I always enjoy learning about the writing process of other authors, so I thought I’d share an overview of my own process for writing novels.
The process has evolved for me over the years as I experimented with what worked for me and what didn’t. Sometimes I modify my process depending on the sort of story I am working on.
Writers seem to generally fall into two categories: discovery writers who come up with the story as they write their first draft, and outline writers who plan out where the story is going beforehand. The name of this post is a hint for which way I tend toward—outline writing.
I used to not outline my stories. I enjoyed inventing the story and the fantasy world as I wrote. However, I would often reach a point where I was writing scene after scene without a clear idea of where the story was headed. The ending was a known factor, but the middle of the story wasn’t. Many scenes were useful in exploring characters or aspects of the fantasy world I was inventing, but had less impact on the story as a cohesive whole.
For some of my short stories, I still discovery write since I have ideas in my mind I can follow and the stories are short enough that I can rewrite the story I need to while revising.
For my novels, I make sure to outline early in the process. I might do some free writing of the main characters I have in mind or write out a beginning chapter or two. These chapters usually need rewritten multiple times as a result, but help me acquire an image in my mind of the story. After these first couple chapters, I transition to outlining the rest of the story.
Outlining is a means to quickly write out a whole story in a condensed format. It is a lot more efficient to rewrite the outline or add detail. It also provides an overview of the story to better see the flow of each story thread, balance of rotating character view-points (if the novel has any), and the overall structure of the plot.
The outline can be very detailed, breaking down by chapter and what happens in each chapter. Generally, I outline at least the major points of each chapter, ensuring there is contribution to each sub-plot. Initially, the extra details for a chapter are sparse. As I get closer to writing the chapter, or while I write a first draft, I fill in more of the outline. The outline helps me return to the story to resume writing as envisioned. It also helps me keep track of my writing goals for individual writing sessions or even for the week. I know how much to write for a chapter, and how many chapters need to be written within a timeframe to get a whole novel written.
Then starts the long writing. It takes a long time to write out a novel. Especially if it is an epic that could be the length of several novels in one. I write all of my first drafts by hand with fountain pens. Considering how much I write, I find them to be the best tools for me to do the job, since they effortlessly glide over the page. This helps prevent hand cramps and I find fountain pens and their nuances to be fun. The pens have the added benefit of refills from large bottles of ink that come out cheaper than cartridge refills and have many colors and ink properties for me to choose from. I like using different colors in different pens as a way to keep track of how much I have written in a session. I sometimes write for hours at a time, so it is important for me to have efficient writing tools that complements my writing style.
I could write my first drafts on a computer, since I have a good mechanical keyboard for my desktop PC, plus a laptop/ tablet with keyboard. Additionally, I can touch-type decently fast. The problem is that I type too fast. Hand-writing forces me to slow down and think a little more about the words going on a page. There is also an element of that hard-to-describe author-magic for me to hand-write my first drafts—even for this blog post.
After I have finished several chapters, I start typing the story into a second draft. This is where a lot of my editing takes place. In the process of typing, I create a full second draft of the novel. From there, I can focus on revising individual sentences and fixing typos. As I continue the novel, I revise in foreshadowing and other continuity changes as they pop up. Sometimes I wait until I have many chapters hand-written to begin typing the second draft. Other times I will type out the previous day’s material before resuming work on the first draft as a means to warm-up my mind for that day’s work.
By outlining first and then hand-writing my first draft, I am often able to get a near-final version of the novel in the second draft—the typed version. It still takes a lot of time and work to revise the whole novel into a final polished version. But I don’t have to rewrite the entirety of the novel a dozen times.
The final stage is test reading the novel with input from friends and family. I convert the novel into my own eBook at various stages of the novel’s progress, which makes it easier to distribute and easier to read.
So, that’s my writing process as an author, taking novels from outline to hand-written drafts, to revised typed drafts, and onto the final version. What other aspects of the writing process would you like to read about?