With my recent writing success has come a rather unexpected influx of questions. The most common question has come from both family and friends, and it requires a more in-depth answer than I can usually give.
The question is, “So, how do you do it?”
The simple answer? Inspiration strikes, and I put things on paper that I am seeing play out in my brain. But truthfully, it’s not that simple, and I’m sure any of my writerly friends would agree. So now, in as few words as possible, I’m going to break down my personal writing flow.
Step 1: The Outline
My outlines are usually very general, and I like to leave them open-ended and flexible to change. I never know where the characters may take the story in the long run, so leaving my outline with basic plot points, some story arc, and room to grow is key for me.
Step 2: Stare at a Blank Page and Muster Up the Brain Power to Begin
This step can last for an indeterminate amount of time. There’s no right or wrong answer here. For me, it usually lasts for about day and a few pots of coffee.
Step 3: Draft 1.0
This is, in my opinion, the most challenging step in the entire process. You have to put together enough words to tell your story and tell it well, without dragging things on or info-dumping all over your readers. The ultimate length of the book will depend on what you are writing (High Fantasy? YA Mystery? Hard Boiled Crime? A Self-Help Book?), so you’ll want to aim your draft in the general direction of an appropriate length. If I am writing a YA Romance, I don’t want it to be 120,000 words, much like I wouldn’t expect a High Fantasy novel to stop at 60,000.
Creating your first draft will take time. How much time is entirely up to you. Sometimes it pours from your fingertips and you will complete it in no time at all. Other times, you can spend months (or even years) coaxing the story out bit by bit. Again, there’s no right or wrong answer.
Step 4: Rejoice that Draft 1 is Complete
Self-explanatory. Give yourself a high-five!
Step 5: Get Feedback From Alpha Readers
An Alpha Reader is someone who reads your work pre-editing, proofreading, and content tweaking. They see the raw stuff, and let you know if you are on the right track.
Step 6: Draft 2.0
Now that you’ve received your first round of feedback, it’s time to make some edits! Draft 2.0 is underway!
Step 7: Prepare Yourself for Soul-Crushing Feedback
This preparation is so that you don’t pass out after step 8.
Step 8: Hire an Editor to Hack it to Bits
Yep. A good editor will find a LOT of stuff you missed, and will point out things you never even thought of. There are different types of editing–some look at things like content and flow, while others look at things like grammar and sentence structure. It’s the meat and potatoes of editing- both types together make a well-rounded meal. So if that means you hire two editors, then you hire two editors!
Step 9: Cry a Little, & Drink Copious Amounts of Coffee
This is necessary (for me) and is part of the healing process after editors go through my manuscript with a fine-tooth-comb.
Step 10: Draft 3.0
That’s right. Get to work!
Step 11: Get Feedback From Beta Readers
Once Draft 3.0 is finished, get that puppy out to your Beta Readers and wait anxiously for their feedback. Their job is to make sure the plot works, the timelines make sense, the grammar isn’t atrocious… essentially, that your story sounds as good on paper as it did in your head. It’s good to have a wide pool of Beta Readers, so that the feedback is diverse and useful. You don’t want to toss your book into an echo chamber–that will do you NO favors on release day, I promise.
Step 12: Consider Giving Up – Don’t – Then Drink More Coffee
Ah, the old “I’m not good enough for this” crisis. Let it happen, then let it pass. You can do this. Breathe.
Step 13: Draft 4.0
Here we go again.
Step 14: Let it Sit & Breathe: It’s as Tired as You!
Your book has been tweaked, hacked at, re-written, and scrutinized enough for now. Let it sit and breathe for a few weeks. Spend some time on another project. Sleep. Take a vacation. Read some books on your TBR list. Do something other than obsess over this manuscript. I know, I know. Easier said than done.
Step 15: Proofread With Fresh Eyes
This is key. After letting it sit for a while, go back and read it. You’ll be amazed at all the little things you overlooked before. For me, it’s always punctuation. This is your chance to catch it, and yes, it has to be done with fresh eyes that haven’t read the words in a while. Otherwise, your brain will fill in what it wants to see, rather than what is really there.
Step 16: Let the Editor Have Another Stab
Or five. Or ten. Or whatever it takes to make this book shine.
Step 17: Draft 5.0
Fifth time’s the charm??? Maybe?
Step 18: Reveal the Cover Art
This isn’t exactly a writing step, but it sure is fun and can be inspiring.
Step 19: Formatting, Formatting, Formatting
Yeesh. Formatting. Basically, this means making sure your book fits the print and e-book parameters for your publisher.
Step 20: Request Proof Copy
A proof copy is pretty much what it sounds like – it’s a way to hold your book in physical form and look it over before launch day. It’s pretty awesome.
Step 21: Proof Copy Arrives, Cry With Happiness
Holding your work in your hand as a tangible, bound book is a feeling I can’t explain well. It’s like… that feeling when you wake up, dreading getting up for (work/school/whatever) and then you realize you have the day off, and can stay in bed PLUS the feeling you get when you win some huge prize you’ve been dreaming about. Happy, content, elated, thrilled for the future, proud, etc. It’s a pretty kickass feeling.
Step 22: Tweak Formatting as Needed
If you look through your proof copy and see a few little errors, great! You caught them before launch day, you lucky duck. Fix them!
Step 23: Submit the Final, Final, FINAL Draft
This is it. You are sending in the very last changes to your book. This is real life. Try not to panic. Breathe. Drink some water. Sit down. Submit.
Step 24: Rejoice! You’ve Written a Book!
Heck yeah, this is awesome! You did it! Now you can take time to bask in the glory that comes with completing this monumental task…
Or you can get to work on your next project!
Well, there you have it! My personal breakdown of how I write books. I feel like it’s pretty obvious, but I’m going to say it anyway. No two authors will do things exactly alike. Everyone has their own system that works for them, and when you are first starting out, it’s a lot of trial and error to find what works. You’ll figure it out.
I believe in you!