Books seven and eight are now on sale in paperback and on Kindle. The writing is done, the editing is done (please, find no typos, readers), even the promotion is under control. Book nine is now scratching at the metaphorical back door, wanting to come in from the cold. I always thought that once a book was finished and on the market that I would have a huge burst of energy and enthusiasm to start the next story. Nope, that never happens. I want to curl up and have a House of Cards marathon. Sadly, adult life doesn’t allow that level of selfishness. But, while I am having a self-imposed break from writing for a few weeks, the stages of writing a novel are definitely still fresh in my mind, while I detox from going through each stage to make sure the Secrets of Spain series reached its final end.
Stage 1: Excitement – of course you can write a(nother) novel
Sure, everyone thinks they can write a novel, but you can. The storyline is pure genius, unique, but with all the elements of a bestseller. Genre? Please, you don’t need to conform, you have a brilliant idea, an engaging prose, and a level of enthusiasm that won’t quit. Who needs a social life? Who even needs proper meals? The novel now demands every spare moment your brain has.
If you are new, you’re probably still posting bullshit inspirational quotes on Pinterest.
Stage 2: The first five chapters
The characters have voices, ideas and plans for their lives. They feed off you – you’re God, they are the pawns. They bow to you and love what you do with them. You’ve eased their lives onto the page and it’s WORKING. Soon, you can throw in disaster after disaster… some murders… some blackmail… maybe that’s just me…
This stage can trap the fresh and experienced alike in a false sense of security.
Stage 3: Frustration – but who needs a plan?
You’ve hit the ten chapter mark. You don’t have a plan, but your characters speak to you, you are one with them. It’s all working – the characters have conflict, drama, the body count is rising, and mysteries are ready to be solved (unless you’re writing romance – gratuitous sex has been happening or someone is imagining calligraphy on a wedding invite). Now, the story is going to need a twist, and this time in the story will make or break readers’ decision to carry on or not, so the sweat needs to be on the brow.
If you are new, you probably carry a notebook of one-liners and ideas. You’ve already used them up.
Stage 4: Flex those writing guns because you are a legend
Okay, you get it now. The characters have their gloves off; they know what’s going to happen. For me, Canna has pulled out the morphine and razorblades on herself and others, Luna has uncovered a body and dirty political secrets, and in my new book, Nieve and Jordi have been burned by war. Readers need to be fully into the storyline and care about the outcome, and you feel like Pulitzer will be calling.
This stage can hurt newbies. You see rainbows and butterflies.
Stage 5: Page 100 – best book ever!
Work, work, work. Work some more. Talk like characters are real. You can do this.
Stage 6: Deep sighing
Why did you want to write a book? You’ve written almost 200 pages, but how much will need to be cut out? What about that scene where the protagonist talks about his early life with his sister – still important? And what about the minor characters’ love lives? Worth mentioning? How is anything relevant anymore? Oh God, the indecision!
This is the stage where most books fall into the drawer of permanent abyss.
Stage 7: Page 250 – Damn it, you’re going down the word-drain!
Jesus, why the suffering? Who even reads anyway, so why write a book? Books are so annoying, time-consuming and hateful. The boredom of chapters 4, 12, and 17 – must delete! Living is so exciting, the whole world is out there, so why sit at a desk and write? What other options are there? Not carry on? Let the work you’ve done wither and die like daffodils in a frost?
This is where amateurs add stupidly long descriptions, and use every alternative to ‘said’ in an effort to revitalise a story. Published writers swear and possibly drink a lot.
Stage 8: Dear God, make this end
Just finish, would you? Just get to the final chapter! Kill the bad guys, wed the lovers/push the spouse off the cliff, expose the liars, whatever it takes to make it end. Don’t end up with a story which has characters boring readers with ‘meet the parents’ moments or considering a career change. Either make it happen, characters, or piss off! I want my life back!
This is another stage where books collapse. Either they won’t be finished at all, or finished appallingly (which is worse)
Stage 9: Yes, alter the writing plan
You didn’t make a writing plan, you wanted the flow of a natural waterfall snaking along river stones in the colour of… fuck, whatever. Now, you know what each chapter till the end needs, in order to tie up the ends, or propel the story towards a sequel. Now, every moment is precise; you’re a pro and bitches get stuff done!
