How to Write a Book (Part 3)

This post is the third and final part in a short series about how I write my books. I covered inspiration and imagineering in part 1, and planning and writing in part 2. Now, in part 3, I will conclude by talking about editing, re-writing and supporting material. I hope you enjoy it.

5) Editing

If you manage to complete a whole first draft, no matter how long it takes, then you can progress to the editing stage. Don’t be tempted to try and do this earlier, while you’re still writing. Premature editing kills books. Get your whole book written, and then edit it. This is when you put aside the passionate imaginative side of yourself and allow the hard-headed critic to come to the fore. Now that you’re no longer in the throes of prose, you can go back and critique it. It’s still creative, but it’s a different kind of creativity.

Looking at your draft: does it make sense? Does it flow? Does it all hang together? Do the characters come alive? Where do you need to add more detail, more flavour, more emotion? Where does it need to speed up, or slow down, or shift point of view? You’re looking for the inconsistencies, the unexplained plot devices, the arcs that dropped off part-way. It’s also a time to tighten up the language, improve awkward sentences, add more depth and really bring your characters to life.

Of course, if you’re lucky enough to get one, a professional editor will do most of this heavy-lifting for you, but even so it’s good to make a start yourself, so that you’re really comfortable with and confident in your novel. If it’s stood up to all your poking and prodding, it’s much more likely to survive the attention of someone else. Then again, you might get no outside help, in which case this editorial stage is absolutely vital. If you’re going to do any kind of self-publishing or hybrid publishing, you definitely don’t want to skimp on this part of the process.

6) Re-writing

Re-writing definitely overlaps with editing. There will be plenty of times where the editing becomes so substantial that it’s actually re-writing, and just as many times when the process of re-writing allows you to add some editorial value. The most important thing to say here is: expect to re-write. You will have to! No one nails it first time. Oron Amular was re-written countless times over the years, and it got better each time. Re-writing is a process of refinement and improvement. It’s when you get rid of the dross and polish what’s left to the best possible sheen.

You might need to re-write the whole thing, or you might only need to re-write certain sections, but you should be willing to go back through it all and make changes where they’re needed. It’s a long, painstaking process, and sometimes feels like it never ends, but your novel will definitely be the better for it.

7) Supporting material

So, you’ve been inspired to write your novel. You’ve done your imagineering, you’ve done you’re planning; you wrote and re-wrote it, edited it, and then re-wrote it again. Hopefully the end result is a masterpiece, or at least a finished product that you’re happy with. There comes a point where you have to draw a line and say, there, that’s it. I won’t tinker with it anymore. I must say, publication really helped provide an endpoint to the re-writing process, forcing me to commit a text to the public which might otherwise have remained in a constant state of evolution.  

But before you move on to your next project, there’s one last thing to think about. The novel itself is not enough – there are lots of extra bits it needs to round it out and make it really stand out, especially in the fantasy genre. Apart from all my planning material, which is essential for providing structure and keeping track of everything, the single most important supporting item is a map. For me, the map usually comes first – the story flows from the map, rather than the other way round – but even going the other way, a map still adds value. It’ll help your reader navigate your world and make sense of what they’re reading. It gives you and them reference points to come back to.

Fantasy writers like me need lots of other supporting material too. A character list is invaluable. It helps readers remember who everyone is. The bigger the story and the more characters there are, the more important this becomes. And if it can double as a pronunciation guide, even better! A glossary of terms unique to your world can help readers understand the things you refer to, and you can provide other appendices too, short treatises to briefly explore the history, culture and language of the world. All this helps draw a reader into the world and make it come alive. None of this can make up for a bad story, of course, but no story is so good that it can’t be improved by this supporting material.

So, that’s how I write a book. My end-to-end process. It’s by no means infallible, it’s not always linear, and it certainly doesn’t make it easy when I’m struggling for writing time or to make it over a difficult hurdle, but at some point I have to go through all these stages. Maybe that’s been helpful for budding authors out there – I certainly hope so – but even if it’s just given you a glimpse of how I work, I hope it’s been interesting.

I hope to reveal more author secrets in future posts. In the meanwhile, please explore the other content on my website, and subscribe to this blog, so you never miss a post. Thank you.

1 thought on “How to Write a Book (Part 3)

  1. Reblogged this on MJH Musings and commented:

    Third in a three-part series: How to Write a Book. Peek behind the curtain with me as I reveal some author secrets.


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