The Writing Process – There’s No Road Map

I’m a Type A creative with a Gemini star sign and a Ravenclaw personality. I work under stress or I don’t work at all, and the more I have going on in a day, the more productive I am. At the moment, I have two novels back from the editor in various stages of editing and three short stories due for submission by the end of May and that’s just the writing, not the marketing, freelance work, startup company or part time job. Really, I only work under pressure. workspace-766045_1920.jpg

But it also means I have to be incredibly organized. Every writer has their own style and approach to a story. Some research first – a topic I plan to broach next week – others outline and plan, and some dive right in with nothing more than a name and a vague idea for where their novel might end up. As you can probably guess, I’m not one of those people.

My writing process is as close to a step-by-step as a writer will ever get. There is no DIY instruction for writing a story. Books don’t work that way, and if they did, they wouldn’t be as good. This isn’t Mad Libs, it’s creating worlds, building new life. Despite all evidence to the contrary (and if you look at my bizarre search history, there is much evidence to the contrary,) this is work.

paper-2199502_1920My writing process begins with what looks like doing absolutely nothing. For days, something weeks or even months, I’ll just think about the story, a kindling idea in the back of my head. I have series that I’m not ready to touch, but have been nestled away for years, just waiting for the right opportunity. When I’m walking to work or at the gym, these stories will pop up and go on winding journeys, each one a possibility for plot, character development, obstacles and more.

Many of these journeys are red herrings, and I discard them as quickly as they come. Others linger, taking new forms and sharpening, clarifying, until I have a clearer understanding of my character’s personality, goal, motivation and conflict. A lot of times this includes my bouncing ideas off of family members and friends, until I, as the author, understand the true fundamentals of the story.

After the ideas have been simmering awhile, or if it’s time to get the sequel to my editor, I’ll settle into the planning stages. This is different for each book. In one of my trilogies, I had already written the first book and simply dove into the outlining process on book two. For another series, this one with six books, I had to outline the larger story, tying in each of the characters and plotlines so that the challenge ran through books one –- five and came to a head in book six. That one is out on my bulletin board, a few pieces of yarn away from full-on conspiracy theorist aesthetic.

whiteboard-849813_1920I go from planning into a bare bones outline. This will probably change, but it’s as close to a road map as I’m going to get, and I’d much rather take a detour off a road if I know how to get back on it. Here, I will play puppet master with my characters. Section one – get to the island. Section two – battle scene. Onward and upward from there. If I know details about the scene, specific lines of dialogue for instance, I’ll make notes of them on this version of the outline, but otherwise it’s fairly skeletal.

Depending on the nature of the book, I might flesh this outline out or I might not. If I do, I’ll go through scene by scene and add more detail, thoughts about environment, clothes, secondary and tertiary characters. Each book asks for different things, so this step might feel necessary for some stories and extra work for others.

computer-1185637_1920And then I write. I could spend the rest of my life outlining and planning, but at some point I need to put fingers to the keys and get the words down. So I just start. Usually by this point I have a decent idea as to the first scene of the book, so getting down to business is a matter of actually doing it.

I don’t reread my work – unless I need a refresher on where I am – until the end. It slows me down and my goal with draft one is to get as much of the story written as possible. So I write, in big chunks, several a day, until the book is done.

And then I go back and I read it. This first reread is all about initial impressions. Do things makes sense according to the timeline? What needs to be moved around? What elements of a character’s personality are inconsistent? If I see grammatical errors, I’ll fix them, but it’s like polishing the sink when the house doesn’t have walls. Big picture first.

After that first reread, I print the book. On paper. It’s not an ecological step, but it’s a necessary one. There’s so much I miss when editing on the screen, and so I put my red pen to the page and go line by line, searching for both big and small picture changes that need to be made. I edit sentence structure, dialogue, literally anything that I feel would make the story better. This is the slowest and most tedious part of the process and if I try and do any more than ten pages at a time, I lose focus. But I eventually finish and then set about the insane process of inputting those edits and making them fit with the story. Another slow-going, but necessary step.

