My family and friends are always baffled when I hand over a draft of a new book. I’ve published three novels since 2011 and I have two more coming out in the next four months. The real surprise is how I manage to run media for my family publishing company, maintain a healthy marriage, and still get top grades in my graduate studies while writing so much. I guarantee that I’m not a witch or a Time Lord. I have two things going on my side– a. the web management stuff is what I like to do to relax (I’m an introvert) and b. I write in an organized fashion.
This post is about my process. What works for me may not work for you, but it is orderly and cuts back on time. I am able to work through a story in a logical manner so that when I sit down to write, my time is productive. Here is a rough outline of my writing process.
I think through a lot of the events that I would like to take place ahead of time. I act out dramatic scenes in my head before I go to sleep. This thought process, done in the shower, in bed, in the car, and while I’m waiting at the doctor, fills spare time. I also keep notes when I read related material. Gathering tidbits now helps me with that mythical “inspiration” later.
My outlining process goes something like this: I write down steps of plots for various characters on cards. After I have every possible step (the more you plan, the less you get stalled going “oh crap, how do I get from point C to D?” later), I put the cards in order. This is essential for multiple plotlines. In a more linear, singular plot, this isn’t as necessary. I arrange events for chronology. Then I go and break up my timeline for theme and dramatic timing to create chapters.
3. Rough Draft
This is where you write and write and do not stop. Stopping is a trap. If you try to edit at this phase, you will go mad. I write until I get to the final word and then I worry about editing.
4. First Thoughts
I hand my draft off to a trusted editor (not a proofreader). This allows someone else to tell me the major problems and gives me distance and time to become less attached to what I have written. I let this point in the process take at least a month so that I am more willing to make major changes and so that I can see the problems in my own story. When the text is too familiar, you cannot see it clearly. Sometimes when I edit my own work I laugh at jokes I forgot I made.
5. The Second Pass
Here I take notes from my editor, work out how I am going to solve key problems, and then make edits. I read every line of the text (printed) and make written notes, cutting awkward lines, adding notes for description, and marking plot holes. At this point I work through the whole draft on paper before making edits on my files. I work chapter by chapter on the computer, never stopping in the middle of a chapter, because I might save it and forget to finish the edits.
6. Mr. Strickland
My husband is my most insightful, honest, critic. He’s a writer with a degree in Professional Writing, and as a family of artists we have an understanding that we will be open (though tactful) with constructive criticism. We do it for my mother-in-law’s painting (“No, her lips are too full”) and he is willing to do it with my writing. Kyle points out cliches and problematic scenes and I make adjustments to certain scenes. This is not a broad edit like the second pass, but a precision trouble-shooting step.
7. Proofread, Proofread, Proofread, and Proofread
Three other proofreaders and myself all take turns with a printed manuscript to check for grammar and spelling. Only after four sets of eyes have check the work does it go to formatting.
We do digital and print layout.
Someone thumbs (or clicks) through every page of the book to make sure there aren’t major formatting errors. Only when the digital or print format has been thoroughly checked, does it go up for sale.
No writer can or should give you a formula for how to write. You should make changes to this process or any process you adopt from someone else. Of course, if a writing instructor asks you to follow a specific process for their class, you should try it and learn from the experience. My point is not to tell you how to write, but instead to impress how much time outlining and structuring the process can save. Write first, edit later.