The first draft of this novel was written between 2003 and 2009. It grew out of a short story called "Born of the Forest, Dying With You," which I included in my short story anthology Practicing. Once I got an idea of how to expand the story, I did a fairly detailed outline and wrote many pages of notes and some backstory. Then I started writing.
Writing for me is a strange process. Sometimes I get really involved and churn out a lot in a short time. Other times I have to struggle to meet a target or to get things going, and in those cases I usually take breaks. In the case of this novel, I ended up taking some long breaks due to a variety of reasons. Suffice to say, it was written in chunks, and I veered quite a bit from the original outline.
I've read about how some writers have detailed outlines and adhere strictly to that, keeping tight rein on the characters and never letting the plot stray. I have a lot of trouble doing that, mainly because I can't help but come up with better ideas as I'm actually writing and I can't help but incorporate them in. Sometimes the characters tell me what to do, so I start taking the plot in a different direction, go back and fix earlier things on occasion, and usually end up in a way that doesn't mesh with how I started. I then have to again rework earlier parts to make it all fit together, or cut things entirely.
That is what happened with this novel. I went where the Muse took me and damn the outline. Once I finally read through the complete first draft, I realized it needed a lot of work. I let it simmer for almost two years before revising to a second draft in 2011. I cut a huge section in the middle that was weak and really pointless in the grand scheme of things, 55K words total (out of the first draft's 231K), and intercut the narrative between past and present scenes (the first draft was chronological).
This new draft works much better in my opinion, as it gets to the meat of the story quicker and backstory is related in smaller chapters as needed. In the original version the first half of the novel is backstory and setup, and when you get to the major turning point, it seems awkward and almost like an entirely different novel. So mixing the two highlights both aspects of the work, without boring the reader with a clunky first half.
Last month, I started working on the third draft. I'm trying to average around 2K words edited per day, though I usually don't meet that. Some sections need little editing, but others need to be revamped or rewritten to reflect its new place in the novel, and that takes longer. For instance, by starting the second draft in what was originally the middle of the first draft, I now have to introduce characters and explain concepts there, when in the first draft that had already occurred. I have to do a little jumping back and forth while editing to keep everything consistent.
Overall, this is hardly the best way to write a novel, but it's the route I took for this one. It's a learning experience, and something like this can only help improve my writing and editing skills. I'm expanding some sections and will probably end up with a final word count of around 200K. And there will definitely be a fourth draft, I can guarantee that.