The writing process differs for everyone, and this is the great thing about writing. You write in a way that suits you, allowing you to become more productive in your day to day. So, rule number one with the writing process? Follow your own path. Rule number two? Don’t compare yourself to others and feel that you’re doing something “wrong”. And finally, Rule number three? Be open to new things that work and resonate with you and your own writing style to nurture your gift and grow as a writer.
Rule number three is where I come in by sharing my own writing process. So, what do I do when I write, and where do I start?
If you’re short on time, this is my process in essence:
But if you wish to join me in delving into the detail, know, that like everyone, I start at the beginning with:
Step 1: Inspiration.
Ideas come from it. Excitement comes from it. And motivation comes from it. It is born from the essence of who we are, and the way we perceive the world and the potentials around us. It evokes our imagination, opens our minds, and allows us to venture off into numerous lands with no limitations. Inspiration feeds us, it flips a switch, and it’s a part of the process that operates without logic, without conformity and without rules. Hence why I love it!
From inspiration comes Step 2: The Idea.
What happens when inspiration hits and the seed of an idea plants itself in my mind? I roll with it, that’s what. I need time to let these ideas take root, and when I have moments to daydream such as bedtime, in the shower or bath, I let the images flow and the characters form. By letting this happen, the idea grows into a mould that I can work with allowing for the next part of the process.
Step 3: The Planning Stage
So this stage for me is the most fun. It’s the ‘I don’t give a flying *#@*’ stage because here I can do what I want. I get to play around with character development, giving them an identity and depth (see my previous article: Character Profiling for more on this), and I can start drafting potential settings and alternate worlds. I also get to summarize the idea in a way that encapsulates the story at its most highest level, bringing it to its early stages of life by finally putting pen to paper. I draft this similar to how I would a book blurb—the words often seen on a book sleeve or in an online book description—and then I go from there.
Step 4: The Plotting Stage
This is the part when things are getting serious. In the world of relationships this step could be likened to going steady. Yep. It’s an important step, one I need to be committed to because things just got real.
I do this via my whiteboard because I am a very visual person. I’m happy to be tied to a desk, or my bed, or the sofa, to write the actual story because, let’s face it, I don’t have much of a choice there. But I struggle with the plotting part of my book when having such restrictions—that is why the whiteboard is a great tool for me.
With my marker armed at the ready, I plot out a mind map, sticking the title in the middle, and noting down the key things that happen at certain points of the book. For example, if I was a Grimm Brother in a past life, I would have most likely got my quill at the ready and drafted something like this for their version of Snow White:
Mine is a bit more detailed than this and sometimes runs across a few mind maps, but it’s not detailed synopsis territory. The reason for this, is because I don’t work well with so much structure laid before me. My imagination recoils with fear, my mind shuts down at such order, and Procrastination grabs me with her wily clutches until I relent to her power. But I need some form of structure, and this does the job. I also have to note here that this is almost, always, subject to change as the story develops, so I’ve learned to just go with it and stay flexible. This plot is for guidance only and not set in stone.
Step 5: Research
Now, I know this will differ from person to person, and from fiction to non-fiction, so this step may come earlier for some. But for me, it comes about as a result of the planning and plotting stage. For instance, when I was creating a new world for the Terra Vane series, I needed to understand the backdrop on a much deeper level. Such a story meant creating a world that incorporated a system and roles that readers may never be privy to in detail, but it would give me an in-depth knowledge of the world for a more believable delivery to the reader. My research for this series consists of writing job role profiles for Enforcer Agents, creating an organization chart for the Portiside City Agency, and even clarifying where the vampires send their laundry. This to me is research, and this is the research I needed to do before I began writing anything headed with a chapter number.
As my books progress, there will always be times I need to stop and duck out of the story to do more research, and to check the details against certain facts. So even though this is listed as step 5, for me, research will be required throughout.
Step 6: The Writing
Yay! It’s finally time to write the story and put pen to paper. And do you know what? I always falter at this step. Each and every time. I don’t know why, but for some reason, Procrastination decides she wants to play some more, and all my insecurities decide they want to come out to play at the same time, too. Stupid things plague my mind like, I’m not good enough, I’m not ready, I can’t write another book and blah, blah, blah, and the negative thoughts take hold. I’ve tried many ways to counteract it over time, and the only thing that works is one of the most simplest of things; I shut up, plow through and write the book. That’s it. And it works. By opening up a new project in the Scrivener tool I use (more to come on this tool in future articles), I’m telling those thoughts to go do one. By ignoring such thoughts and breaking ground with those first few words, it means I‘m writing. I’ve done it. And I’ve started a new journey. Woo hoo! High five. Fist bump. Let’s shake our ass, or whatever is needed to celebrate this amazing, revolutionary moment! No one or nothing can ever take away those words that set fire beneath our stories—no one—not even you if you press delete. Those first words set your intention. They’re magical. Like turning a key. And there is no going back after that.
Step 7: The Overhaul
So, first draft is done and I feel a sense of achievement once the words ‘The End’ are typed. It’s time to celebrate, and I often do so by making a statement on social media, or by annoying my husband by dropping it into conversation every two minutes, or even telling random people on the street—actually, scrap that last one. I’m an introvert. Let’s not go crazy. But no matter what I do with the information, I embrace the excitement that it’s finished, and I honour the fact of what an amazing achievement it is, because it is. And you also need to realize that when you finish your own pieces of work—no matter how big or small.
