Time to write. (How long does it take to write a novel Pt.2)

As discussed in my previous blog, I’d been dipping in and out of the idea of writing Troll Life for about a year or so and did some work on a synopsis and character profiles in the summer of 2016.

I don’t know how long I spent on it in total but I’m going to say no more than ten hours.

I’d decided on a new approach to plotting and used a ‘beat sheet’ that I got from the book ‘Save The Cat’ by Blake Snyder. It is aimed at screenwriters but is useful for novelists as well.

I bought Save The Cat at the end of November 2016. By the time I’d read the book and wound down for Christmas, I won’t have done a lot of work on the plot until the New Year. This is the point where I can really start putting some timings against the work that I’ve done.

I spent about three weeks working on the outline and ensuring I had all the ‘beats’ in the right place. I created 80 individual chapter headers with the intention of writing 1,000 words in each. The finished article will have different sized chapters but breaking it down like this made it easy for me to see what was meant to happen at each point in the story. One line was enough of a prompt.

With other stuff I had to do at the time, I would have spent about two hours a day for five days a week so approximately thirty hours.

I eventually started work on ‘writing’ Troll Life on 25th January 2017.

Screen Shot 2017-07-21 at 08.14.07.png

As you can see, I’ve used a handy little tool in Scrivener to set my daily word count target and without much thought, made the day before my birthday the deadline.

As I had my prompts ready, there was no writer’s block as such so it was all writing. I write at an average of 1,000 words an hour so it took approximately 80 hours to complete the first draft.

I finished on 3rd April 2017, a whole eight days ahead of schedule.

Screen Shot 2017-07-21 at 08.14.30

Then, and this is a very important step in the process, I left it alone and didn’t look at it again for three months. I had a lot of work to do on getting Life In The Balance ready for publication so it fitted in nicely but I firmly believe that you need some distance between first draft and first edit.

I’ll be honest and admit that as pleased as I was to finish the first draft, I didn’t think it was very good. The plotting helped massively in enabling me to get the words on the page but I suspected that I’d lost some creativity along the way.

On 3rd July 2017, a full three months since I’d looked at it, I begun my first read through of Troll Life. This is the first step of the editing process but there’s not a lot of editing going on. I’m merely trying to get a feel for how the book reads.

I’ll correct typos at this stage if I notice them and will make notes against each chapter if anything doesn’t feel right. I will also make more general notes in Evernote about general plot, whether certain characters need to be beefed up, if certain phrases are overused etc.

I finished the read through on 5th July and it took me approximately eight hours. And guess what? It wasn’t as bad as I’d thought. Far from prefect but the story worked.

I then moved onto stage two of the edit process. Another read through of each chapter, this time acting on the notes against each one where possible, spotting more typos, making more notes and crucially, categorising each chapter.

Labelling is another handy tool in Scrivener and I customised to give myself a bit of an overview as to what work was needed. I will adapt these labels as I go along but this is the handiest guide for now.

Screen Shot 2017-07-21 at 08.28.22

This stage of the process went from 7th – 21st July and took twelve hours.

Now for a breakdown of where we are up to and some numbers.

Synopsis and character profiles – 10 hours

Plot outline – 30 hours

Write first draft – 80 hours

First read through – 8 hours

Second read through – 12 hours

So far I have completed 140 hours and there is a lot of work still to do.

After the first couple of read throughs I have 35 unresolved notes in Evernote. Most of them relatively minor but a couple of bigger questions about characters.

The labelling of each chapter came up with the following.

Rewrite whole chapter – 3

More work needed – 24

Revise dialogue – 17

Good – 34

Add humour – 2

That’s not to say that I won’t do more work on the ‘Good’ ones and once I’ve tackled the main issues highlighted, I might revise my label structure.

I’ll try and keep a record as I’m going and I’ll write another blog with my progress.

I’m refining my process all the time and I’d like to get to the point of completing a book a year. There are natural breaks where I will be able to start work on the next one and at some point I may knock up a project management style spreadsheet to show how you can have more than one novel on the go at a time.

Please follow my blog for further updates.

I’d be interested to know what other people’s approaches are and would be grateful for any tips. I’m learning all the time so please feel free to comment.


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