I’ve had a couple of writer friends ask me about my writing process recently. Everyone’s writing process is different, and it’s interesting to see what works for some people and what doesn’t work for others.
My writing process is long and thorough. I stole part/most of it from Markus Zusak, after he talked about his process in a Goodreads Q&A a few years ago. It worked really well for How Real and so far it has worked for my works in progress.
So, here’s my writing process.
First of all, I always start out in a notebook. Always. Having everything in a Google Doc is nice because I can access it anywhere and I don’t have to carry it around with me. However, I hate flipping through tabs and open documents to find something for reference. I’d prefer to have it written down and in my hand, so I can have one thing open on my desktop at a time. I get way too distracted and overwhelmed if I constantly have to switch tabs. So, steps one through four are done in a notebook. Specifically, a college-ruled composition book.
Step One: The Flow Chart
This is exactly what it sounds like. I start from the beginning, write a line, draw an arrow, write another line, and keep going until I have something that I can work with. Then I turn the page in my notebook and do it again, changing little things here and there until I have the plot that I want. This usually takes about four tries.
I also wrote a very strict timeline for How Real, which I ended up scrapping because it constrained my plot way too much.
I wrote the outline to How Real in a random notebook and I can’t find it, so here’s a rough example:
Step Two: Character Biographies
I start with the main characters, work my way to secondary characters, and then write short snippets on the “extras” when I’m done. Each biography is pretty thorough. Some more than others.
For How Real, I went really in-depth with Emmalyn and Larissa, and sort of in depth with the others. I wanted to be sure to have every quirk, every like and dislike, every allergy down on paper. I wanted to be able to look at my notebook as reference to any part of their being. From birthdays to favorite foods to weird birthmarks. This really helped me keep things in one spot, and I didn’t have any inconsistencies with my personalities as I wrote.
I actually started my bios for How Real in a Word document, but moved them to a notebook to have everything in one place.
Here’s the second bio for Emmalyn. She changed a bit over the course of my writing, but for the most part I stuck to her bio pretty well:
Step Three: Chapter Outlines
This is the main thing that I stole from Markus Zusak. Basically, I take my flow chart and figure out a way to turn that into chapters. Then I just start writing outlines. These outlines are usually pretty thorough. I essentially want to have all of the important parts of the chapter written out, so when I go to actually write the book, I have it all there in front of me and I just have to fill in the gaps. This is tedious, because I’m just writing and rewriting.
Once I get to the actual writing part, my outlines change and I draw arrows everywhere and pencil in little details, but, again, having it all out in front of me helps speed the process along. I don’t get stuck on something, because I’ve already written it and I just have to find a way to make it flow with what comes before and after. As my drafts progress, my chapter setups change a little, depending on spacing and timing.
Step Four: Extra Notes
Class schedules, how people know each other, maps of towns, possible titles, etc. Any little details I need that weren’t included in bios go here. Some of these are written before I start my writing, some of these are written as I go. It just depends on when I happen to need the reference.
Step Five: Start Writing
This is where the real fun begins. I try to take at least one chapter outline per day, and turn it into an actual chapter. With How Real, I was absolutely insane and wrote anywhere between 1000 and 10000 words in one session, over the course of 15 or so writing sessions. 10/10 WOULD NOT RECOMMEND. Not only does this lead to an ignored family, but I was dreaming my book. Not fun stuff.
But basically, take the outline and write it. Change what needs to be changed along the way to make the plot flow better, add notes and details along the way, and change character biographies accordingly.
Step Six: Start Editing
That dreaded e-word. Everyone thinks that sitting down and writing a novel is the hard part, but I disagree. The editing. The endless editing, was by far the hardest part of me. I read How Real so many times that I started to hate it and actually considered scrapping it because after fifteen reads through, it was trash to me.
First, I tried editing in a Word document. That didn’t work. It made my head hurt, and I missed things, big things, because I was just sort of skimming. Finally, after a few failed attempts to edit in a Word document, I printed it out from Office Depot (or Staples? I can’t really remember, but I’ve used both). This was SUCH a huge help. I had a copy I could carry around to edit when I had free time at work, I could write and highlight and use sticky notes and cross out ENTIRE pages without actually deleting anything. It was amazing, and it really helped.
Step Seven: Have Someone Else Read It
As I mentioned above, I read How Real so many times that I was sick of it. Before starting my second draft, I contacted a few friends and had them beta read for me. Words cannot express how much this helped me. The feedback was so important, both the good and the bad.
After feedback, I was more confident in my abilities as a writer, and took How Real out of the recycle bin. (I had more than one copy, but “deleting” it felt nice after struggling over it for so long)
Step Eight: Rewrite It
The last thing I wanted to do was rewrite this book after already writing it once. So, I opened a new Word doc, copied and pasted, and changed things along the way according to my feedback and my red-penned draft. I added depth to the story, I took things out of the plot that just weren’t necessary, and I scrapped my timeline.
It was starting to look like a book.
Step Nine: Repeat
*continued Tina groaning*
I have about 10 drafts of How Real in my writing folder on my computer. This doesn’t include the drafts I’ve already deleted. That is how many times I’ve rewritten this book.
My beta readers were so, so patient with my constant changes to the plot, and honest when things didn’t quite work out once I changed them.
After you’ve written and rewritten and hated your book enough times to make it work, you can either go ahead with querying agents, or self-publish.
Sometime next week, I’ll write a post about my experience with self-publishing, as well as why I chose this route over traditional publishing.
I hope this post was at least a little informative, and gives someone somewhere the motivation they need to sit down and write.
Writing is hard. It takes so much more work than people give it credit for. It’s frustrating, migraine-inducing, tedious work, and it is definitely not something that just anyone can do.
If you decide to write something, don’t give up. Deciding to write is a huge step. Most people don’t even get that far. You won’t get anything done without actually sitting down and letting your words flow. Even if it’s only a few hundred words per day– at least you’re writing something.
I call myself a writer. I write, for fun and hopefully some day for a living, so why shouldn’t I call myself a writer?