How I Write A Novel

From daydream to execution to publication

(This article first appeared on Torbooks.co.uk)

THE SPARK

I get ideas for books in one or two different ways. The first is by daydreaming, often in the weirdest damn places, while the second is stumbling across some random paragraph in a non-fiction book or article that sets my spider-sense tingling.

THE PLANNING STAGES

Writing a book a year is a tough order. It’s not ‘work’ in the traditional sense — not digging coal out of deep, hot mines, or suffering the drudgery of standing on your feet all day in some high street job. But it has its own inconveniences and hardships. The brain as much as any organ can become fatigued. Despite the desire of many people to be writers, it does take a certain degree of stamina, of willingness to go that extra mile or ten or a hundred. The published author is the one who went on writing long after anyone sane had given up and got a proper job.

STARTING THE NOVEL

According to my records, I wrote the first 3,129 words of Final Days on the 30th of October, 2009, having worked out timelines, characters and story background over a number of months. By January 1st 2010, I had 42,000 words. About the 25th of January, I stopped writing at 70,000 words in order to rework the plot and to resolve a number of inconsistencies and problems that had cropped up (and believe me, they always crop up). That took me all the way up to the start of April, when I resumed writing the rest of the book, clocking in the last words of what would prove to be a 107,000 word first draft a few weeks later.

THE SECOND DRAFT

It wasn’t until I started using Scrivener to write my novels that I was able to develop a rough tally of just how many words I put down whenever I write a book. By this, I mean not just the words you see in the finished novel, but all the previous drafts and notes and outlines, all together. I discovered I probably write at least twice as many words as you actually see in a finished book, and quite possibly a good deal more. Glancing at the word counts of various folders in Scrivener, I see…

  • OUTLINES (14,000 words)
  • STORY ELEMENTS (1,000 words)
  • CHARACTER OUTLINES (3,000)
  • OUT TAKES (5,000)

SUBMISSION AND EDITING

By the time I’m ready to send a novel off to the publisher for final approval, I have real trouble forming coherent spoken statements. Seriously. By this point, I’ve spent weeks staying up until four in the morning, hammering away at the text. It’s got to be good. Or as good as I can get it. People are paying to read this stuff, after all. You want them to like what you’ve done, preferably a whole lot.

Scottish author of more than half a dozen science fiction novels for Tor, including Stealing Light, Against Gravity and Final Days. More at www.garygibson.net.

Scottish author of more than half a dozen science fiction novels for Tor, including Stealing Light, Against Gravity and Final Days. More at www.garygibson.net.