My Writing Process
It is common knowledge in the world of writers that you are supposed to write every day. I am a fairly disciplined person, but I have a husband and two young children who I spend all day with, an extremely extroverted personality, and numerous other creative endeavors that vie for my attention. So, when I’m in a “writing phase” I choose to write most days.
For you curious people, here’s how my writing process looks:
Music inspires me above anything else. I can think of whole scenes and stories listening to a song, so usually I put on a playlist if I need to plot out what’s coming next or get through a sticky piece of dialogue or backstory.
I unintentionally come up with additional story inspiration while listening to music and driving. I scribble those thoughts onto receipts and napkins, or make notes in my phone for later use.
I also love sifting through library books or roaming around Pinterest. This is usually where I get my scene inspiration. I’m often sprinkling my notes with sketches so I can remember key components I want to include in my descriptions.
Sometimes I just sit there and ask myself questions about characters, problems or places. I try to get into the story and move things around a bit until things seem just right. (I imagine it like moving furniture and accessories around a room until everything seems to click into place). Occasionally, I invite a friend to help me brainstorm ideas so I have lots of fodder to chose from.
All my ideas get packed away into my writing notebook.
Or a random notebook.
Or my phone.
Or in my head (I rarely forget story ideas. Unless I do and I just don’t remember…)
When I’m in a stage of writing, I first start with the overarching theme or character. Then the basic plot and problem needed to be solved. Next I hack the story into chunks (usually thirds), and start plotting out the chapters/scenes from there. Usually one work session is devoted to plotting out the upcoming chapters and I spend the next couple of weeks slogging through them. Then I repeat with the next slab of chapters.
My “work sessions” are usually 1-2 hours (though I like to think they’re only 45 minutes). I write until I get to the end of what I call a “chapter”–but what other people call a scene–which is typically 2-4 single spaced pages for me.
I type all my stories on a laptop which goes with me to various comfy locations (my couch, the porch, the library, or any bed in the house). I don’t enjoy writing at coffee shops (I hate the way I smell after, and feel like everyone is reading over my shoulder), but I will in a pinch.
My thesaurus is constantly pulled up while writing, and I occasionally have an internet browser open when I need unique names or to do some background research.
I dislike this stage of writing, but it is actually when things look the very best. I enter arguing with my editor and leave it saying, “Ooooh! It looks so shiny now!” All the credit goes to my Ruthless Editor during this stage. She takes all my free reign from draft 1 and forces me to explain myself further, push the dialogue, and beef up the scenes, while she takes portions of my writing out back to shoot them while I’m not looking. I don’t often venture back to my first draft, for fear of the massacre that I’ll see. Plus, I always end up trying to get certain parts put back in. We have a “don’t ask. don’t tell.” policy honed from years of trust.
She starts first with an overall read-through. Then, we’ll meet over tea so she can tell me about all the overarching main issues. She pays for the tea because the pain is always too much. I often don’t take notes (I’m an auditory learner and have an uncanny ability to rearrange my imaginary worlds), and she always asks if I would like to. The points she presents are what we both keep in mind throughout the editing process.
Next, we break the story back into its large chunks and tackle each part individually with a couple rounds of revisions. If I did a good job, I only need 1 round to polish it up a bit. If I was bad, I have to move through 2 very intensive rounds where I’m rearranging chapters and writing new content. We work through these rounds chapter by chapter and review notes for each chapter in weekly meetings. Best case scenario, the revisions are given verbally (I actually write these out because they’re often very specific). Worst case scenario, I’m given digital versions with portions of my manuscript all re-pieced together by my editor (we call these “Franken-chapters”) accompanied by colorful box notes on the side. I find great joy in fixing her suggestions and being able to delete her annoying boxes.
After each “chunk” is done, we do another complete read through and make changes to smooth it all together.
Finally, we work on line-edits where we comb through everything–sentence by sentence to make sure the manuscript is grammatically perfect and the lines “sparkle.”
Towards the end of the editing process, I prepare for my Betas. These “Beta Readers” are a hand selected group of people of various perspectives of whom I have very high opinions. They are asked to read through the story and offer an outside perspective before it is finalized for publishing.
My Beta Readers are absolutely invaluable. They are the litmus test to see if my message has actually come across in the writing. They share their favorite moments, we chat about the best characters, and they offer precious insights into all the parts that came across as confusing, inconsistent or just plain cheesy before the book falls into the hands of a wider audience.
The Beta Readers are more than just a test group, they are the first group of readers. The first set of who I’ve been writing the story for all along. And I love them desperately.
The Betas are given very specific instructions for reading, copies of the manuscript in their preferred format, and a timeline to read. Once they’ve completed the book, they fill out a questionnaire and then schedule an Exit Meeting with me. I try to make the Beta experience as special as possible. From custom invites to behind-the-scene peeks, they get the VIP treatment. Plus, the ability to offer feedback and vote on things like cover art.
And while the Betas read through the book, I get to snuggle up with it as well–-reading it in its edited entirety for the very first time.
The publishing process takes on a whole new set of skills. Mainly the ones I use for my “day job” as a graphic designers. I prep chapters and additional resources (think maps and name lists) for the book and determine the look I’m going for. It also includes selecting and creating the book cover, polishing up my bio and formatting the hundreds of pages of Word documents into a book format.
I do a lot of research about the best places to have the book printed, determine pricing and plan for pre-sales.
We also dive into marketing strategy. It’s something I tackle very tentatively because I’m always nervous to share my heart and soul with the world. But books need buyers and readers. So, we take a look at how we’re going to promote sales and get the word out there!
I have a wonderful team who helps cheerlead me during this difficult phase of bringing the book to fruition. My mom and early Betas are my biggest supporters, while my husband handles all the nitty gritty stuff like ISBN numbers, website sales, and filing the manuscript with the library of congress. I know most authors have a whole slew of staff members at a publishing house, so it takes a lot of love and energy to pull it all off on our own.
But the reward is absolutely beautiful!
Surprisingly, this is the part of my writing process that is the most difficult for me. I published my first book when my first child was 6 months old. I was sleep-deprived and my biggest critic by far.
But I’ve come to see how essential stopping to celebrate truly is. So as books are finished and published, you can bet there will be parties thrown (and definitely celebrations along the way).