and read what I’ve already written, so I can walk in their shoes again and move their story forward. I’ve wasted a ton of time in the last four years getting reacquainted with my leads. But on the plus side, I’ve been able to slowly and continuously refine my novel, making edits that strengthen the story and truly bring it full circle.
For me, writing is not about the finish line. It’s about the journey. I love my characters, and I love my story, and my goal is to make the reader love them too. I’m not setting out to write the next great American novel, though I am comforted that many of those books took years to write. I am setting out to write a story that moves people – a story that makes someone better for having read it.
Today, I am at 100,000 words. What I have learned these past four years is that there are many different ways to write a book. My writing process isn’t one that I suggest people emulate, but it has worked for me. Do what works for you. If you have a story to tell, do it, and do it on your own terms.