Once I’ve wound down from such a feat, I then push up my sleeves and get ready for the overhaul. Yep. This is the time to get down and dirty and into the detail.
Before anyone such as editors or beta readers can see this I need to make sure it’s decent, and by that I mean it needs to makes sense rather than the gobbledygook my brain dump delivers in the first draft. And yes, it’s total and utter drivel. I know that. But that’s because it’s meant to be.
My first draft is a purge of my ideas, and, at this stage, it’s more important that I write it rather than worry over it. The worrying part comes next. Only kidding, no worrying required, but it’s time to remove the Hat of Creativity and throw on my backpack of tools ready to give the manuscript a makeover.
The overhaul is all about reading through my manuscript chapter by chapter and changing any brain dump stains of miswritten words (gross, I know), or any plot points that don’t make sense. It’s the first line of editing where I attack misspellings, inconsistencies, and bring it up to some form of standard. I run it through spellcheck and a grammar checking tool (I personally use Grammarly or the Hemingway app to do this), and get it to a point where, at this stage, it’s the best I’m going to get it.
Step 8: The Beta Readers
I have some amazing friends who offer to beta read for me, and they’re great at giving me the perspective of a reader. Their comments make me smile, laugh, and they catch things I miss, proving them to be invaluable. However, it’s only recently that I’ve taken the deeper plunge into the world of beta readers, and I’ve found that those who are writers themselves, or who beta read regularly, approach the process a little differently. They have no loyalty to you. They’re not there to worry about your feelings. But they are there to help you write a better story and give you constructive criticism—something I found hard, but story-changing (for the better).
However, no matter the feedback you get, always stay true to your own voice while keeping open to new ideas. It’s a fine balance, and it took me a while to understand this.
Important note: Beta Readers aren’t editors. If they’re kind enough they may point out errors, but they’re there to get a feel for the story, the plot and the pacing, not to edit.
Step 9: Editor
If you haven’t got an editor yet, don’t worry. I’ll do a separate article on this in the future to help guide you on your own choices regarding this part of the process. But in my experience, if I could pick only one thing to invest in for my writing, then it would be an editor. Not many people are equipped to go out in the world without one, and it’s an experience that will teach you something each and every time. Having an editor is invaluable, and affordable if you shop around, and I can’t speak highly enough of the lessons I’ve learned in the past from the editors I’ve used.
Staying with my writing process for now, the next step is the editing phase. Initially, my manuscript goes to the editor for a copy edit. They keep it for a few weeks, communicating with me in the process, then return it with recommended edits.
When I receive the proposed changes, I go through the manuscript again and make sure I’m happy with the recommendations. This is another part of the process where I need to be flexible. It’s like being turned inside out and upside down as you feel judged, sometimes unworthy, but you come out the other end as a warrior with a lot better manuscript as a result of it. The editor is there to guide you, advise you, and they know their stuff. It’s like having a buffer to the outside world; a censor check if you will, and they’re a key component in honing the story you’ve created.
To finish on this step, I send the edited manuscript back to the editor to do a proofread of the text. This is a final check—mainly around grammar and structure—and one that gives it its final polish in regards to the editing phase.
Step 10: The Read-throughs
When the editor returns the final manuscript, I go through it and accept the changes made. After that, it’s time for what I call the read-throughs.
Using my writing software, I can compile my manuscript into an ebook or kindle book and send it to the relevant reading app on my phone or tablet. Me personally, I prefer the layout of the Kindle book, but iBooks has a better note taking function that allows me to email the notes and highlights to myself, so I use this one.
Sending the ebook version of my manuscript to the iBooks app, I open it up and read it through like I would do with any other book. When I see anything that may have got overlooked or any other plot developments or inconsistencies, I highlight it and make a note in the app itself. Once that’s done, I send the notes to myself and update the manuscript. I then do this once more after a short break, each read-through slowly shifting my perspective from that of a writer to one of a reader. The third and final read-through is done about ten days before the publish date as a final check to make sure all is okay. I’m sure I still miss things—I have skim reader issues—but these checks are there to make sure there are minimal mistakes until I can afford to have several proofreaders under my belt 😁 … Until then, it’s up to me, my beta readers and my editor to bring it up to par.
Step 11: Publishing
FINALLY! I’m at the stage where I can share the story that has taken over my life for the past six months or so! AT LAST!
The publishing process involves PR and Marketing and making sure websites are updated, book trailers are done, promotional materials are produced, and pre-orders are set-up. This is where the grunt work comes in, but it’s SO exciting because I’m so close to getting the story into the readers’ hands!
I also use this stage to select my paperback publishing options. The paperback involves a bit more work and reviewing, so it comes out slightly later than the ebook. But then it’s on to the next book, the next story, the next adventure …
And that’s it. That is my writing process. Weaving into it I’ll start the next book in the series, usually when there are breaks in the above such as the editing phase. While one manuscript is with the editor, then I can start the planning on the next, but that’s purely because of my preference and my schedule. The main thing, with any story, is that it has the time and attention it needs. Don’t put yourself under any unnecessary pressure, and go with the flow. Just watch out for Procrastination. She’s a needy chick who wants your time and attention too, so make sure you’re the one holding the reins 😉 …
Good luck on your writing journey, and remember, this is my process. It works for me, and the one you forge and develop will work for you. However, if something here helps you out with yours, then great! Also feel free to share elements of your writing process in the comments below.
Have a great day!