The Stages of Novel Writing

Sookie, with textile ape toy.

I’ve spent the last week dogsitting my sister’s Irish Wolfhound/English sheepdog mixes, Sookie and Elrod. They’re two gentle giants who would—probably—leave the house alone if left to their own devices, but I feel obligated to hang out with them and make sure they feel comfortable.

Since dogs primarily spend their day sleeping, hanging out implies sitting and watching them sleep…or getting some writing done. So, I’m getting a lot of writing done. As luck would have it, I’m trying to bang out Signs, the 3rd in the Marty Singer series (the first, A Reason to Live is out now. The sequel, Blueblood is with my editor and should be out in August), so the semi-enforced writing retreat is helpful.

Despite the good work, however, putting down tens of thousands of words is a long slog, no matter how you look at it. You need milestones to keep you going. I thought I’d take a minute and reveal my own thinking as I strive for, hit, and surpass the various word counts that make up a first draft.

100 words
Awesome! I’ve started. Only 74,900 to go.

250 words
First page, done. What’s the big deal?

Chapter One. I’m on my way!

5,000 words
This would make a decent short story. Maybe I could pack it in here.

7,000 words
This would make a lousy short story.

20,000 words
Novella length. People would pay $.99 for a novella, I bet.

28,000 words
I don’t even know where I’m going with this. Why didn’t I outline?

35,000 words
Almost halfway. You mean I have to do this much writing again?

42,000 words
Huh. A 65,000 word novel is about 250 pages. Which means I’m actually two-thirds done. (*where I’m at now*)

57,000 words
Who the fuck signed me up for this?

60,000 words
There’s…a light up ahead. I can see it. It’s getting brighter. It’s so…beautiful. [sobbing]

60,012 words
The last twenty thousand words make no sense. I think I was asleep when I wrote them. There’s a whole page of the letter “d.”

70,000 words
I can taste it.

73,000 words
One chapter? That’s it? Let’s do this!

75,000 words
Sweet Jesus, I made it.
Time to start the rewrite.

Happy writing, everyone!


Writer of crime fiction, psychological drama, and dark humor.

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Posted in Deep Thoughts
4 comments on “The Stages of Novel Writing
  1. Wo3lf says:

    Hahahaha, I loved this one. I don’t think you could have explained the emotional metamorphosis of writing a full length novel more succinctly than you did with this post.

    • Matthew Iden says:

      Thanks Woelf. It really does feel like all those things at once, some days.

      I’ve also always loved Jim Butcher’s description of the 35k – 55k zone as the “The Great Swampy Middle”…it sums up the feeling you get as you put one figurative step in front of the other, trying to find your way out the other side.

      But boy is it worth it when you see daylight! 🙂

  2. All the best – I hope you get through the Swampy Middle at top speed…perhaps you could take inspiration from the World Bog Snorkling Championships?
    BTW: my cats have those toys. When my (missing) gorgeous boy first got one, he was just the same size as the toy…I dangled it in front of him, he leapt up, crushed it with all four legs and dragged it off to kill it. He got through three is about 6 months.

    • Matthew Iden says:

      Thanks, Rose. 🙂 I never saw a Swampy Middle that I couldn’t eventually muck through. So sorry to hear about your cat…a sweet and funny memory of him attacking an ape, though (even if it was only fabric and rope).

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