Writing the Novel

I recently had a publisher ask me to submit the manuscript of a novel I’ve been pitching. This book has been years in coming. It feels like I’ve worked on it forever. The characters have practically become family members.

It’s been through dozens of drafts and rewrites. Writers always hear that, but nobody wants to believe that’s what it takes. The basic story has stayed the same, but characters have changed and developed.

It started as a 70-page outline, a long, rambling stream of consciousness document that was mostly telling the story to myself and trying out bits of dialog. That led to an attempt at writing it as a screenplay – everything was present tense because I am a screenwriter by training. But I quickly found the story was too complicated for a 110-page script. Too many subplots, too many characters – it would never be producible as a movie the way it played out in my mind. It might work as a short series, but I never wrote it as a teleplay. And now, the way the book begins, it doesn’t lend itself to a pilot.

So it became a book. I believe the final version that interested the editor who read it was major revision number 11.0. My revision strategy handles it like software updates – major revisions get a new number, minor changes and tweaks get a dot. I keep everything because sometimes in revision 6.2, there’s a spot for that passage I cut back in rev 3.4. Heck, somewhere around draft 4.6, I completely reworked my main character.

It’s hard. And it takes years longer than you think it will. Years. The first rounds were written in first person. At its heart, the story is a detective novel set in the ’40s, so that choice felt right. After it was done, it felt cliché. Changing that took a full, page-one rewrite.

That’s just the writing and rewriting part. The workshopping, the beta reads, the revisions, and tweaks. I color code things using different color font for revisions as I go. It makes it easier to find what I’m working on when I skim through and want to see that dialog that needs touched up or scene description crying for help. When I got through the most significant revision, the manuscript looked like an art project.

And it’s not a singular effort. It does take a village. You need a writers group who listens to reads and offers criticism, and occasionally when you think it’ll never get right, you need their support. I had DFW Writers Workshop. Throughout the project, I had several beta readers whose responses ranged from “yeah, it’s good” to a full, incredibly detailed set of notes from author Ed Isbell. Ed’s notes took the book to the next level, and I genuinely don’t know if it would have garnered a publisher’s interest without them. Thank you, Ed.

Once you get through all the concepting, the outlining, the writing, the rewriting, and all of the revisions, then it’s ready to go out.

And that is a whole other story.

Colin Holmes
Author, writer, adman, barbecue enthusiast, baseball fan, and collector of speeding tickets.