A lot of writers spend a great deal of time working on an outline before they start writing their novels. They’ll chart out every major plot point. I’ve heard of these outlines reaching tens of thousands of words. It works for them. It doesn’t work for me. Outlining a story I’m not familiar with feels too much like homework to me, and I gave that up when I graduated from college.
I say “a story I’m not familiar with” because that’s what my unwritten novels are to me. I have an idea of where the story is going to go, and what is going to happen, but until I write it, it hasn’t actually happened yet. Sometimes, the story will go places I never intended. Now, authors who outline will go back and adjust their outlines when this happens, so don’t think they’re locked into whatever is on the outline when they begin writing (though I’m sure that happens for some people). To me, it’s most important to get that first draft down, because the long I take with it, the harder it is to finish. Anything that gets screwed up in a first draft can be fixed with editing and revisions.
Wings of Twilight would have been completely different if I had written it from an outline. I would have no doubt included many notes in my outline about the types of jokes to make and what sort of satirical elements to include. It was supposed to be a parody and satire of labor unions and inefficient bureaucratic organizations as told through the eyes of monsters with modern names (Sarvesh was going to be Gary, Soterios was Frank, Bargle was Bill, Kazi & Meriz was Ben & Jerry, Kale was Sam, Delilah … was always Delilah, and so on). As I was writing the story, I kept forgetting to put the satire in because I started getting caught up in telling the story of the characters and it ended up being a more serious fantasy story than I intended (I think it was about the time the goblin-eating vampire was introduced). I doubt that sort of story would’ve spawned the sequel that became Iron Fist of the Oroqs.
Before I start writing, I’ll start a Word file that has story notes, character descriptions, locations and other things like that. It’s the closest to an outline I get through my first and second drafts. I might even outline a few key scenes, especially if I have particular scenes I really want to do and don’t want to forget. I’ll tinker with this file off and on for months. Eventually, I’ll start the first draft. There are story note files I have going back years for which I haven’t begun first drafts, so these can languish quite a while before seeing the light of day.
Once I get my first draft down, I’ll give it a quick proofreading pass and then hand it off to my wife for her first read. She goes through it pretty fast the first time, reading it for the story (she can’t edit if she’s engrossed in the story and wants to know what’s going to happen next). I’ll then do my first revision on the manuscript at that point. This is often the stage at which I’ll hand it off to Beta Readers. After I get their feedback, it’s time for some more heavy revisions. If, at any point, I start to get bogged down and can’t figure out how to fix a story problem that’s been pointed out to me by Beta Readers, THEN I will create an outline of the story. I’ll break down each scene into one or two sentences, so I can see what’s going on in the book at a glance.
By now, I’m probably working on a 3rd Draft. This copy will get handed back to my wife and she’ll go through it with a fine tooth comb, the dictionary and the Chicago Manual of Style. During this time, I usually
play video games work on developing my next story. Once we get through the 3rd Draft in this fashion, I’ll get a quote from an outside editor and send off my 4th Draft. I’ll also contact an artist for the cover art about this time (though I usually start collecting art quotes a few months prior so I can get on their schedules). When I get the manuscript back, I’ll do more revisions and proofreading. Depending on the editor, it may go back to him or her for another pass. Eventually, it goes back to my wife for a final proofread. Once she does her final proofread, I’ll read the manuscript again, probably the first time I’ve read the entire thing from start to finish since I wrote it. I’ll also work on formatting at this point, tweaking all the things that annoy me when I finally see the e-book file.
Finally, I work on the file creation and e-book conversion. This part usually takes me a day because there are always minor tweaks to make when something I formatted doesn’t come out exactly right (or I discover that I’ve forgotten something important).
How much time does this take? Well, it’s not my day job to do this, so I have to work it in when I have time. I finished the first draft of Iron Fist of the Oroqs at the end of October 2011. I published it on July 28, 2012. All of the other steps were completed during the months between, with time out for a project at my day job which ate up all my free time for two months, including a two-week vacation I took (I had a laptop with me and work remotely instead of vacationing). I wrote the first draft of Zack Jackson & The Cult of Athos in November of 2011, too. I usually give myself some time off after finishing up a 1st draft to allow my brain to recover, which is one reason why Zack Jackson isn’t out yet; I had a hard time doing anything with either manuscript during the first quarter of 2012.