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Your writing habits

I was wondering, what do you as writers feel is the most significant time consumption aspect of writing your novels? Is it character development, world building, storyboarding?

And adjacently, I wondered if you guys feel you spend more time writing your novels or more time editing and formatting them?


Character development and worldbuilding. I spend almost no time storyboarding, mostly because the story comes to me as I write. A lot of my writing time is actually spent on art related to the story. I'm a visual person, so I need a visual component, and that leads to a lot of scene sketches, character sheets, landscapes, costume layouts, creature designs, design spreads for swords, amulets, etc...

I also spend a lot of time editing, sometimes obsessively, but it doesn't come close to the time spent writing.


I spend a fair amount of time brainstorming, pre-writing, planning and sort of outlining (I don't use a super detailed outline, but I do plan the skeleton of the story ahead of time). But none of that compares to the amount of time I spent hitting the keyboard and just writing. The putting-words-to-the-page part is definitely what I spend the most time on - more than planning, editing, etc.
We talked a little about this - or at least I did - in another thread recently, but I like the idea of looking more widely at activities than "writing" and "editing".

I spend a lot of time with the early stuff that Claire mentions - I call it "dreaming the book". In fact, an idea will kick around in my head, growing key points and imagery and kinks in the knot of characters and events and themes, for a substantial period of time before I ever set pen to paper to start developing it. Part of seeing if it's an idea with legs is seeing if it sticks around in my head. :)

Characters, plot and world are all tangled up together in my development time, however. Early on in my writing habits I used to divide material up into three physical folders, but there was way too much stuff that should go in both (bless modern wiki-technology that allows the interlinking off myriad elements). After all, plot is only important if it impacts the characters, who are only realistic if they're products of their world, which is shaped by - and shaping - the plot. I spend a lot of time tangled up in all three, and tangling them further. That said, plot is my weakness, so I probably spend most time working on that, and reaping the other two key elements as bonus products. :)

Writing time varies wildly. I'm currently editing a book where the first draft took me two years (at least), but between finishing that draft and starting editing, I wrote the first draft of another book in a month (admittedly: NaNoWriMo). I'm hoping to do more work on the latter sort of timeline in future, but hey, sometimes it takes longer. I've just started the editing process - still in big-picture replots and arc finessing, haven't even started changing the manuscript - but I have a (self-imposed) deadline of a new, clean draft ready for my beta-readers by the end of February... and I think that's feasible. I note that I anticipate another round of editing - though hopefully not major pieces - when I get it back from readers, so I don't imagine this is going to be ready to start querying until more like May or June.
I sat down to write, and I wrote 9,000 words in an hour. Then I edited it, and I have horrible English mechanics admittedly and ironically, and it took two hours to do that, although much of it was rewording run on's (my mind just goes). This was only a first draft, not near a finished product.

Thus far I've spent most of my time dreaming the book, but since I've been developing a lot of the contents of the story like the culture and stuff, I have written here and there. So that's why I asked, I just wondered what you guys were doing, it seems for me editing is taking the most out of it. And it looks like it will continue because I noticed some time issues in the pace of the book and a cultural issue I need to address (although it may resolve itself if I am lenient on myself).
I tend to spend a lot of my time thinking my way through scenes as I write. If something isn't quite working the way it needs to, I'll stop writing, put my headphones on and listen to music while I "read" various versions of a scene in my head. This way I get to cherry pick the best my brain has to offer and sometimes even come up with better ideas that I had originally thought of. I do try to get things like spelling, punctuation and form right the first time through. I use scrivener so that I can move back and forth easily, changing what needs to be changed if a new idea runs contrary to what I had planned. I also only try to set scenes for maybe two or three chapters in advance to allow for changes in direction. I spend whatever time it takes to get the story down and then do a re-read and an overhaul to fine-tune the results. My current work is now about 14,000 words into what I foresee is going to be about 70,000 words. It can take me up to three months to get the story down. Editing is a whole different beast. Then I get very critical and do the "does this really belong?" and "does this need to be moved?" parts. Beta readers provide the road map and I do try to follow where they lead if they make sense. I use 5 readers. And it's majority rules for their input. If more than two say the same things, I change to follow their suggestions etc.


