The Stages of Novel-Writing, Ranked from Worst to Best

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I got to thinking about all the steps in the writerly process lately…

… and I wondered if I could identify the part I like most.

So I decided to do a ranking of all the parts of writing a novel and see what fell where. Behold, below, my list:

17. Querying I suck at being succinct, I suck at being pithy, I don’t like emailing people, I don’t like asking for things from people, and I don’t like rejection. Querying: the necessary evil. (Maybe I won’t find it quite so evil on my second go-round, especially if I get an actual agent this time.)

16. Synopsis-Writing See above re: being succinct and pithy. I am not good at writing synopses. There’s a reason I write novels and not short stories.

15. The Polishing Stage The very last part before sending a manuscript in for querying is probably my least favorite part of the actual manuscript writing. Because I’ve been over it so many times  at this point I can recite it by heart and I’ve been working so long and hard at it it’s just become tiresome and at this point all I want is to move onto my next shiny idea. Another necessary evil.

14. The Middle Writing When I’m drafting, I always, always, hit a slump around 50K words. I don’t know where the story is going, I need to go back and see where it came from, I’m always not far enough along for 50K words (I’m longwinded) and if I indulge in mid-draft abandonment, this is where it’s going to happen. Such a tough stage to power through–but necessary, obviously, if you want to finish.

13. The First Draft Overhaul When you first get your novel back from your critique partners and they have TONS of changes? That part’s tough. For me, it usually means I need to systematically slaughter my darlings, which is something I have always had trouble with. (This does help, though.)

12. The Action Sequence Writing I’m not a huge fan of action in movies or books; I prefer a nuanced conversation any day. But of course action is somewhat a necessary part of any story (unless you’re Samuel Beckett). So with a sigh, I go off to google “How to Write Fistfight Scenes” and do my best to make it real despite never having engaged in an actual fistfight.

11. The Conclusion Writing I always agonize over how to perfectly wrap up the end to my novel. What helps is realizing that I can change it later, and for now I just need to finish the damn thing.

10. The Outlining This part has been difficult for me in the past but it’s definitely gotten easier as time goes on. I just need to remember to keep it loose and also that nothing is set in stone, and that helps.

9. The Inciting Incident Writing I generally like this part (because it’s so close to the beginning and I still have all that new-story energy) but again, I tend to agonize over getting it perfect. I really need to get a tattoo that says “The First Draft Need Not Be Perfect” on the back of my hand.

8. The Small-Thing Editing I don’t mind the editing stage after all the overhauls where I just have some small stuff to go through and fix. Mainly because it’s pretty easy.

7. The First Drafting (as a whole) I love and hate this phase at alternating times. I love it because it’s a word sprint — get down all the words! Get down all the ideas! I love that anything goes, that I’m not worrying about being perfect, that all my crazy ideas can get down there with minimal editing.

And I hate it at times because it’s easy to get  stuck, to spend days writing a scene I don’t need, to go completely down the wrong path and then having to backtrack. But I just have to remember that all writing is practice and practice makes better (not perfect; never perfect).

6. The Beginning Writing I love writing the beginning. I’m filled with the new-idea high and so much energy and all these word count goals I power through. Hooray for beginnings.

5. The Climax Writing love this part. Once I reach the climax, it means I’ve powered through the dreaded middle and all my threads are coming together. Yes to climaxes!

4. The Dialogue Writing I love writing conversations between smart characters. Love love love.

3. The Scene Editing Once I’m done darling-murdering, I actually like going back in and improving the scenes I’m (hopefully) going to end up keeping. Fixing the earlier drafts and making dialogue, description, and character stronger is one of my favorite parts.

2. The Sexual Tension Scene Writing My favorite part of most stories is the sexual tension between characters. I love writing those scenes, and I love writing the scenes where it comes to a head. So much so that I’ll cheat and write a kissing scene usually within an hour of starting a new manuscript, even if it doesn’t come until near the end of the story. It will inevitably end up changing by the time I get there, but that’s fine, it just means I get to write it again 🙂

1. The Ideating And my absolute favorite part of novel-writing is: Getting the spark of an idea, reaching for the nearest notebook/Word doc/Notes section of my phone and frantically jotting down ideas as they come to me–I love this part of the process. So much so that I do it all the time. Sometimes it’s just a phrase, or a character trait, or a memory that I think I should include in the story–sometimes (like today) the story comes to me like the birth of Athena and in half an hour I have a 3-page outline. I love it when that happens, not least of all because when stories come to me like that, they tend to be the ones I’ve actually turned into novels.

Of course, ideating is also the easiest part. Because you’re just imagining things, not executing them. You get to picture this gorgeous perfect shining novel in your head without actually having written a word of it. But everything starts with a spark–if I never had any of those, I wouldn’t be doing this in the first place.

How about you? What’s your favorite part? Least favorite part? I’d love to hear…

Photo by Freddy Castro on Unsplash

6 thoughts on “The Stages of Novel-Writing, Ranked from Worst to Best

  1. Absolutely agree! I just survived the editing and submitting stage and it was simply gruesome and frustrating, and now I feel completely lost! I guess I need another “fresh idea” high!

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  2. I agree with almost all of this! I hate that point in the middle of the draft when you want to give up because it feels like everything is terrible. I also LOVE the sexual tension scenes SO MUCH and I’m glad I’m not the only one who likes torturing my characters like that 😉

    The only thing I disagree about is outlining. I actually weirdly enjoy outlining. I end up writing multiple different outlines, rearranging things, going into detail or not depending. I like the process of putting the major storylines on the screen and looking at it all. I also weirdly like seeing how much more I have to write until the story is finished. It’s motivating, I guess.

    I’m currently in the “kill your darlings” stage for sure. I’m actually in an editing slump for multiple reasons. Mostly, I struggle with starting on major edits because it means acknowledging every single time the story fell short of what I wanted it to be. Hopefully I’ll get over that hump soon!

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  3. Oh, yes! The idea phase is also my favorite part of the writing process right next to writing the first draft (but I dislike writing the middle and outlining). Number 15 is my least favorite part of the entire process because I’ll edit and redraft until my eyes bleed.

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  4. I agree with you getting the idea is the best bit, or when you suddenly think of the perfect way to move your story past a sticky point, it’s the getting it on paper I struggle with 😊

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