Planning to write a Novel ..?

29/08/2014 10:19

If you have an idea for a novel and are really serious about telling the story, you may now need to make an important decision about how much planning you are going to do? Some would say to you, simply skip the planning stage and just start writing. My warning would be that although this can produce a result of sorts, it can also be a dangerous path, full of pitfalls and many unnecessary roadblocks. On the other hand, you could make a detailed outline or sketch, along with a chapter-by-chapter list of plot points and character descriptions. This is of course the ‘sensible route’ but also one that can be littered with just as many problems for some of us. The most important element of your plan will be ‘time!

What Time Do You Have?: Making the time to write your book could be a matter of straightforward time management. To the rich man, poor man, entrepreneur, office PA, policeman, fireman, ‘TIME’ is the common enemy in all our lives; no matter who you are, who you may be a partner to or who you work for; we all have the same number of hours in a day. It’s up to you to manage the way you use this precious time. My advice would always be to print out your notes or original synopsis and put them down where you can see them. Having a visual reminder of what you are committed to and possibly the inroads already made can make a big difference to your results. Self motivation is key. I have a ring binder file for each project I’m working on containing a full sketch, key research elements and the odd character bio, with the name of the project printed on the front cover in bold capitals. It sits on my desk and is not removed until the project is complete and published. Every time I walk into my office, that file tells me I have work to do!

What Time Can You Spare?: If you have a busy schedule … and who doesn’t, then try writing in fifteen minute increments. Many professional writers find they can write for fifteen minutes without editing what’s just been written. Whether you work from home or have to turn up at the office each day, make sure you mark out and ring-fence some time for yourself that can be used for writing. You can write in your lunch break, on the train to work, staying over at the office for just fifteen minutes a day or getting up that little bit earlier and fitting in a quarter of an hour before breakfast. When at home, turn off your television! If you think you really must see a particular program, record it and watch it later without the commercials. If time management is a real issue for you, then watching television, when you could be writing, has no part in your life.

As I now write full time, I put aside every morning from seven o’clock until I have a minimum of one thousand finished words on the page. By finished words I mean written and edited down from maybe two or three thousand words of script. I find this way keeps the storyline moving in my mind and requires no re-reading of the previous day’s work before ‘pressing the keys’. By writing in this way and making this commitment, I am able to ‘pace’ a project knowing within a week or so how long it will take and when it will be ready for publishing.

Making time to write is an obvious key element in your goal to write a fiction novel. Making excuses not to find the time is a key element that will drag you down a path leading to failure. If you cannot find the time to realize your ambition then you may need to consider putting of such a project until you do.

How Many Words?: Historically, most agents and publishers would look for around 100,000 (100K) words or more in a good length novel, although this would often vary in relation to genre. Within the psyche of the publisher is firmly engrained the all important ‘cost’ of a printed book, especially the first edition which would normally be a hard cover version. He needs to get your book out there with the lowest production costs and the best selling price. Publishers are always playing this juggling act and it could be one of the reasons they employ highly paid editors whose job, we hear, is to slash as many words as possible out of your novel, without losing the storyline or affecting the style of writing. If, of course, you are self publishing, then you can plan the length of your novel to suit you. In the twentieth century, it was generally common for a regular reader of books to buy a printed work in hard cover or paperback and read at home during the weekends, in the bath and on the train to the office. If it was a particularly appealing book, many would read it from cover to cover in one session … and some still do! However, in this modern 21st Century world, where readers look to finish a novel much more quickly by reading it in small, regular slices on electronic media, a novel will now be regarded as a work of around 60K or more; a Novella at between 20K and 40K with a short story clocking in at something below 20K. These figures are not cast in stone but are simply an accepted average. You would therefore be well advised to make the length of your novel part of your plan; it will save you lots of time at the edit stage and stop you getting ‘carried away’ at the writing stage. Remember, less is more and is it better to produce a fast paced 60K novel that readers will flock to purchase … or a 150K epic work that possibly lacks pace, and will probably lack readers?

How Long To Complete?: This question is an important one and an answer lies in the combination of how many words you plan to write, what time you have available and what percentage of that time you can spare to write your manuscript. The calculation is a straightforward one. If you can write for two hours a day at a rate of 300 words an hour, you can produce around 3,000 words in ten hours, 30,000 words in 100 hours and a full length 60,000 word novel in around 200 hours. If you can commit to five writing sessions of two hours each in a seven day week, then your book or novel is going to take 20 weeks to complete. If you have been doing a first edit as you go along, you can add another five weeks for the final edit and you will then have a finished manuscript in around 25 weeks … or approximately five months. By making sure you have a timescale in your plan, it will give you a target to aim for. This therefore becomes part of a plan to succeed … and not part of a plan to fail!

Producing A Sketch?: If you want an easy life; if you want to finish the work you so desperately started as a fiction novelist, try not to leave your writing process open to abuse. If you do, the person who will abuse it most will be you. You will blame the corresponding result on just about everyone else … of course, but the offender will actually be YOU! Do yourself a big favor and write a detailed sketch ‘before’ you start on your five or six month writing journey.