Writing a novel in 13 steps

Thirteen is such an interesting number! Why not lump a few steps together and call it ten? Or break a couple items apart and call it fifteen? Maybe I’m alone in preferring multiples of five; I don’t know. Anyway, this post at Writers Helping Writers caught my eye because of the number thirteen, so maybe that was a sensible choice after all: Write a Novel in 13 Steps

I’m betting I use … maybe … one or two of these steps. Let’s take a look —

  1. Choose your best idea … … … … or, for heaven’s sake, any idea. It can be really hard to pick something to work on!
  2. Prewriting
  3. Mental Prep
  4. Writing. … … … … I think I would just start here.
  5. Celebrate the first draft … … … … This is a step? I totally do this!
  6. Pause
  7. Read straight through
  8. Revise
  9. Get feedback
  10. Revise
  11. Edit … … … … some of these could certainly be lumped together. Revise and edit are the same thing as far as I’m concerned.
  12. Polish and proofread
  13. Final read

I think the final read is dispensable, because the endless rounds of proofreading encompass that.

Fine, okay, so, Rachel’s streamlined list:

  1. Choose an idea, any idea, for heaven’s sake just pick something! Throw a dart! Flip a coin!
  2. Write the novel. Good luck with the middle part!
  3. Celebrate the completion of the draft. YAY!
  4. Big revision you’ve known for ages you were going to have to do. That entire chapter you knew you were going to cut? Cut it now.
  5. Read straight through, doing smaller revision, cutting, and proofing as you go. All the editing you’ve known for ages you would have to do? Do it now.
  6. Pause, ideally.
  7. Read straight through, doing hopefully minor revision and cutting.
  8. Send to early readers
  9. Revise according to feedback from early readers.
  10. Proofread. Proofread some more. Proofread some more.

Ten steps. The pause is dispensable if you’re looking at a tight deadline.

As far as I’m concerned, step two — write the novel — deserves to be blown up into a ten-point list of its own. Or maybe a twelve-point list.

  1. Write the opening. Looking good!
  2. Write the next couple chapters. Looking good!
  3. Write the early middle.
  4. Cut the early middle and rewrite that part.
  5. Repeat step four.
  6. Hack your way through the rest of the middle. Start making notes about stuff that will need to be fixed later.
  7. Thank heaven you’re through the middle. Write the climax.
  8. There, whew! Reward yourself by writing the falling action chapters.
  9. Yay, finished draft! Celebrate!
  10. Cut all the stuff you know you really ought to cut. Trim throughout.
  11. Make all the revisions you started thinking about in step six.
  12. Read straight through, polishing as you go.

I know this is a personal list, but I sort of feel the majority of authors agree with me about the middle. Have I mentioned I’m in the middle of Silver Circle? Ugh, I hate the middle part.

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8 thoughts on “Writing a novel in 13 steps”

  1. Yup, I’m in step 4 of your novel-writing process right now. Just cut about 10,000 words and am working on a new plot point. Better get back to that, in fact. Sigh . . .

  2. Yeah, not so much for me, Mary Catelli, as I pretty much often start with just the first scene and basically no idea where I’m going to go once I’m through that scene.

    I guess for me, the first step is: have a great scene pop into your head, fully formed. And the second step is then: “Write that down and then see if the next scene unrolls smoothly when you get to it.”

  3. Pete, love the reference- and definitely agree that having “write the book” as a step in your instructions for how to write a book is cheating.

  4. A great scene that is an opening scene. A Diabolical Bargain started almost like that except that the fully fledged scene was in the inciting incident, after several scenes. Winter’s Curse started with the climatic scene.

    Now Lifestone did begin with a fully fledged opening scene.

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