Stage 10: I’ve knocked the bastard off!
You will use those words, because Sir Edmund Hillary used them when he scaled Everest. The book is done. If you’re new, you’re on your way. If you’re seasoned, you will know you would have finished the way whole along, or at least that’s what you whispered into the mirror for weeks/months.
Stage 11: Worst draft EVER
You just read your book. It’s so bad that you need to burn it, then your computer, then your house, then your entire neighbourhood. Some people self-publish and choke Amazon with first drafts. Don’t do this. You’re better than this, everyone is.
Stage 12: So much better now
You got ruthless. You printed the story, got out your pink sharpie, and you sliced that bitch, smooth yet efficient, like a plate through a slow-cooked piglet in Segovia. You had to be vicious to your draft, and you’ve read it two, three, four times and now it looks like a real book. The typos are gone, as are the adverbs and pronouns.
I didn’t have enough experience the first time I did this, and my first book was a mess because of it. Invest your time in gaining experience. There are far more rules than you expect. Also make sure your editor is qualified, and don’t just take their word for it. I placed too much trust in the editor of my first book and ended up with a lemon.
Stage 13: Stab my heart out, why don’t you?
You have an editor(s), and they have read the book. Back came 450 pages of notes and changes. Words like – No, just no! – Ew! – OMG, commas – are littered everywhere. The storyline is questioned, the characters are critiqued, and you realise how serious the work ahead really is. Remember to keep appreciating a good editor.
Thanks to Mary, my proofreader, who is so gentle. Thanks to Sue, my editor who rips my work apart like a hungry beast and makes my work so much better.
Stage 14: Okay, you were right all along
The dust has settled – the changes make sense. How much smoother do the chapters sound when spoken out loud now? Sure, more changes need to be made for accuracy, and real-life details need to be triple-checked. But for now, you are on your way. An edited book is on the horizon.
If you have your book released and you’ve haven’t reached this stage, you’ve made a huge mistake.
Stage 15: I just don’t care anymore
It’s edit number 10. You can recite the novel and don’t even read anymore, just skim. Then you find a tiny error and pull your hair, yell at objects and experiment with flavoured cider. If someone finds a typo now, you don’t even care. Dreams are about typos now. You haven’t written fresh material for months.
Stage 16: PANIC! PRESS THE BIG RED BUTTON!
The date has come – the final draft has to be handed in – there are deadlines now – the publishing date, hence the loading and printing times are calling. You can tinker all you want, but the final moment has come.
If you self-publish, you can set your own targets. If you are traditionally published, you will hand the work over and they will decide when it’s a good time for them to publish. Targets are essential for all options, or you may never finish, and die editing.
Stage 17: Where is my medal? Where is my crown?
It’s release day. You’re signing books, people are clapping, and you want to know who is bringing the champagne to toast your victory over the hell you’ve been through. But really, you just need a nap.
If you’re new, chances are the day will pass with you catching up on cleaning the bathroom. It won’t always be that way, not if you persist with your craft.
Stage 18: Haters gonna hate
You have Amazon, Goodreads et al reviews! Your reviews are kind. Plus people interested in what you wrote are circling, almost finished their read. But then the haters will come out. Are they strangers, who live in their mother’s basement, and type in their dirty underwear? Probably. Are they people you’ve pissed off along the way (that has happened to me)? Either way, one day someone will rubbish the work your heart created. Haters gonna hate? Yep. Yet you’ll still hate writing a little more every time you find a hater. Never read reviews/comments sections. Ever. Anywhere.
Remember, from bestsellers to self-publishers, many people buy good reviews. The system is messed-up.
Stage 19: The best moment
Your book has gone. The story is told, the work is done. You don’t walk around every day seeing plot ideas and making mental notes. It’s done; you’re happy. Dream = reality.
This is the best moment, you can enjoy being a writer, enjoy being published. The enjoyment of this stage is something many bask in for years.
Stage 20: Maybe I could write a novel…
I can hear a little voice. I can see a scene. I think I could write an imaginary world…..
See stage 1.
Also see Ten Things I Learned About Writing
All gifs via giphy.com