And then I read it again. I usually give myself a day or two between the editing input and the final read through, but at some point I need to see what the final product looks like, whether my changes disrupted continuity or if more changes need to be made. This isn’t an easy read through. I know the book backwards and forwards and I often find myself wandering. But then I’ll yank my attention back to the final draft because this is a needed step, when it comes to my process, at least.

If the book gets accepted to a publishing house, it will go through another three or four or five rounds of edits. My recently accepted novel had four seriously different drafts before it found a home, and I have more red pen waiting for me on it. But that’s the process. In many ways, the writing is the easiest part. I know it’s my favorite.

So no, writing a book doesn’t come with a road map, not really. Through trial and error, we find the ways that work for us, the steps we, as authors, feel we must take to create the best book possible for our readers. Sometimes it is easy, sometimes it feels impossible, but it always an adventure. ♦

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16 thoughts on “The Writing Process – There’s No Road Map

  1. Planners always amaze me! I really wish I could sit down and mark everything out and know where I’m heading, but it never quite pans out for me. Personally, if I try to pre brainstorm too much detail I ge totally blocked and cant sit dwn and write it out until weeks have passed.
    Good luck with your publishing!

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    1. You guys amaze me! I would probably never write a single thing down if I couldn’t plan it out first — or I’d just write without any direction at all! But if you find a way that works for you, I say rock on! Every author is different.

      Thanks for your kind words! Are you working on any projects or stories right now?

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      1. Haha, i guess it’s always the way; doing something a different way can just be incomprehensible.

        I am; I have a main focus with 3 others on the side in case i need a break or change of pace. You can read their blurbs under Books on my site :3

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      2. Thanks :3 I honestly don’t know how people can work without side projects haha, like at least this way if I get stuck on Tiger’s Eye, I’m still making progress on Demon’s Run?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I write …. both…. specifically xD
        I’ve often found that when trying to write something in one category OR thr other, it just doesn’t really work for me. So pretty much all my books are placed in a paranormal world and they all have romantic plot lines – or subtext at the very least

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      4. Let’s chat via email about cross promo (I try to keep my writer identities secret, ha ha,) but I’d love to help promote some of your stuff. If you’re interested, send me a message through the contact link!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post. At the moment, I think I have an okay type of planning and writing. Sometimes I’ll hit a blip, or something won’t work for me, but I deal with it much better than if I had years ago. Still learning even when so much time has passed!

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    1. Thanks so much! I definitely agree that sometimes planning for one story won’t work for another. But you’re right, we keep learning and growing as writer with every story we write. What are you working on at the moment?

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      1. I find short stories so difficult to write, so good for you to take on more than one! What genre do you work in? Atm, I have two novels back from editors in various stages of editing. It’s a bit crazy at the office! (In the best way!)

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      2. Mainly fantasy and sci-fi, and a lot of the time they are of dark nature because it’s the best thing I can write! Are you planning to publish them?

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      3. Oh cool! I’ve never actually written those genres, but I really like them, and I’m getting to know them better! (Any suggestions?) And yes! The two novels I’m working on now are actually with Indie publishing houses, which feels really awesome! What about you?

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      4. Well, currently I’m reading Annihilation, which feels like light sci-fi so far – and is quite creepy, because strange things are going on – and I’d recommend the short stories of Alyssa Wong; she writes dark fantasy. Joe Hill is good (though he’s more horror, but I suppose Horns has a slight element of fantasy), and a few others like And I Darken, Game of Thrones (though I’d warn a lot about that series; though you might’ve read it already.) Are you two novels both standalone? Absolutely. I’ve been submitting for around a year now, which unfortunately only one flash fiction piece has been published, but hopefully more will be published soon.

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      5. My boyfriend is a big Joe Hill fan, so I’m there on that! I’ve always been more towards fantasy than sci-fi, but my appreciation for it has definitely grown! I look forward to checking out your suggestions, though.

        I’d love to chat about the publishing business, if you’re interested. I’ve had four novellas and three shorts published so far, with two novels at the publishing houses right now. If you wanna talk about it, drop me a line through the contact info and we can go through email! 😀 (No pressure, of course!)

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