A longer journey: embarking on a bigger book

Today’s blog is slightly different from the norm, as I’m embarking on something slightly bigger.

I’m writing a bigger book.

This probably doesn’t sound that big a deal, but to me it feels like one! So I thought I’d write about it, just in case anyone else:

  • feels the same way
  • is thinking about writing a long book and wondering what might be challenging
  • has some great tips they’d like to share with me!

So here’s the deal. Normally I write books of between 40 and 50,000 words. This is convenient, because it fits in well with my other commitments, but it also seems to be my natural length. I can draft a book that size in 3 or 4 weeks, which is a nice manageable length for the first stage of a project.

40-50K is also a handy length because I tend to write my outline in the form of one post-it note per chapter (I make arc, character and other notes too), and stick them on a piece of A3 paper. 20-25 notes just fit.

But I have one series which needs to be longer. Perhaps this is because it began with my first full-length novel, A House of Mirrors – certainly the first full-length one I’d let anyone look at now! The first draft of that came out at 81,000 words, and while I cut that to 72K in the final version, it’s still quite a chunky beast compared to my others. It was quite involved, too, going backwards and forwards between different time periods. The sequel, In Sherlock’s Shadow, which took me some time to get round to, was just over 90K in draft.

So I’m approaching the draft of book 3 in the series with some trepidation. I love writing this series, but it takes it out of me. In fact, I’ve put off writing book 3 for well over a year, because I couldn’t face the thought of writing 90,000 words or so and coping with lockdown at the same time.

Here are some of the things I find difficult:

Duration. Simply put, these books are twice as long as the books I normally write, and since time isn’t elastic and I have other things to do, they also take twice as long. I’m expecting the draft of this book to take two months rather than one.

Complexity.. Two months is quite a long time to keep something fairly convoluted in your head. While I can write in more of a burst on a shorter book and get it done in three weeks, I worry that over two months I’ll lose track. This plot has more strands than usual, so there’s more to keep in my head and more stories to pick up and put down.

Staying motivated. It’s comparatively easy to stay motivated for three or four weeks, because you can see the end. Two months is tougher. And when you can’t even fit all your your post-it notes on a big sheet of paper..

I’m daunted just writing all that. But – BUT – I am 15,000 words into my draft now, and it’s actually going well so far (crosses fingers).

Here are some things I’m doing to try and support the process:

Pacing myself and writing regularly. I’m aiming to write around 10,000 words a week, and I’ve committed to write five days out of seven if I possibly can, just one chapter a day. I’m guessing that when I get towards the end I’ll be unable to resist doubling up occasionally, but I don’t want to peak early and then crash. And not missing too many days makes it easier to pick up from where I left off.

Having an outline, but knowing it might change. When I wrote the first book in the series I knew broadly what would happen but not exactly when, and I didn’t have much idea of the detail. Luckily, during the process of editing I discovered that I’d somehow managed to hit the points of my protagonist’s character arc more or less in the right place, but I wouldn’t want to write a book that length again without some sort of structured plan! So I have a few pages of notes, including what happened in the previous books, and a brief outline for each chapter. Some of that may change, and I may end up with more or fewer chapters than originally planned, but that’s fine as long as I get my characters to where they need to be at the right point in the story.

Tackling one bit at a time. The thought of 40 to 45 post-it notes falling off a huge piece of paper is quite a scary one. Therefore I’ve decided to have five chapter notes in view at a time, which shows me the next chunks of the story and the next character arc point I’m heading for. I’m actually writing my post-it notes out five at a time as I go, based on my chapter outline. So far they’re pretty much the same, but they may diverge as the story progresses.

Keeping a chart. I’m a sucker for progress charts and gamification and all those sorts of things, so having a chart where I can see how much I’ve done and what’s left to do helps me see that I’m making progress. Plus it’s nice updating my spreadsheet at the end of each writing session and seeing the total rise.

So that’s what I’m doing to ease myself through writing a bigger book. People who write long books, what works for you? Do you have any tips for me? If you do, please share them!

The featured image is Road to the Cairnwell by Neil Williamson, and is reproduced under Creative Commons license 2.0

4 thoughts on “A longer journey: embarking on a bigger book

  1. It was interesting to read about your post-it notes, Liz, although I can’t see that working for me as I tend towards the pantser regime. 😀 However I have written a few books at a similar 40-50,000 words, then my latest was around 120,000 before editing which was a culture shock. I won’t mention it took around 4 years before finally being released in case that gives you nightmares. 😀
    My only offer of encouragement is to convince your brain you’re actually writing Book 1 of a series of 2, at around 50K each and then Whoops, you lied, and it’s actually one biggie. Good Luck.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m not sure I have any advice as I’m half way between you and Val and have just written a chapter I didn’t plan but which seems to fit. I do have the post-its though and always assume there’s a deep meaning to the ones that fall off even though I can’t usually read my own writing! Good luck with the enterprise – I can’t wait for the result.

    Liked by 2 people

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