Updated: Apr 25, 2020
I can hardly believe I actually managed it. Three drafts in twelve months, each draft like layers in a painting, adding texture and color to the story that once existed only in my mind.
I can't write, I have a houseful of kids.
I can't write, I have to make money at a real job!
I can't write, I don't have the time.
I said all those things. I felt all those things. I would have to wait until my four kids were grown. Wait until I was financially secure and could take months off to create a masterpiece. Then I would put on a cozy sweater and a pot of coffee, hide away in my book-lined office with a cozy cat in my lap, and a flower on the windowsill. The words would flow from my fingertips onto the glossy keys of my laptop.
Well, that's not how it worked out for me. (Well, I did have a cat to curl up in my lap!)
So how did I manage it? I'll tell you, but you're not going to like it.
First, I had to WANT it. Really, REALLY want it, deep inside.
Then it took a whole lot of sacrifice and work!
I'm no expert, but I would like to share with you how I managed to get my story on paper.
These are practical steps to get you started on writing YOUR book within the next year! (I know you can do it!)
Make an Outline!
I know, I know, that sounds tedious and boring when you're eager to get in there and create, but if you're on a time crunch you don't have time to mess around with a scene that's not going to work in the long run. My own outline was fairly loose, but I know where the characters are going, what obstacles will get in their way, and where they will end up. I've heard that some writers even write the last chapter first!
Make at least basic character notes
I never filled out a long character-creation form (there's a hundred of them on Pinterest) but it IS useful to have ages, birthdays, basic appearance, last names, family members, and other details that you want to keep straight. You can go ahead and write their goals, dreams, favorite foods, and all that if you like. I was able to keep most of those juicy details in my head.
Do your research, and record your sources
It is so crucial to record notes on where you found your information. Keep URL's, book sources, and the page numbers of that interesting fact. You're likely going to fact check later, and it's frustrating when you can't find where you read that little tidbit and begin to think you made it all up. (Experience talking here!)
Keep your notes together
Now you've got these great notes, you don't want to lose them! I learned the hard way that a scribble on the back of the grocery list is a quick way to lose a great idea. (I'm beginning to think that post-baby Mom-brain is permanent!) I use the notes app on my phone or take a voice memo. I also have a binder for "real" notes and a folder on my laptop where I compile my typed notes.
Set Work Hours
I know, I know, you've already got a full plate. Something is going to have to go. Can you get up an hour earlier to write? Can you cut out some TV time? Take a hard look at your schedule and see how you spend your day. Remember, you do need balance and time to recharge. Set your writing hours to give you enough time for writing, but not so much that your family and friends forget what you look like.
Make Your Writing Time Count!
Writing is your [as yet unpaid and thankless] job now. That doesn't sound glamorous, but it's the hard truth if you really want to write that book. Sit down and work your tail off. Write whether you feel like it or not. Write even if its garbage. You've got a deadline, and you are going to make it!
If you're lucky and have an office, shut yourself inside. I write at the kitchen table because I don't have an office and it's near the coffee pot. I make sure the kitchen is tidy before writing time so I'm not distracted by a sink full of dishes. I keep the TV off. I put my phone aside so I'm not tempted by a Facebook break.
When you have kids, interruptions happen. Learn not to get upset. Remember those little angels are your first priority! Read that story, give that last kiss goodnight, then get straight back to it! Don't let a lovely distraction throw off the rest of your writing time.
Keep moving forward with your story until you've got the first draft.
You're going to try to get this done in about three to four months. (what?!) This is possible, if you keep moving forward. The hard thing for me is not editing while I write the first draft. In the past, I wrote the first chapter a dozen times before I moved on. It took me forever. And guess what, I didn't finish those books. This time, I followed the advice I had read online and kept moving on. You will feel amazing when you write that last sentence in the last chapter, I promise! Lean back from your laptop, cross your arms behind your head and sigh with pride.
Edit, Edit, Edit!
My first draft was seriously messy. Yours will be too. That's okay! Read it through, make notes on character development, plot holes, or weak points, pacing, etc. Don't worry about punctuation, grammar, or other little details. That is a last-step thing. After you've re-read, open a fresh document, copy in your first draft, and start writing draft two! If I didn't like a chapter, I rewrote it completely instead of revising it. No point trying to put lipstick on a pig. After draft two, it's time for the next step. Print a copy and . . .
Ask for Criticism
You can't take it personally. This book is not your baby, it is your job! A pat on the head and a cookie is always nice, but you're trying to write a book that people will not be able to put down. Solicit true criticism and thank people for it! Of course, ask people who will be honest, but not brutal or mean.
I found it helpful to have a list of questions written up to give to my first readers. Things like "When did it feel like the story really got going?" "Which character would you want to meet in real life if you could?" "If you had to cut one character, which one would you let go?" "Where were you confused, or bored?" While I waited for them to read through the book I kept going with my own edits and revisions. (Note: people tend to read a printed copy faster than a digital. Not sure why, but it was that way every time for me!)
Now, Edit Again!
It's third draft time! Take that criticism and turn it into beauty. Cut excess scenes, pare down flowery speeches, delete most of your adverbs. Enliven dull scenes with the five senses. I found it helpful at this time to switch to a different page format. There's something about changing the layout that makes you notice things fresh. I like to use Grammarly not only to catch mistakes but to read the text again.
Tweak, refine, edit, and then do it again. As you go through, you're going to naturally fix grammar and punctuation and typos. By this point, if you're like me, you'll be getting kind of sick of your book, though you don't want to admit it. And, it'll likely have been about a year! You are doing so well!
Time for a breather
You've earned it! You wrote a book! You've put callouses on your fingertips, your shoulders are permanently hunched, and you can describe exactly how each character would react if someone threw a bowl of soup in their face. You feel like you know your fictional creations better than your real friends! (If you've been writing too much, this might actually be true.) It's time to put your finished third draft aside for a little while, so you can come back with a fresh look.
This is the perfect time to write out your synopsis, query letters, start a blog, reach out to agents or publishing houses. After a few weeks or a month, sit down with your book and read it cover to cover as a reader would. Then go ahead and make any changes you feel are necessary. If you are just exchanging one word for another or rearranging a sentence that didn't really need it, you're DONE!
The Most Important Tip of All
Enter this process prayerfully, and accept all encouragement. If you're not a Christian writer, this might sound strange. (I love books by many different authors, and they are not all Christian.) I have to say for me, that prayers for strength, encouragement, and honesty really, truly, helped me get my story on paper. Not only my own prayers but those who know me best. It also helped me from feeling inadequate or not good enough to write about Jesus' life, because I was not doing this for my own glory, but for His.
A last note
There is no real right or wrong way to write a book, the important thing is to get your message out of your head and heart and onto the page. This list is how I did it. Now of course, just so you know, my book hasn't hit the shelves yet. I'm working with a small publishing company, and my book will hit shelves in 2019! I will probably cry the first time I hold my finished, bound book.
The plus side of signing with a small company, is I make more royalties per book. The downside, I do a LOT of my own work. It has been a learning experience, let me tell you! But I'll save all that for another post.
If you want some step by step tips on self-editing, I have a series on that! Start with this post how to self-edit your characters.
Now Go Write Something!