People are often curious about what an author’s writing process looks like. Every author has their own style and their own process for completing a novel. Below, I list out what my typical writing process looks like.
My ideas come from everywhere. It may start with something I read or watch, and wonder would happen if they made a different choice. It could start with a simple idea such as writing a story about Christmas or about fairies. My current work in progress all started with a Fairy Door; I wanted the Watson children to go through a fairy door. I crafted my story around that idea.
Whatever the idea may be, it is normally a short thought or sentence that I build a story around. “What if the elves tried to ruin Christmas?” or “What if the kids turned into fairies?”
I don’t do outlines. I tried it once and ended up changing the entire book halfway through, making the original outline a waste of time. I consider my first draft the outline of the book.
I start with my premise and idea and I write. I write books straight through, beginning to end. I let the book unfold as I’m writing. I know who my main character(s) will be, and I keep a running list as new characters are created. These characters tend to reveal themselves as the story progresses. For the most part, I’m never exactly positive where the story is going to go or even how its going to end.
I love this process because I can honestly say I have no idea where the story will end up. I am often surprised at some of the twists and turns my stories end up taking. Its as if I’m on my own journey and I, mostly, enjoy it. I wrote a rough draft of a suspense/murder mystery book many years ago; at the time of writing it I had no idea who the murderer would be. The reveal came to me near the climax of the book and I knew who it had to be and why.
There are times when a story isn’t quite coming together for me. I may not like where its headed, I may be stuck on a certain part, or I just can’t get into a certain character’s head. I try to power though and just keep writing, but sometimes I must put a pin in it. If I really get stuck, I walk away from the book for a while. Sometimes, I put the book away for a long time and work on something completely different.
I really struggled with my current book about the fairy door. The story wasn’t flowing the way I wanted it to, and while I had written some good stuff I was stuck at where to go next. I had to shelf it and move to other things. Then, out of nowhere I had an idea that turned the book around. I can’t go into much detail or I’ll give too much away right, but I’ll revisit this later.
The main goal of the first draft is to write and keep writing until the story is done. This will be my incredibly detailed outline and from here I have something solid to work with.
Once the first draft is done, I let it sit. Sometimes as little as one week, and sometimes as much as one month. Then, I rewrite the entire thing. I use the first draft as my guide, copying the parts I like and reworking the rest. I start this in a brand-new document as if I’m writing for the first time.
After this draft, the story is usually much better and with more detail. Everything flows together well and the parts I may have skimmed through, just to get it written, are fixed. At this point, I’m happy with the story and, if for any reason, I feel the story needs work I do this entire process again until I’m satisfied.
Now, this is when things start to get interesting. The first edit is me reading through the draft and make changes. I correct spelling and grammar errors and make sure the story flows well. During this phase, I like to hide in my office with the door closed because I have to read out loud to hear how it sounds. Once I make changes and I’m happy with the story; it’s time to send it out.
Next, I send my story to two of my faithful critics. They read through the story, point out plot holes, suggest word upgrades, help with sentence structure, and give their overall opinions. Of course, they check for spelling and grammar as well. I have two people I use, family/friends so it doesn’t cost me anything but a few hits to the pride.
Once I have my two manuscripts with edits back, I go through them. I put on my thick skin and read through the suggestions. This is the hardest part for me. This is where the constructive criticism takes place and I have to take it all with a grain of salt. After the initial zing, I can see how changing parts of the story only make it better. With each edit and each book I write, I know my writing improves.
I read through all the edits, most of which I accept, but there are a few suggestions I don’t use. I know how I want the story to go and I know my characters well; some suggestions don’t mesh well with either of those things. However, I take all suggestions to heart and think them through. Normally, I find some sentences or paragraphs that need to be reworked based on edits, which I will highlight and take notes for the next edit.
After making suggested edits, I go back and read through the book again. At this point, I work on the areas I highlighted and aim to tighten up the story.
At this point, I am also looking at chapter length, meaning word count. I am currently writing lower middle grade chapter books and they like consistency. They want to know each chapter will be roughly the same length. I have found ten pages per chapter is a good goal; this is ten pages in the completed book not in the Word document. For me, this is roughly 1050 words per chapter give or take: no less than 1020 and no more than 1080.
Getting these numbers to work can be, well, work. Not to mention I’m also looking at my final word count, which for my particular genre is around 10K total words. It can be a chore to get these numbers where I want them to be. It often means a lot of chopping huge chunks of the book. If a sentence or paragraph doesn’t move the story forward, then it must go.
2nd Outside Edit:
Once I’m satisfied with the story, it’s time for a professional copy edit. This is where I pay someone to read my book, make changes, correct spelling and grammar, check for inconsistencies, and help make sure the story really works.
Again, this is where I put my ego on the shelf and prepare myself for the “red ink” return. This constructive criticism can be a bit tougher because I am paying someone to be bluntly honest. I remind myself this is all to make the story better.
Once I receive the manuscript back from the editor, it’s time to get serious. I review all the suggestions and make the necessary changes. Then, I read through the book as many times as it takes until I’m satisfied with the finished product.
From here, I move on to preparing the book for publication, which I will discuss in an upcoming blog series on Self-publishing. This is my basic writing process from idea to final draft.