The Strange Highway of Novel Creation

For me, a line from this song really captures the amount of work involved in writing a novel.

“Every time I climbed the mountain, and it turned into a hill…”

So often have I thought I was nearly done, that surely it would all be over soon, only to discover a new mountain of work ahead of me. A look back at some of my early posts is proof of previous foolish hopes.

I look back on the many steps it took to get here, near the top of another mountain, knowing that soon I’ll see a new set of challenges awaiting me, more mountains to climb. I invite you, fellow traveller, to stop here awhile and see if these steps sound familiar to you, and be comforted in the knowledge that they can all be put behind you in the end.

The original idea became an outline in a relative flash.

The first draft started, and the first flush of excitement faded as I got bogged down for the first time, somewhere random where I did not expect it. I worked through it, and thought that the worst was over, and then it happened again. I got through that, and the writing flowed well, until I realised months had gone by, and I was still not half-way through my outline. The story, so streamlined in plan, became much bigger than envisaged when dealing with the nuts and bolts of character and events happening in the world of my creation. The writing is a sequence of mountains that turn into hills as you top each rise, complete each chapter, only to see more mountains of story waiting to be brought to life.

And that was the first draft.

I began to edit. In my case I began to learn how to edit. I thought I’d understood what that meant. I climbed the editorial mountain, told folk I was “almost finished editing” the book, like that would be the end, the mountain defeated. But no, it’s another hill. I learned that what I thought was editing was no more than fiddling around the edges, or “editong”, as I long ago put it. I learnt more, read more about the process, started again with significant structure, and climbed all those mountains again. Finally I reached a new end, having topped so many rises, always hoping to see the valley below, only to see another range of peaks ahead.

I looked at my novel, and was proud, but I knew that despite the tighter text and trimmed fat, it wasn’t really ready.

I realised, if I wanted to do this right, that I needed to hire a pro to edit my novel.

All the effort I had expended was just a preamble to the real work now beginning.

A developmental edit. My book was assessed, strengths and weaknesses identified, advice and ideas offered with the goal of making the story and its presentation stronger. I scheduled time to do rewrites. I decided what key changes needed to be made, and ensured that consistency was maintained throughout the book, no lingering remnants of earlier, now discarded, ideas lurking in the text. I finished all the rewrites. Another mountain climbed.

And it became yet another hill as I faced the line editing process. The long winding road of debating all the changes, line by line, suggested by my editor. Along the way a few lingering remnants I had missed were identified and excised. I climbed the mountain, and completed the line edit review.

Surely now I must be close. I’ve done the line edit, so a copy edit shouldn’t take too long, right?

You may be surprised at how much more the copy edit throws up (I was, and I tried to be ready for it!), and how, even at this stage, you can catch content related issues, just a little fix each time, just a little more cross-checking through the text. Just a little further to go.

Then proofing. Read it all again, aloud, to try to catch any sneaky typos, even though the line and copy edits have already combed over the text multiple times, and to check the rhythm of each sentence and paragraph. Despite everything, word repetitions still jump out, and have to be remedied, or let go. You begin to understand why Patrick Rothfuss can be mired in editing for 9 years.

All that is done now. I have climbed all the mountains of writing, and I have reached the other side. A cover has been created, formatting is being arranged. I know I’m going to read it again, aloud, when I get the formatted copy, to check every word and line is correct. One more mountain. Then the valley, at last, the valley.

At many many points along this journey, all of it uphill, I have reminded myself of the line that comes after the one quoted at the beginning of this post, and used it to keep myself going. I hope you do too, in any creative endeavour you find taking longer, being harder, than you first thought or expected it would be.

“I promised me that I’d move on, and I will…”

It’s a long road. Keep walking it. You will reach your destination, if you just keep moving on.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m just about to top another rise. There is a neon sign ahead that flashes words at random. Words like publication, marketing, sales. I wonder what they mean…


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