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I'd say daydreaming consumes the most time. When I'm not world building, culture and dialect constructing, or actually writing the story, I'm usually imagining major scenes, playing them out again and again in my mind. Map making also takes a considerable amount of time, especially if I go to redraw something and ink it after. I also find myself stopping to think about the way the land looks, the way my characters speak, the timeline of the story, the origins of the characters, etc. Actually, it all takes time, but I tend to think and imagine about things and scenes long before I ever get to writing them down.

The second thing that takes time is editing. After I finished my first book's rough draft by hand last February, I pretty much spent the whole time between then and November 1 typing up/editing the darn thing. Of course, I was also studying for an exam, but on average, I got a ten page chapter done every two weeks or so. Editing, like daydreaming, takes a whole lot of brain power.


Procrastination and name-inventing are the two biggest ones for me. Whenever you resolve to do something, everything else quintuples in appeal.


I tend to spend more time editing than writing them. Sometimes this ends up expanding the story rather than pruning it, because I'm including subplots that have were mentioned by had dead ends in each prior draft.

Character development is still kind of a weakness for me. As for the longest time I wasn't really sure what character development meant.
Character, character, character. My plots tend to reveal themselves once I start, but they are really just the pegs upon which the characters rest, and it's making sure that I have realistic people and relationships that takes most of my time.


Oh also plotting. I tend to be dream influenced, and thus that grain functions as the premise sentence. Then I lay out a bunch of different sentences beyond that to flesh it out. This is probably even more time consuming.


Obsessively rewriting the same chapter over and over again, while the OCD Klaxon in my head is going "It's not perfect IT'S NOT PREFECT WHY IS IT NOT PERFECT!?!"


Right now, the planning stages are taking considerable time.

I'm trying a new approach to writing which involves a great deal of detail concerning story structure, brainstorming, and outlining.

I never really did a ton of outlining, just very loose roadmaps, but I'm going to this time. The worksheets I'm developing & using will be filled in longhand (also new to me as I usually type everything). I want to experiment with longhand brainstorming and story development before I throw anything into typed outline form or do any actual writing.

I'm doing a post-apocalyptic story, one with some complex character arcs which need to be done right to resonate. That's the main reason for the increased effort on the planning stages. I expect to be planning for about 3-4 months in total.


I spend more time plotting and doing background stuff than writing presently. Hopefully I will get back to it soon and can put all of that work to good use. Beating my head against a wall is second on the list of most tedious writing activities.


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Editing. In terms of total time, this is easily the most time consuming. This is where everything gets worked on, from character to world building to plot. If I were to put a ratio on it it would be three or four to one in time spent. For every hour I spend writing, I probably spend 3 or 4 editing, maybe more.

In terms of character, world building, and storyboarding, I'd say most of the time is spent in getting the character development right. For me, no matter how much I plan, I really don't figure out my characters completely until I start writing them. There's always things I learn about them that shift the story in one direction or another. Also sometimes it's harder than I expect to get a character to head down the road of change the way I want/plan, and I have to figure out how to push their buttons in the right way so it doesn't feel forced.

I'm working on my third novel right now, and I find that I personally shouldn't plan anything beyond the halfway point in too fine a detail. Beyond that, the drift in the story makes the finer details in the plan useless. I write to the halfway point then I see where I'm at, and then I plan the second half of the book in finer detail.
Good question and it really made me think because I don't pay attention to my habits.
I spend more time planning and editing them, I think. But more even than that I spend worrying about it and feeling unsatisfied with it. I also spend lore time on characters because most of my Fantasy stories are set in the world. So I don't need to world build.