Before I successfully wrote a book (not implying that my book has yet to become successful), I did what any person seeking answers would do and I sought the internet for advice from authors. One of the most common questions asked to a writer is “What is your process?” A question that is usually met with a mocking laugh and side-long glance of disapproval. They will always quip back an answer of “You never know a process, only a process for the book you are on.” or some other witty overused statement.
Some of my idols in the writing community will provide answers as such. I disagree with the statement 100%. And while they mean on a deeper level of how you come up with ideas, but that is not what the people asking the questions are wanting to know. They want to know what steps do you take to complete book. In my boring, real job, I am a project manager, and being a project manager is all about transparency. Transparency of my work and of those that I manage. And from this point forward, it is my solemn vow to be transparent about all of my writing projects through a new page I will be adding soon. I think I will be one of the few authors to put the status of their current works available for anyone to see at a very detailed level. Some authors leave their fans in the dark about where they stand with their current book for years. I’ve personally been waiting, like everyone else, for the next Song of Ice and Fire novel since 2011. No one knows where it stands… Stayed tuned for the Novel Status page to come soon.
Now, onto the real meat of this post… My Process.
At any time, I have about 8 books dancing around in my head, all jockeying for position to be the next book. The hardest part of being a writer is writing just one at a time. That is important. You are your most creative when you are being creative. You will come up with tons of ideas for other things, while you are being productive on your current project. Ignore that inner voice and stick to the project you are working on! So, once one of those 8 books flexes enough muscles in my head it then becomes the book to get the attention.
Step 1: Brain Storming Paragraph
The brain storming paragraph is my first step in the larger process of creating my books. This paragraph is exactly what it says. Brain vomit of ideas onto a page that tells the entire story in a very brief example. I then re-read this page about a hundred times. I add to it, but never take away. The entire purpose of this document is to write everything that comes to mind. I use tools like google docs because I can access it at any time, in the middle of the night, at work, in the bathroom… etc. Write it in chronological order and potentially use a list of bullets if necessary. But in the end, the story that was trapped in your mind has escaped onto a page in a very very rough form.
Step 2: Character Profiles
Some people out there who are better writers than I will not need this step. They can skip this all together. But me personally, I forget how I decided Joe Schmoe was going to talk or what color his hair is or that I decided that the spear head of Rahani was obsidian (which I actually did in Out of the Ice). These are details of your main characters and important side characters. I keep this extremely simple… I write their name, purpose in the story, and a description of their appearance and mannerisms in the format below. Each character is given his own sheet in the scrivener file that I generate.
Step 3: Outline
I have grown as a writer in the Nanowrimo community, and in that community there are two different personalities that they discuss. Panters and Planners. I would love to see some REAL statistics on the difference in the success rates of these two types of people. But until I see real data, I’m going to go with my ignorant opinion that the planners have more success. And its for one simple reason, they have a plan. An outline is the detailed plan of your book. I take the word vomit from the first step of my writing process and I turn it into a detailed outline chapter by chapter. By the time my outline is done I know approximately how many chapters I will have and what will happen in them. Now, in both of my books the number of chapters and the content within the chapters has changed drastically. That is okay. The entire purpose of this phase for me to guide my hand as it were. This is the first part of the activity where I really utilize Scrivener’s power. Each chapter is outlined in its own folder. So that as I’m actually writing the meat of the chapter in the next step, I can simply click the folder and see where I wanted to be going. In my personal opinion, this is my favorite part of writing. A short and to the point flow of ideas forming a full story. Surprisingly this step also takes the longest. You are building your story. You are not writing your story, but you are creating it with as few words as possible. Don’t worry about the color of dresses or the length of their hair.
