How to finish a novel: The Writing Plan

snoopy storyI’ve made an ambitious plan of action to try and commit to finish the rewrite of That which is left is lostI’ve spent too long languishing in the belief that I have time, that it’s a long process, that it will be done when it’s done…But I realised recently that these are all just excuses to hide my fear of failure, or success. If I complete the second draft of my novel that means I have to send it out to my beta readers for feedback – which is scary. What if they hate it? What if my characters aren’t sympathetic or well-rounded? What if they tell me the plot makes no sense and the ending is rubbish?

Well, I’ve spent almost four years with these characters now. The first half of the original draft was written for NaNoWriMo 2011. I managed to complete the text just before November 2012. After that, it hid in a drawer for a little while until I committed to the process of ‘editing’ in 2013. I struggled a lot with this. Which is why, at the beginning of 2014 I decided upon a re-write. After refining the first two Chapters for submission into a competition, I then got distracted by CampNaNo in April trying to finish my NaNo 2013 manuscript – a prequel/sequel to the first novel –  which leaked over into May.

So, on the day after I finished the first drat of my third novel, I made a plan that would help me moved forward with my first.

I knew it needed a hefty rewrite – I’ve learnt so much in the past three years that re-reading my writing from so long ago makes me cringe. On the plus side, though, at least I can now see my own personal progress in my writing technique. In addition to this I’ve altered some of the events that happen in That which is left is lost and had an idea to change the timeline of said events to give more pace to the plot. I’ve also refined my sub-plot and rounded out my minor characters over the course of the years, so I now know much more about them and how they would react in certain circumstances.

SMARTThe first thing I had to do was set a deadline. I have a friend who is getting married at the start of July, so I will be busy during this time and will have to put my writing aside for a couple of weeks to attend both the hen-party weekend and the wedding itself. This seems like a good target to aim for, as the thought of having to come back from the wedding with still more work to do is demoralising. Plus, I worked out that this gives me around 28 ‘writing’ days to commit to the rewrite. I then decided I should have a SMART plan to help me achieve this.

Given that I’m attempting a rewrite, rather than just an edit, I knew that breaking the manuscript down into an approximate word count target would not work. Some of the original scenes are entirely redundant now and others have to be written in. So although I have a vague idea that the final word count will be approximately 90-100,000 words, trying to split this across the days I plan to work on the novel seems both arbitrary and ill-advised.

Splitting the work up into chapters didn’t work either. Mainly because I didn’t originally write the draft using chapters and also because, even though I have a good idea of where chapter breaks would come in my draft, they weren’t even nor did they all make for good chapters. This was, again, complicated by the rewrite. Some chapters don’t even exist yet and my rewritten first two chapters are around 2-3,000 words each, meaning that this is my benchmark for chapter length.

In the end, I realised that the easiest way to approach the rewrite was to focus on the different sections I have within the novel itself. Part of the unique style of my manuscript is that I have three individual stories being told by characters from their past. Then, on either side of all these I have the ‘present’ day scenario where Madeline is dying and the sub-plot of Dr Whalley’s interference in Madeline’s death and his affair potentially ruining his marriage.

As it is, then, I have seven distinct sections to my novel:
Part 1
– That which is – Cecelia’s Story
– Part 2
– What is left – James’ Story
– Part 3
– What is lost – Penelope’s Story
– Part 4

Working back from my deadline date of the end of June – leaving the first few days of July as contingency just in case – I worked out I have a week to complete each section rewrite; where each week consists of roughly four ‘writing’ days. This seems realistic, knowing I can often knock out up to 3-5,000 words a day providing I know what scenes are involved.

The schedule started last week, and because I already had my first two chapters done, I could spend quite a lot of time working out the remainder – which ended up being four more chapters. My first part now stands at a total of 15,000 words and 6 chapters. I had already estimated around 10,000 words for each story in between, which rounds it up to a nice 90,000 word total, just as I’d anticipated (with another 10,000 word buffer before my maximum target of 100,000).

So far then, the plan is SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound). What remains to be seen is how effectively I can stick to it. I’ve already had one set back this week on Cecelia’s Story as I wasn’t very well on one of my designating writing days. Fortunately, I neglected to account for the convenience of our  Bank Holiday Monday on the 26th May – which gives me one more day to write (or rather, catch up).

This is how I plan to have my draft manuscript of That which is left is lost complete for my beta readers at the beginning of July. Ideally I’m aiming for the 5th, but have given myself permission to extend this to the 10th if absolutely needed (my friend gets married on the 11th). Through some SMART planning and the setting of manageable goals, the rewrite no longer seems like some scary task that I have to fail or succeed at. I just need to finish it. Because that’s the crucial difference between a novelist and someone who just writes for fun, isn’t it – the difference between being a writer and a published author – you have to finish what you started.

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What about you? How do you go about making writing plans and schedules? Do you even use them to help with your writing process, or do deadlines hinder your process?
I’d love to hear your approaches – drop me a comment below, or tweet me.

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10 responses to “How to finish a novel: The Writing Plan

  1. Pingback: Fearing ‘The End’ | Cat Lumb: The Struggle to be a Writer

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  5. I’m always impressed by how organised you are! I’m rewriting a rough draft (from Camp NaNo no less!) and I’ve set myself a deadline of the end of June – I’m going to try to do a couple of hours on week nights but so far I’ve only managed one night. Finding time is the hard part and I think what you’ve done is very clever (I was going to say “smart” but didn’t want to be accused of bad puns!)

    • Part of my secret is a healthy reward system. For every 1500 words today I got to watch an episode of Scandal (my new guilty TV pleasure now pretty much all my other fave series have ended for the season). I have a party to go to this weekend, but have promised myself I can’t go unless I’m two third of the way through the section. And if I reach my target at the end of May I get to download a music album I’ve been coveting for a while.
      The organisation is just a byproduct of wanting to work out when I can indulge in something for all my hard work. 😉 Makes it much more appealing!

      Good luck with your rewrite. Seems like we’ll be working to a similar deadline: will try and offer support when I can 😉
      You should always use the pun, I love them: makes me smile!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Take Care, Cat

  6. I find it so funny how NaNoWriMo is both helpful and hindering to a writer. I LOVE everything about it, but by the time I get around to editing-it’s always time for NanNo (or Camp NaNo) again. Then of course, I have to take this brand shiny new idea and write that – and…yes. I too, am just starting a serious re-write of one of my Camp NaNo novels, so your post was very helpful 🙂

    • I did consider whether to use July to edit/rewrite the first draft novel I used April NaNo to finish. Think that would make me a glutton for punishment though!

      NaNo is so useful to get going and I don’t think I’d be this far along without it: I’ve made so many friends and felt so supported by the community I would probably have given up before now otherwise!

      See my reply to Sarah about the importance of reward systems. I think this is crucial for a rewrite, because as great as it is to finally know just what you want to write and where the story is going, it doesn’t mean it’s easy.

      Good luck with your rewrite! Take Care, Cat

  7. Finish your novel? Finish??

    I thought we were supposed to agonise over every word and die whilst on page 3 million of our magnum opus.

    Sometimes, I feel you’re not taking writing seriously!

    • I’m sure I’ll still do this. I’m only committing to finishing this round…once I get it back from the beta readers I’m sure I’ll have plenty to agonise over and can begin anew 😉

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