My writing/editing process in 2023, as it pertains to 3T
Updated: Feb 17
Squeezing this blog post in today because it was on my "things to finish before going back to work" list and...I go back to work tomorrow. Eek.
Now that I'm about to start editing 3T from a severely underwritten 1st draft into a solid 2nd draft that I will allow my two first readers to actually look at...I figured why not do a snapshot of my process at this time, just before I publish my first book.
At this point in my writing "career", I've written 4 novels* and 1 novella. They are:
DoT -- 220K words over an embarrassing span of time (coming out May 1, 2023!)
FtC -- 88.5K words started during NaNo 2021 (if you read my blog you already know I lost this whole 1st draft manuscript to the tech gods (so back up your work)--if you don't read my blog...back up your work!)
YBaB -- 33K words in 2022 (polished novella on sub with two presses)
3T -- 150K words in 2022 (underwritten 1st draft)
TTN -- 67K words started during NaNo 2022 (another underwritten 1st draft)
* you could almost say I've written 5 novels, if you count the 80K words of the failed DoT: Version Zero I tried to write back in 2007 lol. None of the actual words were kept, so maybe it's a separate project even though most of the story is the same?
I have edited 1 novel and 1 novella past the 1st draft stage. They are:
Sounds like...not a lot. Despite that, I think my process is pretty developed because I've had to force myself to get it together to achieve basically anything listed up there that came after DoT. It will be interesting to see how editing 3T goes because I've only had YBaB to prove to myself I could edit after DoT, whereas I've written a ton.
I have hope because editing YBaB felt like editing DoT...just much, much smaller. 3T is massive, and will be much *more* massive by the end of the 2nd draft.
So! What do I do? How did I get these 1st drafts and how do I plan to make them publishable books?
This will be based on 3T so it's best looked at as how I do the big ones, with multiple POVs. TTN and YBaB were different, as they only have one POV (and YBaB is tiny and was planned and written very differently). But since I still have to write 3 of the books in the CotT 5-book series, this will come into play a lot over the next few years!
The first stage is just thinking. I used to say I was a plotter because I wanted to have big, detailed outlines before I wrote. The reason I wanted them was because I hated writing, and I didn't want to write anything I'd have to delete. I still recoil at the thought of having to delete a scene (part of the reason I'm a terrible underwriter in the 1st draft--write less, delete less? hahah), but at least now I know how to just WRITE.
It takes me so much less time to get a 1st draft down than it did for DoT that I'm not afraid of having to change something, though I hope not to have to for 3T given the years of ruminating I did on the story and the 14,000 word outline I got out of it. The more you plan, the less you have to change! (I think/hope.)
3T was conceived of at the same time as DoT, which means I've been thinking about the characters and the story for more than twenty-five years. That made the outline relatively easy to jot down from the plans (the true story?) inside my brain.
The rest of the series was also thought of long ago, but in a much less detailed manner. I have outlines for the final 3 books, but they're a lot shorter--mostly at the plot and events level, rather than point form character actions and dialogue at the scene and chapter level. I expect to expand them to proper size in the next year so I never run into anything that slows me down!
All of that said, "planning" takes me years and years. It's probably best thought of as discovery writing, but in my mind...so anything I explore and ultimately abandon never gets written down.
Once I've thought about something for long enough, I write it down!
This usually involves writing the story of each POV character (DoT had 6, 3T has 5) in point form from their birth until their death, and then isolating which parts are shown by the book. Once I have those for all POV characters, I tend to break them into scenes (choosing who gets what for the ensemble scenes) and then just mash them all together into the outline. I throw chapter breaks in where I feel they should be, and Part breaks where I feel those should be.
I found the chapter breaks for 3T pretty easily but not the Parts. I have placeholders for them but I'm sure I'll end up moving them in this 2nd draft. I am also known to expand certain sections into additional chapters when I find they take more words than planned. DoT started with 47 planned chapters and finished with 51. The number of scenes also increased by 3 (I added 2 and broke 1 in half).
3T currently has 52 planned chapters. I'm sure I'll end up adding...2-4 additional chapters. I doubt I'll add more scenes for the 2nd draft (that may come after readers) but I will probably end up breaking a few existing chapters in half or thirds.
It makes sense that 3T will have more chapters than DoT since it should end up a bigger book by 10-30K words.
Writing the 1st draft is the part of the process I used to struggle with the most. I would struggle to write things perfectly and would re-read everything and edit as I went.
I think one of the reasons this was so hard with DoT was that my writing skill at the time was nowhere near good enough to get the ideas in my head on paper! And at the time I also didn't realise...that doesn't really matter for a 1st draft.
Or, it doesn't have to.
I'll always prefer editing to writing because those later stages are what make the story shine. I'm also terrified of the blank page. So once I have a fully written 1st draft and I can start massaging it into the final story, I'm much happier! Unfortunately--I still have to write the 1st draft haha.