Step 4: Writing
Another over used cliche when it comes to writing is the phrase: “Sit down and write!” I have a family, a job, and a very heavy computer gaming addiction. If you have those same writing blockers you need to get all of them on board with you and support your efforts. Family should be easy by setting writing time aside for you, and for my gaming addiction I simply worked with the people in my gaming group to not let me play until I hit my daily goals. Work, use your lunch hour to bang out 1000 words. Once you’ve reached a state of flow you will easily pump out 1 – 2k words in an hour. The entire point of this entire thing is to WRITE! Sit your ass in a chair and WRITE! Want to be a writer, WRITE! Using the outline that you created in Step 3, write your book. Start at the beginning and work your way to the end. The beautiful thing about having the outline is that if you hit writers, you can skip ahead and slightly know what is going to occur. Do not edit your book at this point, write the chapters and never look back. That is what step 5 is for. Ignore your terrible grammar, like I have in this post… Ignore everything wrong with your story and get that bad boy down on the paper or computer screen. It is more important that you have your story out there than it is to make sure everything has an oxford comma.
Step 5: Your Editing
Clearly, at this point you’ve written the world’s greatest novel and you can print it immediately… or you have more than likely just created a mess that no one could ever read. Excellent! Well done! Buy a Krackle and feast on it while staring at your glorious new story that has finally escaped the confines of your skull. It and you are beautiful. But your work is only just beginning as now becomes the long dark road of editing. I can outline a book in 2 months. I can write a book in 1 month. I have yet to finish editing a book in less than 6 months. And that is exactly the way it should be. I personally hate repeating myself so I read and edit in one fell swoop but I highly recommend reading your chapter once to soak it in, in all its glory. And then re-read the book, editing along the way. I promise you that you will find parts you forgot you wrote and find amazing. And then you will find those parts that make you wonder how many shrooms you ate that evening you wrote that. Alcohol will not make you sufficiently intoxicated enough to make the mistakes you will have made. I do not have much to say on this process other than make sure that you are the first person to read your first draft and create a 2nd or 3rd draft before it goes into the next step. For my last book, I re-wrote my 8500 chapter 18 four times before I was happy with it.
Step 5: Others Editing
Once you have completed your own edits, pass off your story to 4 people. One of those people should be a true editor. One that you pay or someone you know that has some degree of knowledge of writing. Someone who will tear your beautiful work that you love so much into a million pieces. Someone who is not afraid that you should never publish this garbage until it works. The others you give it to should be test readers. Friends, family, random hobos. Unfortunately, you will learn that their opinions are rarely that useful but it is good to get feedback from a random group of blokes to see how they react to your story.
Step 6: Final Draft
Take in all of the comments. Fix what you want, don’t fix what you think is terrible. But always remember that you have written this masterpiece and you will not see the errors in the ways that they do. Re-read the entire thing and make any last changes. Then, you are done. For this you deserve more than a Krackle… A nice drink of Sailor Jerry’s Spiced Rum and a Dr. Pepper is in order.
That’s it. Rather simple really. Writing is hard work and dedication to a single project for almost an entire year of your life, potentially much more. Remember, stay focused on the project you are currently working on. If you feel another story nagging at your brain that needs to come out, write your Step 1 part. Keep adding to it as the story nags at you but continue through the steps of the main project you are working on. You say you want to be a writer do you? Sit your ass in the chair and write and stop talking about it. Come up with steps that work for you and follow them to a T! Now, with another Nanowrimo coming up in July get to it! Make sure to have fun doing it or it’ll become a job that you hate!
Thanks for reading.
2 Comments Add yours
Good post, Cliff! I also do a good but of outlining in my work and find it pretty easy to bang out 1k+ words per hour when I’m not having to worry about which direction the story is heading.
I will point out that both Stephen King and Brandon Sanderson are “pantsers”, though Sanderson has started outlining more heavily in recent years.
Best of luck with the blog!
Indeed they are, but a quick scan of the community of writers will tell that it isn’t sure if that’s a good thing to be telling people. Stephen King, Brandon Sanderson while are the goals to reach, they are not the norm for people like you or I.