How I Write

I don’t often write about writing. I write about books, and getting published, and finding an agent, but writing? As in, the process itself? Not usually something I feel a pressing need to blog about. But recently I’ve had several people – writers and non-writers – ask me how I do it. How, exactly, I go about writing a book.

So I thought I’d share.

Now, keep in mind that this is just my particular motis operandi; it may not work for you, although you’re welcome to use any of my ideas if you think they will help you slug your way through this process we call writing.

STEP ONE: Outline. Hang on now, all you free-creativity types who are protesting against the restrictions of the Devil Outlines. I used to be like you, writing in a free-form kind of way, changing plot lines and characters on a whim. But you know what that resulted in for me? TEN MILLION ROUNDS OF EDITS. (Give or take.) So with this WIP, I outlined. I’m tweaking as I go, but all in all, everything is going much more smoothly now. I bet I can get away with just a few hundred thousand rounds of edits on this one. Thanks, Outline!

STEP TWO: First draft. I blow through this one, people. I don’t go back and re-read anything unless absolutely necessary. The point of this draft is to get the dang thing on paper, and to FINISH it before I start editing. I don’t go back and start proofing it, revising it, reworking it. Not yet. That time will come, young grasshoppers. For now, my goal is to write the story. And this first draft is usually much shorter than the finished version because I am horrible with details and have to add them in later.

If there is something major I want to change in the middle of my first draft, I go ahead and make the change as if it’s been that way all along. Then I make a note of my change in a notebook or something, and write down where the change took effect. For example, if I hit Chapter Ten and suddenly want to change my main character’s name from Ashley to Lauren, then I go ahead and start calling her Lauren for the rest of the draft. In my notebook I write, “Chapter 10: Changed Ashley to Lauren. Make change in first 9 chapters.” Boom. DONE. And I can keep writing without having to go back.

STEP THREE: Round One Revisions. This is where I make major changes in character, plot, or sequence of events. I keep track of my changes in the same notebook I used during the first draft. Also, I update my outline to reflect these changes.

STEP FOUR: Round Two Revisions. This time, I’m going through to check the prose and the details. How are my characters’ voices shaping up? How do the words flow on the page? Is each sentence effortless for the reader? Can they hear my characters talking in their heads? Does the grammar need tweaking? I make it as good as I can, because the next step is…

STEP FIVE: Critique Partner or Beta reading. At this point, I usually have lost all perspective on my work and can’t see it objectively. I choose between 3 and 5 Beta readers who are also fabulous writers and send them the manuscript. They take a couple weeks to read it and get back to me with their comments, which I take into consideration for…

STEP SIX: Beta Edits. Any comments from my Betas that really hit home with me, I take to heart. I go back through the manuscript and work these edits in, making any necessary changes. At this point, the novel is as close to perfect as I can make it, which is good because this is when I do…

STEP SEVEN: Agent Review. Alanna gets my manuscript in her inbox, reads through it, and sends me her comments.

STEP EIGHT: Agent Edits. I go back through the manuscript, review her comments, and make any necessary changes.

After all this, Alanna compiles a list of editors to pitch and we hope the book sells. If not? I start all over again. And cry. While cradling a leftover chocolate Easter bunny in my hands and softly humming the theme song to “The Wonder Years” in the corner of my kitchen.

What about you? Do you see similarities or differences in your writing process?

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11 thoughts on “How I Write

  1. Alexandra Shostak says:

    YES OUTLINE! Oh man, after having had to rewrite a manuscript TWICE because I didn’t outline it the first time around (though to be fair, one of the rewrites was converting from YA to adult, so I couldn’t have avoided that one with an outline) I am now a big fan of the outline.

      • Alexandra Shostak says:

        I think I’ll need to train myself to do first drafts the way you do them, because right now I get really stuck with all the things I change as I’m writing, and then I’m torn whether or not to go back and fix them or to just keep on going. Well, I am in the middle of a rewrite right now and I have tons of stuff I COULD fix in the beginning. Maybe I’ll just keep on going…

        My first drafts are always way shorter than my final drafts, too. Everyone else I know writes them too long and has to cut, but I always get down the skeleton and fill it in later.

        • Anne Riley says:

          Yep, I am totally the same way. I suck at details, so I get the bones of the story down on paper and then go back and fill in – usually my “fill in” ends up being at least 10K words!

        • Alexandra Shostak says:

          Same! Sometimes they end up being even more, when I go back through and change the things in the ms I planned on changing as I wrote.

          Also, thank you for reminding me with this blog post to get back on track in WRITING this rewrite. I kept getting bogged down in stuff I wanted to change in the first half of the manuscript, thinking it would help me understand the plot better. It definitely wasn’t, and was just distracting me.

  2. TERI REES WANG says:

    I find that is always freeing to share what we do and how we do it, for fun and for free.
    Laying it out, offering it up for the our small world to feast, brings it back to our plate.
    I recently read Stephen King’s “On Writing”… that was a wild ride. Cheers!

  3. Natalie Cone says:

    This is exactly what I was going to ask you for when I FB messaged you a while back! I cannot for the life of me finish a manuscript, when the whole bleeping story is already plotted out in my head. Thank you so much for this post!

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