I’ve been happily pottering along in my revision, and realised today while talking to Cassie that it’s already halfway through January and I haven’t posted a timeline for those who are looking for guidance.
Quarter one, as you may recall, is all about the big picture of our story. In the first 3 months, we’re aiming to gain a better understanding of the story journey, the character arcs and the flow of events.
We’re also writing the first draft of a second novel, so by the end of March we should be at least 10,000 words into the draft.
If you’re currently panicking, relax. This is a very modest proposal. The first quarter is all about thinking and exploring, both in the revision and in the first draft (unless you are continuing a half-finished draft, in which case, just keep going). There’s not a lot of actual writing time, just lots of notes, jotting down ideas, and spending time in your own head.
The important part is to spend some time with your story each day. It could be in the shower, or driving to work, or a dedicated time in the morning/evening. Just remember to keep a notebook handy to jot down those lightning bolts of inspiration. But keep it all ticking over in your head and your subconscious will come out to play with all sorts of ideas and solutions to make your story stronger.
This stage is very important. We’re trying to get deeper into the story and the characters, to move beyond a simple edit of sentences and structure, to actually identify the weak points of our stories and characters, and make them stronger. And that is a fully creative exercise. The more technical part comes later. For now, we want to be creating, as if we were writing the draft from scratch.
And that’s why it’s easy at this stage to start your second draft. The brain is in creative mode. We are already brainstorming one story, so it’s easy to brainstorm another. So we develop the two stories in tandem. By the time we get to the technical part of the revision, we will have enough momentum on the new story to keep writing through our editing process.
You might think that you can’t brainstorm two stories at once. You might be concerned that the stories will meld together in your head into one single story. It is a valid concern, but one that we can work around, using the following strategies.
1. Make sure the stories are significantly different.
Don’t try to write two high-fantasy stories at the same time. If you are revising a sword-and-sorcery extravaganza, think about writing an urban fantasy. Or if you are writing in the same genre, make sure that the stories and protagonists are different enough that you won’t get confused. I’m revising a science fiction story with a male protagonist and writing a science fiction story with a female protagonist. One is a political thriller, one is space opera. They have nothing in common, other than being set in space.
2. Keep your notes separate
Get a different notebook for each story. Stick pictures on the outside to represent the story, something visual that will cue you in when you pick it up. This helps your brain click over to the right story before you even begin writing. If you use spreadsheets, colour the backgrounds. Use any visual trick you can to get you into the right story at the right time.
3. Spend time in blocks
If you find it hard to have 2 stories running at once, or you struggle to switch between stories, consider working on them in blocks. Spend 3 weeks on one story, then switch. As a bonus, when you come back to the first story, you will often find that working on the second story has allowed your subconscious to come up with all sorts of interesting ideas on the first story.
4. Go with the inspiration
If you really, really can’t focus on two stories, then let your inspiration lead you. Work on one until you get tired of it or stuck, and then switch to the other. If inspiration hits, go with it. This isn’t the most practical way to do things, but who said being creative ever followed the rules? In the end, the process has to work for you.
So now, some dates and times. These are a very, very loose guideline to make sure you progress towards the next stage. Work out the timing that suits you, but no matter what, keep moving. Keep thinking and writing. If you’re 2 weeks in and you’ve not made any significant progress, then you might need to set yourself more stringent daily goals. Work with what you need.
Revision: Read-through of manuscript completed. Plot and character spreadsheets completed. Should have significant notes on what needs to be changed, and might also have some ideas from brainstorming. By now you will know everything about your first draft, and where the weak points are.
First draft: Main characters should be solid. General outline of story, type, location, outcome. Plotting may have started. By now you will know what story you are going to write, and how.
Revision: New plot outline, connecting hook and climax should be complete and solid. All character arcs showing growth and characters de-cliched.
First draft: Plotter: Outline should be ready to go. Pantsers: Why aren’t you writing?
Revision: Getting into the nitty gritty of theme, message, tension mapping and beats. Scenes rearranged for maximum impact. All these should be firmed up ready for Quarter 2.
First draft: Plotter: You should be 10,000 words in at least. Pantser: Why aren’t you writing?
Like I said, it’s loose. But you will find that you can’t just work on one thing at a time. All parts of the revision are interconnected. So look for general progress, rather than “I’ve finished that bit”.
Good luck! Questions and panicking in the comments.