And then there were three – 7 steps of a long-haul novel

And so I have a novel coming out.

How long has it been since my last one? I released Lifeform Three in 2014. My Memories of a Future Life was a full 10 years ago. I’m a novelist, but my output is somewhat slow.

It’s not that I’ve been unproductive in that time. I’ve released courses, writing books, a travel memoir I didn’t expect to be writing. I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words in my coaching and editing reports. And blogs, guest posts, journalism, newsletters.

If we totalled that as a words biomass, it would be substantial. My three novels – my now three novels – would be only a tiny proportion. So I’m a novelist who mostly does other things.

But my novels are my truest purpose. They are the work I am most painstakingly careful about. If I get an epitaph, I want the novels as the headline. Everything else is an also.

So how long did Ever Rest take me? Seven years, and it seemed to fall into seven distinct steps, though that is coincidental. Some steps took more than one year. Anyway, the sequence might be familiar if you’re also a long-haul writer.

Step 1 – short story to novel

Ever Rest started as a short story – here’s a post about expanding a short story into a long one. I wasn’t good at short stories, which is why you’ve never seen a short story from me. I get too involved. I can’t let them go. You’ll see this in later steps.

Step 2 – vow of silence

Authors on social media are used to sharing their work in progress. Character back stories, snippets of chapters. I wanted to join their ranks, share the proof that I was working as they were, get cheery encouragement. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t workshop my rough ideas in case they tarnished the finished book. Also, I couldn’t talk about it. It was too deeply difficult. I discussed that here – how much do you talk about the novel you’re writing?

Step 3 – losing faith

I didn’t know what I was writing. The same happened with Lifeform Three. For a long time, I was merely its baffled interpreter. I lost faith in it, hundreds of times. I wrote about that here, especially the idea of creative faith and long-term determination.     

Step 4 – write 100 pages, discard 80

In terms of word biomass, this book is substantial, but much was wastage. I wrote a lot; I binned a lot. During that phase, I read an interview where Marlon James said ‘you can write 100 pages and only use 20’. Even though I knew this to be the case from previous novels, I found his comment comforting. At the time, I was on my third draft and the book was already scar tissue. I eventually did 23 drafts. Here’s how that went.

Step 5 – never let it go

After 15 drafts, the novel operated as I hoped it would. I was ready for beta readers. For many years, the book had dominated my thoughts and my reading choices. I could now widen my diet. Pursue other interests. But did I want to? Very mixed feelings.

Step 6 – red pen and sweet reunion

I knew there would be more work after the readers’ feedback. Some was forehead-smacking, but most was a relief. It was good to be back. A final dance. No, several. Revise, revise, until draft 23.  

Step 7 – real writer again

Now, I have it ready. My third novel. Look, I’m a real writer again.

Ever Rest is released on 3 June. You can find out more here. Read early reviews here. Watch a video trailer here. Pre-order here.

For more about my creative wanderings, look here. And subscribe to future updates here.

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  1. #1 by John Maberry on May 18, 2021 - 9:40 pm

    Congrats. Still working on the short story collections–following the memoir, with the partial draft of the novel awaiting more attention. Maybe later this year–or next.

  2. #3 by acflory on May 19, 2021 - 4:04 am

    Lifeform 3 was more than worth the wait, Roz so I’m sure Ever Rest will be too. And as another slooooooow writer, I felt every word of your process. I published Vokhtah in January of 2013, thinking the second book would arrive in a couple of years. I’ve written other things since, but I’m still in the throes of writing that second book…creeping up on 8 years with no end in sight. Sometimes you just have to plough on regardless and have faith that there is a story in there. I’m so glad you wrestled yours into submission. 🙂

    • #4 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on May 19, 2021 - 7:13 am

      Keep wrestling, Andrea! You’ve described this well – plough on regardless, trusting the process.

  3. #6 by Davida Chazan on May 19, 2021 - 5:34 am

    Your book is next on my reading list…

  4. #8 by Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt on January 10, 2023 - 2:34 am

    So different in everything I do. I can’t imagine a chef creating 100 dishes and tossing 80, not when dinner guests were waiting. But then maybe they do when creating a signature dish. I see the waste, not the culmination, unless the ending then gets used a lot (such as a cookbook recipe).

    Instead, I do massive planning at every stage before writing a word, and after I figure out how to write a scene, only tweaking. Because it tends to come out as a waterfall would when the dam is opened. This results in massive files of notes, but no drafts. The notes are me talking to myself until I find the true path through the scene.

    Are you a plotter or a pantser on the continuum? My system requires NO input from anyone else, and only feedback from a beta reader once I’ve decided and polished – which might be the source of some of those tweaks. I’d call that extreme plotting in the support of extreme pantsing afterward. Works for me. Not exactly sure how.

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