3: My Writing Process
Updated: Dec 4, 2021
Howdy! So first off, with regards to my writing, I'm a planner. The major scope of the plot might come to me while I’m painting or in the shower, but that's the loose outline. I research while fleshing it out. For instance, Stem & Stone is a fantasy story taking place partially in Iceland. I had to research magical beasties, as well as Icelandic weather, the local slang, common diet, and myths that influenced my work. For Light Step, I broke every scene down to a specific day or week in the year(or so) it takes place, grounding it so the fabulism aspects stood out more. Soul Walker involves a decent amount of travel and much of the research revolved around getting a feel for neighborhoods I’ve never visited.
I take my loose outline and build it up, using the research to specify what was vague. Generally, the plot determines what sort of characters are necessary. Light Step had to be about an ordinary guy so the audience could relate to him and his reactions to the other-worldy occurrences suddenly influencing his life. I hadn’t intended for the main character of Costly Gifts to be immensely unlikable, just socially stunted, but the plot and her circumstances determined she must be so.
Before I jump into the first draft, I’ve got a detailed outline, tons of relevant research easily accessible, and a feel for my major characters. I know what the main character wants. I know why they want it, and I know why they’re either not going to get it, or what’ll keep them from it for a long time. Then I begin writing the first draft by writing every scene in the order that it will happen. Thanks to NaNoWriMo, it’s normal for me to set my minimum word count at 1700/day, while knocking out the first draft. And unless there is a major holiday, I generally don’t miss a day of writing until the first draft is done.
In my limited experience, the beginning practically writes itself, though shifts drastically in later drafts. I’ve got to fight that urge to wake up with my characters, cementing them in their morning routine. Unless that’s where the plot begins, it’s a cliché best avoided. I've made this mistake twice now, and while the second time was relevant to the plot, I changed the plot to avoid the cliché, taking out each waking-opening in later drafts. Rather than beginning just before the story starts, I begin the piece with the story. I aim to introduce few characters in the first chapter, focusing on those who will be present throughout the majority of the story, those characters pushing the plot, obviously including the main character.
The middle is a hump. I know where the character is going and why, but they’re not ready yet. They need to struggle more before they can learn their ultimate lesson. I’m not opposed to adding secondary and tertiary conflicts to keep the story moving. Even if they take away from the plot, that’s fine for the first draft. The story can be condensed later. The first draft just needs to be written. So I’ll add arguments that I’m not sure are contributing to the story. I’ll expand on why these characters behave as they do, hinting at or spelling out their formative experiences. Some of that might stay. Much wont, but I’ll keep writing.
Then the end, like the beginning, is a breeze compared to the middle. I absolutely know my end before I begin writing the first draft. I’ve been considering how best to emphasize those most important features of the end, those details that drive home the themes, the emotions I want the audience to feel, the entire time I was planning and drafting. Generally, my final scenes don't change much from draft to draft.
After I finish the first draft, I’ll shoot off a self-congratulatory tweet and record the final word count in the relevant Google Doc folder. Then I put the story away. I might leave it for a few weeks or a month or months even, but I need space to forget what I just wrote so when I come back to edit, I can see what’s worth saving and what needs to change, or be scrapped altogether. Between the first and second draft I take time, not just to work on other projects, but also to improve my writing. I’ll watch writing lectures, listen to educational writing podcasts, read books on writing, etc.
The second draft, for me, isn’t about spelling and grammar. It’s not about consistency of weather, times of year, all those busy details that’ll matter later. It’s just about the plot. This is where I debate if those added conflicts, backstories, and dialogue, are building up or taking away from the plot. How can I take my shell of a story and better emphasize the major plot points? I look to mythology or stories with similar moods or themes and consider what they’re doing more effectively. How did they handle the saggy middle? I’ll spell out the entire plot for my fiancé, who generally doesn’t dig my genres to begin with, and who isn’t one to sugar coat his critique. He’ll tell me what doesn’t sound interesting to him, and we’ll put our heads together regarding how to fix those issues. Even if I don’t agree with his suggestions, he has an instinct for what the problems are and recognizing them is the first step in finding the solutions.
I list major changes I have to make. While editing, I daily refer to that list. During the first round of editing, I mark down what needs to change for consistency’s sake, on another list meant to guide the next round.
Between the second and third drafts, I might watch more writing lectures, or have another story discussion with my fiancé. Once I jump into editing again, I pay close attention to spelling, grammar, and consistency. I double check the dates on my outline, making sure they correctly correspond with the weather on the page. If my word count is absurdly high, I cut repetitive paragraphs, unnecessary introspection, qualifiers, etc. If my word count is too low, then this is my chance to build setting, describe characters' appearances, and add sensory input. This is usually when I start titling my chapters, if I plan to have chapter titles.
My process for revising the third draft and any following drafts are much the same. I might print a round, and make changes by hand, but generally, I’m editing in Google Docs or on Microsoft Word. I’m always looking to my most recent list of revision tasks for guidance. Once I feel I’m closing in on the final draft, I start thinking about how to pitch my novel in a run-on sentence, or in a 280-character tweet. I start thinking about the synopsis. And when the final draft is done, I write the pitch, the base pitch-tweet for pitch events, the synopsis, and base query letter the following day. I also format the final draft for ereader(as a .mobi file) and forward it to my beta readers.
I tend to send out about 5 queries at a time, though I always aim for the seemingly impossible goal of 15 queries per batch. After 15 rejections, I do major revisions on my manuscript using what little feedback I’ve received. I also revise my query letter, making sure it is concise. Agents who provide feedback in their rejections, are heroes. I always want to shoot back a thank you email but given many agent emails state that responses go to an unmanned inbox, I refrain from emailing them back.
I’m not in a writing critique group. I wish I was. Unfortunately, the only local group I’m aware of is for screenwriting and I have exactly zero desire to be a screenwriter.
Anywho, this is my process. Thanks for stopping by! I hope this was helpful to you. I put out a new blog post every Monday. Toodles!
TL;DR: Writing Steps= Outline vague plot, research a ton, use research to fill out plot, plan characters, write first draft using detailed outline. Use free online writing lectures/classes to learn between 1st & 2nd drafts. Reconsider plot and most of saggy middle before starting second draft. Discuss plot with potential readers. Fix any plot issues in 2nd draft using feedback. Focus on spelling, grammar, word count, and consistency from 3rd draft onwards. When the final draft is done, shoot it off to beta readers, write the pitch, synopsis, and query letter. Start querying it. After 15 rejections, revise it based on agent and beta feedback. Then query anew.