Writing a novel involves a lot more than just drafting and editing. Here I enumerate my writing activities and try to figure out why I never have time for them all.
It struck me recently that I have all these writing-related activities that I don’t do as often as I’d like or have stopped doing entirely. When I did them I thought they were valuable, but now it’s hard to find time.
Which is crazy because I’m literally working 20 hours a week from my living room chair (by the fire because it’s cold).
I should have time to do everything I want, so why don’t I?
In an effort to (begin to) answer this question, I thought I’d enumerate what these writing-related activities are. Then maybe I’ll discover some of them aren’t important. Or that I’m really lazy.
I guess we’re about to find out.
1. Drafting, editing, or researching for my primary WIP
I have one novel that’s my current work in progress (WIP). It’s almost old enough to have started school, but is still at an age where it eats the crayons and occasionally has an accident in bed.
To grow into a fully fledged adult capable of doing the dishes every day and paying the power bill on time, it needs editing, research, more editing to incorporate the research, and probably more editing so anyone will care.
At some point it will need to be queried (assuming I go that route) and everything that goes along with that.
Bottom line, I have and will always (I hope) have a main WIP that requires a lot of time to draft, edit, sell, and promote.
The value of this is self-evident: if I stop writing the pixies get mad and steal my socks.
I bribed the pixies with milk (and a bit of scotch) and now they’re happy as long as they have something to drink.
I write because I love it, and writing novels is my favourite type of writing because novels are my favourite thing to read. Sure, I plan to publish and hope throngs of readers will adore my characters as much as I do, but that’s not why I do it.
Writing my WIP is important because it’s the reason for all the rest of it.
I don’t write every day. I tried that, and the quality of my writing went down the longdrop to the point I had to delete that section and start over.
But I do work on my WIP every day, usually for several hours.
I’d like to do more, but if I stuck at this I’d be happy.
2. Reading fiction
Um, you know, reading novels.
Because reading is relaxing, fun, and enriching, and it counts as research. Plus it’s a way I can support the writing community (the non-hashtag version).
I don’t think you can write a book that appeals to the modern audience if you haven’t read a lot of books that appeal to them. Though I’m open to being proven wrong.
Reading broadens my experience and deepens my empathy.
And I get to fight dragons.
At a minimum, I read for about 10 minutes each morning and 20 to 60 minutes each evening. I could read all day if I didn’t have to do other things, like shower.
I’m sure I don’t need to explain my blogging–you’re reading the result of it now.
The why of blogging is harder, and my reasons for doing it have changed with experience.
When I started out, it was because I’d read writers need to blog to build a platform to sell books, and they need to start before they have books to sell.
I still don’t have books to sell, so three years ago was the perfect time to start blogging.
But the more I blogged the more I discovered its unexpected rewards. My blog is my cosy cabin in the big internet wilds, where my good friends (current or future) come for a cup of tea and a laugh, or sometimes even an intelligent conversation.
Plus blogging is fun, and a nice record of my writing life in a way I wouldn’t bother recording were it just for myself.
When I started blogging I committed to blogging twice a week for a year, and I succeeded. Then things fell apart.
When I picked it up again, I thought I’d try once a week.
It didn’t work. My brain wandered into the forest for too long between posts and writing them was a stress.
So I went back to twice a week. I miss the occasional post if the world is too hectic, and I’m happy with that. While this works for me I’ll keep doing it.
4. Beta reading
In short, beta reading is reading an early version of a book to provide feedback to the author on what does and doesn’t work so they can improve it. I wrote a whole post on this once, which you can find here.
There are selfish and selfless reasons for beta reading.
Selfishly, it’s easier to spot things that do and don’t work in someone else’s book than in your own, so beta reading improves your writing craft.
Also selfishly, betaing for other people is the main way writers get other people to beta for them.
Selflessly, it’s helpful for the person whose story it is. Which makes you feel good, so maybe that’s selfish after all.
I don’t beta as much as I’d like, perhaps because it takes me so long. On the other hand, I’ve beta’d (how do you even spell this?) for others a lot more than others have beta’d for me, so I don’t feel too terrible about this.
5. Brainstorming for story ideas
I wrote about this at one point. (That post has other waffle in it, but bear with me.) Essentially, I sit down for half an hour and brainstorm ideas for new stories or the sequel to my current story.
I don’t use most of them, but this is where my next book is coming from.
Once I trigger my mind to think of story ideas, it keeps going in the background for about three days, so ideally I’d do this exercise twice a week.
I’d be happy with once a week, though. Currently it’s more like once a month.
6. Brainstorming for blog ideas
It’s easier to write a blog post if you know in advance what you’re writing about.
At one point, I was sitting down once a week to come up with ten potential topics for blog posts, of which I used two.
I should still be doing this. I’m not.
Studying the craft of writing
I love reading about writing, and it seems like a good way to keep improving my craft. I go through phases of reading writing craft books, and absorb a steady stream of blog posts about craft.
Participating in the online writing community
You’re right, I should say it like it is. I mean playing on Twitter and occasionally commenting on other writers’ blogs. It’s motivating to have other writers to hang and chat with, and a place to share my frustrations and my victories.
A novel is a marathon. It’s so much easier if you don’t go it alone.
I know, I know. I hang out on Twitter too much.
But during lockdown it’s been my main form of socialisation, and I’ve made so many awesome friends.
Yes, I mean you.
Reviewing books I’ve read
I should review books.
Reviews keep the book world spinning. They help out authors, readers, and unicorns alike. Every time you write a book review a fairy gorges itself on chocolate cake, and you know how much fairies love cake.
I review books, just not as often as I mean to.
Planning my next major WIP
One of these days (maybe) I will get to the point of querying my WIP and I’ll need to be working on a new baby to keep from checking email every two minutes.
And because I’ll miss having someone smearing toothpaste on the walls.
I planned my current WIP for six months before I started writing, so I really need to get going on this.
Other things I might/should do
I like the idea of learning to write short stories, but for that I need to a) read short stories and b) write short stories. These both take time.
I have an email list that should be receiving a monthly summary of my blog posts and some tidbits that are secret enough I don’t put them online, but not so secret I hide them from His Royal Fluffiness. You can join the list at the bottom of my posts. If you’ve done so, you might notice I haven’t sent this summary in… some time.
I think I have a Facebook page somewhere. I should a) figure out where it is and how to log in to it, b) decide whether to tidy or obliterate it, and c) implement the tidying/obliteration.
Since I committed to writing a comedy, I need to study Terry Pratchett.
I’d have time to do everything I wanted if I stopped playing on Twitter.
I’m not going to. I might cut back a bit, though.
What writing-related activities do you do or recommend?
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