Now I write in sprints. Usually this means I schedule one to start in 5-10 minutes, and during that waiting period I read over the part of the outline I intend to write. I used to sprint for 30 minutes at a time, and could reliably get down 800-1,000 words, but then I realised I was wasting a lot of that time on twitter or getting coffee LOL. I decreased my average sprint time to 15 minutes, and now I typically do 500-700 words in that time. Which is much more efficient!
So I basically just sprint through my outline and never look back. If I decide to change something that I've already passed I'll make a note and continue writing as if I had already made the change. If I realise I missed my chance to explain something I'll do it when I notice and move it to an earlier spot in the book later. I also update the outline while I sprint, usually adding more detail.
My 1st drafts end up as a kind of expanded outline with dialogue where the characters' personalities start to take shape. The main point of them is to destroy the blank page so I don't have to worry about it anymore :D. I would never show a 1st draft to anyone.
3T's first draft took around 5.5 months of writing to complete, done over a period of 7 months in 2022 (for contrast: DoT's 1st draft took me 10 months to write, and the underwriting was much worse). The final word count was 150,961, finished at the end of October. I expect the 2nd draft to grow to 230,000-250,000 words as the underwriting is corrected and the story is fleshed out.
2nd draft and first readers
Before I start working on my 2nd draft, I print out the massive outline and go over it on paper. I make notes on each scene or line, remembering how I felt during the writing and adding any changes or clarifications I need. Usually I will add notes to emphasise sections I think need to be highlighted to make sure the payoffs later in the book will hit properly.
I did this with 3T in January.
Now I will incorporate those written notes into the online version of the outline and print it again.
The next step, which I am about to start, is to reread the 1st draft and make further written notes on the updated outline! :D. I'll do that this week.
Then I can finally work on the 2nd draft for real...
There is something I did with DoT that I've decided to try again. When I started editing DoT's 1st draft into a 2nd draft, I did it by isolating each chapter and editing it until it was as good as I could make it. When I got to around 6 chapters done I started giving them one-by-one to my first readers, who then followed me through the whole manuscript.
I was really slow with DoT, and this took over a year to get through. I don't intend to be so slow this time!
The benefit of doing it this way is that I saw what people outside myself needed to be given for them to understand the world and the story they were reading, before they got to the end. It allowed me to correct persistent issues in my writing AS I edited to the 2nd draft, rather than finding out about all of them when I had already put in a ton of work spreading them throughout the manuscript :P.
For DoT I had 4 people as first readers. Since I'm a better writer now, I've decided to only use 2.
With 3T I will finish 3-5 chapters and then hand off the first couple to my brother and my husband, who will be my first readers this time! Ideally starting in March. We will do the whole book this way, and when we're done I'll be ready to edit into a 3rd draft...
3rd draft and beta readers
Back to a newly printed outline to make notes based on reader feedback and my own evolved thoughts :P.
The 3rd draft should correct any larger arc issues identified by either myself (rereading and studying the outline), or my first readers as they go through the 2nd draft.
I have a great group of beta readers from DoT that agreed to continue reading through the series, so I'm starting to organise them into groups to read 3T based on the kind of feedback they gave me for DoT.
Once the 3rd draft is done, I'll have a few of them read it and give high level feedback, which will likely go into further structural edits and correcting any inconsistencies.
That leads to...
4th draft, more beta readers, and polishing
I'm hoping to be at this stage by the end of 2023.
Usually I've abandoned the outline by this point but if not...more notes. I haven't looked at DoT's outline since the 3rd draft stage, so I expect it will be similar this time.
I won't expect many big changes between the 3rd and 4th draft. It's more likely I'll change the order of some of the scenes or cut a bit of flab. Then it's just more readers and my own polishing efforts...which usually consist of me just reading it over and over and changing sentence level writing.
I like to have as many people read the book as possible during this stage, so once I have a polishing-level draft I'll give it to whoever wants it! Looking back I had 20 people read DoT before I made the final eARCs (I know this because they're in my acknowledgements section and I counted them haha). First readers, early beta readers, later beta readers, then just a bunch of friends and family who wanted to give it a read!
Hoping to do the same for 3T even though the timeline is tighter. I'll be relying on peoples' interest in continuing the series to speed them up :P. My mom bothers me all the time to give her the sequel so I know at least one of them is going to read it in under a week ahahaha.
And that's it! I think I had to write this for myself as well, because I'm about to really get into it again with 3T. I needed to solidify the plan! The 1st draft and outline for 3T are SO exciting, and I can just imagine how great the 2nd draft is going to be. I have to stay focused on that feeling and not let myself get overwhelmed with everything going on with DoT.
My writing schedule says I'm also supposed to start sprinting F&G (Book III of CotT) in August 2023...lol. So this process is going to be running twice over soon :S. Yikes. That may get pushed back. Only time will tell.
I'll ideally be posting updates on 3T editing (and F&G sprinting once I start working on it) but I'll have less time now that I'm going back to work. Wish me luck haha!
3T-identifying image added for cover photo :).