Cara Langston

My Writing Process

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What genre do you write?
Historical fiction/romance

How many books have you written?
1.25. Battle Hymns is my debut novel and will be published in June. I have 20,000 words written on the next novel, The Glassmaker’s Wife. Prior to Battle Hymns, I wrote 4 full-length stories that I kept to myself and don’t count.

Are you published?
I will be in June!

How long do you let an idea “simmer” before you start writing?
As soon as I get inspiration, I start writing. It’s a fast start that then slows as life becomes more demanding. When I figured out the plot of The Glassmaker’s Wife, I wrote the first 10,000 words of it in 2 weeks, that’s how much inspiration I had! But then it took 3 months to write the next 10,000 words, thanks to necessary Battle Hymns edits.

How much pre-story planning do you do in the form of outlines, character sketches, maps, etc.?
For the first book, I didn’t do any of this until much later in the process. It was very much a “pantsed” book. I’m attempting to be a plotter on this next one. I have a high-level description for each outlined scene. I’ve made character profiles in Evernote and an Excel spreadsheet that includes everything from birth dates to hair color to religious practices. There’s also a separate spreadsheet for fictional locations that I use, so I can keep track of the appropriate street names, ‘L’ stations, etc.

I like pre-story planning. If I have writers’ block but still want to work on the story, I can flesh out some more details in my character profiles instead of working on prose. That might be my strength as a planner as well as my weakness as a procrastinator.

If you use an outline, what type do you use (snowflake, index card, etc)?
It’s just a note within my Evernote program, so I can access it at home, at work, on my iPad, etc. It looks something like this:

Chapter 1 – Overall description/theme of the chapter

  • Scene 1 – Sentences on what the characters do, important things to remember to include, etc.
  • Scene 2 – What the characters do in the second scene (if applicable)
  • Date in narrative

Chapter 2 – Continue with this process

How many drafts do you usually go through before you’re “done”? 
About 5. After the first draft, I send it to beta-readers for their thoughts on what works and what doesn’t. Then I spend a long time on the second draft, take a break, and go through it a third time. Then I’ll send it to someone again, make necessary adjustments in a fourth draft. Then I send it to the copy editor, and when it comes back, there’s draft five.

How long does it take you to write a first draft?
Battle Hymns took 4.5 years, but I took a break from it for 2 years in the middle of that time span. I hope to finish The Glassmaker’s Wife within 1 year. I know a lot of people say it should take 3-4 months, but I have a full-time job and a bad habit of editing as I write.

How long do revisions usually take you? 
It took 9 months between the end of the first draft of Battle Hymns and the point where I considered it complete.

Are your revised drafts substantially different plot-wise from your first draft?
I cut out some pretty large chunks of the first draft and added some new scenes. I wouldn’t consider it a substantial change to the main plot. I merely removed an unnecessary subplot and fleshed out some scenes.

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