As this is something I’ve attempted many times over the years and have mostly failed spectacularly with, having finally gotten to a point where I may actually write and edit a book to completion is a huge milestone for me, so since I’m in the home stretch of my very first full length novel, I thought I’d cover all of the basic steps along the way.
Stage One: Planning
Plan everything. Plan for a few months. Plan character names, backstories, locations, scenes. Everything. Even if you don’t use every morsel of information, have it there just in case. You may never mention that your protagonists favourite musician is Taylor Swift, but it’s good to know. Plus, if you’re a famous author sometime in the future and someone asks you what their favourite character likes to listen to, it’s nice to have a pre-prepared answer rather than having to make one up on the spot.
There are a ton of resources online for this kind of thing, so you don’t have to wade in by yourself and feel overwhelmed.
Stage Two: The First Draft
The first draft for me was a glorified plan of everything that was going on in the novel. Imagine a very long, very detailed, plot overview and write that. Don’t worry about all of the minute details from stage one, you can add those in later, just write everything down, word vomit style. No one ever writes a great first draft, so you might as well use it as a baseline so you know exactly what you know exactly what you need to do in your second draft.
I learned this only a few days before I finished by first draft, but if you type ‘ELEPHANT’ at a point where you need to include information, but searching for that information could ruin your writing flow, it makes areas like that a lot easier to find, as well as meaning you aren’t looking over a section wondering what you meant by ‘super-natural spinny thing’ and whether that was actually meant to be in the text.
Stage Three: The Rewrite
At this point, you have your story written down, and now you just need to make it sound good. So you take your first draft, open up a new document, and then you rewrite. You don’t copy and paste, however tempting it might be, but you sit there and you focus on very word and you decide what you need to add, what you need to take away, and what you need to do to make something sound good. I noticed in my first draft that I did a lot of telling and not much showing, but with my second draft I was able to erase all of that and make it sound a lot more polished.
This is where I’d also recommend using some kind of story-writing software to help you keep track. Using that kind of thing while writing your first draft is detrimental as you could get too caught up in all of the planning to actually focus on the writing of the novel, but now that the novel is already written you don’t need to worry about that, and using this kind of software means you can keep track of all of the detail your adding in from your planning stage to bring the world to life.
I would suggest taking some time out before starting this stage, because if the story is too fresh in your mind you won’t be able to edit as well as you could if you’ve taken a week or so to distance yourself from it.
Stage Four: Editor Edit
This is where you read through the story as though you were a book editor. You look at it with fresh eyes, you see what works and what doesn’t, and you’re ruthless. Be harsh. If you’re saving each draft separately, you can always go back and add things back in if you change your mind. At the end of the day, every scene needs to make sense, and although a scene might be cute and fun, it’s not always necessary.
This is also the stage where you check for spelling errors, grammatical issues, and general readability when it comes to your story.
Stage Five: Peer Edit
Get a trusted friend to read or, or something anonymously online. There are a ton of places where you can find someone, swap pieces of work with them, and have them look through it and see what they think. Encourage them to make edits and notes because this will give you a good idea of what a typical reader would think, and gives you a completely new perspective on the text, which is always a good thing.
And then you check through and see if you want to change anything based on their notes. As a general rule of thumb, the reader isn’t always right, but you should still take everything they say seriously. They are who you’re selling your book to, after all.
And then you’re done. You’ve managed to write a novel. You can redraft ten times or a hundred times, but the most important step is the first draft, because without that, there’s no book, just parts of what could be.