Tuesday, May 24, 2011

How I Write A Book Now

Reminder: I have a new auction up at All4Alabama! It's for a query & synopsis crit, but I am adding manuscript pages if the bidding gets high enough. So keep that in mind and bid:)

A long while ago (like 3 years maybe), I wrote a post about how I write a book. Let's just say a few things have changed since then. Or a million things. So I thought I could get away with redoing this topic.

Idea Phase
I get a lot of ideas. If I would claim one strength in writing, I think it would be my ability to generate viable story concepts. I could probably do that all day everyday. If only I could monetize that, right?

"Selling ideas! Buy one, get one free!"

But there is one downside to this (and it's not much of a downside, honestly): I always have to pick out of a huge array of possibilities. Sometimes I wonder if it would be easier to focus and decide if I had one idea or two at time. The way things are now, there's really only one way for me to pick. I choose the voice that's the most persistent.

Which doesn't often equal marketable.

Which might mean the book won't see much more than my crit partner's computer screens.

Which means I have to tuck away a lot of books I love.

That's kind of hard. Certainly not the hardest thing in the world, but hard. But that's how I have to work. I've tried to pick my "most marketable" ideas, but I never have the proper passion if I'm longing for that quirky male MC with a contemporary story who may never sell. At times, this is the where I struggle most, because I wish I could be the writer who wrote something that fit perfectly into a genre. But I'm not, and I need to have love for and confidence in my work regardless.

First Draft Phase
Once I pick an idea (or it picks me, whichever), I start drafting pretty quickly after that. Many people plan and outline, but that is something that has never really worked for me. It sucks the excitement out of the story for me, and then I get bored and lazy.

BUT. I do not free write like I used to. I'm kind of in the middle now. I "take notes," which means I plan out a little ahead of where I'm writing. Not the entire book, but a few chapters and maybe some notes on where I think the book is headed. I do character sheets. I research when I get to places that need it. I clean up my prose a little as I go.

My first drafting, I imagine, looks a lot like circuit training. I'm constantly hopping back and forth between exercises. The draft itself becomes one very long outline, I suppose, since I tend to write short and add more later.

While I used to let this draft unfold without much thought to plot, now I take careful steps to give it a decent backbone. No first draft is perfect, but I've learned that having a good frame makes the editing process a lot less painful, and I'm all for that. It's no secret that editing stresses me out to no end.

Drafting might be my second strength to coming up with ideas. This is the point where I'm most consistent and confident in my writing. I need little motivation to work. While I do struggle through the middle, I mostly enjoy writing a first draft. The blank page doesn't scare me like it does some—it's liberating for me. I can make that story whatever I want it to be. It's new and raw and exciting. And it's mine.

Editing Phase
For me, everything tends to turn into a big struggle at this point. Thorough and repeated editing is a necessity to good writing. I truly believe that. But this is what editing looks like in my brain:


Over and over. This is where the chocolate comes in. And ice cream. And some hardcore pity parties. Then a lot of running to burn it all off.

The more I edit, the less confident I become in my book. It's a problem. I know it's completely irrational, and I have to brace myself for the negative thought patterns every. single. time. It's very annoying. More than half my struggle in editing is not that actual work, but my own personal demons.

Sometimes I wish I was one of those writers who relished the editing process, who loved seeing their draft improve, who could sit there for hours fiddling with sentences. But I'm not, and that's something I have to accept about myself.

As much as I don't want to, I still edit, though. I've come to be a firm believer in letting a draft sit for at least a month before the first edit. I used to jump right back in, but that distance is essential. It helps me emotionally and technically. With that time, I can come to terms with the fact that my book still has a long way to go. I also get a lot of ideas on what needs to change. Both help me to make the most of that first edit.

When I start the editing process, my main focus is character and plot. These are the things that are important to me, and I believe they are interwoven. While I do clean up the prose, I don't put all my effort into it. The first edit is for getting the story in line, making sure the characters act as they would and that the story progression works.

After that comes setting and descriptive details and themes, etc. The stuff that fills out a story and gives it added dimension. Then when I feel like I have most everything in place, I work on the prose. All in all, I would estimate about 5-6 drafts before I feel like my agent can see it.

After that, of course, is more editing.


So that's vaguely how my writing process goes now. Even though there are parts in there that I despise, it works for me. And there are more parts that I love, so that always makes up for the difficulties. Not that writing books ever gets easy, but after so much practice I do know what to expect of my process. It helps me get through the struggles faster, because I know when they come and that I just have to push through them.

I encourage every writer to examine their process. Not change it, but understand it. When you understand, you can make the most out of how you work.


  1. Great post! I totally agree. Everyone has their own writing process and once you get a grip on what yours is, it's so much easier to make the most of it.

  2. Nice to see how it works for you. I'm still finding what works best for me.

  3. Your drafting process sounds a lot like my D&D process. Have an idea of what might happen in the next session or so, but be flexible since the characters will do whatever they want.

  4. Thanks for sharing this with us! It's very interesting to see how your writing process works. :)

  5. "No first draft is perfect, but I've learned that having a good frame makes the editing process a lot less painful, and I'm all for that."

    So true! I would say I'm in the middle too -- not a true planner, but definitely not a panster anymore either. I need an idea of where I think I'm going, even if I end up taking a detour or two.

    "I encourage every writer to examine their process. Not change it, but understand it. When you understand, you can make the most out of how you work."

    Absotively! And it might take years to understand and embrace your own process. (Or at least, it did for me.) But my writing improved SO MUCH during that time, and even more so now that I'm not fighting to work in a way that doesn't fit me, or striving to be someone I'm not.


    (Normally I wouldn't "sign" a comment, but Blogger is being a pain today. I had to login using my AIM screenname, which I haven't touched in YEARS!)

  6. I overwrote one novel by 20K words before I decided that I couldn't hold my process sacred anymore. Now I sort of outline and it's made life, and writing, easier.

  7. I just started doing that during the drafting phase: the whole planning a little, note-taking thing. It's working for me...at least for now. LOL Wonderful post!

  8. LOVE this post. I love to hear how other writers work.

    I'm still trying to learn my process. I definitely went with the stronger idea, and I'm moving forward with it, but the perfectionist in me tries to make every chapter beautiful before moving on to the next, and I'm wearing myself out. I've forgotten the concept of FIRST DRAFT.

  9. Yay, I love process posts! Thanks for sharing. I'm just starting out, so I'm trying to discover my writing process by extrapolating from how I write English papers. LOL. I know, I know, it's totally different from writing a novel. But I bet I'd still feel more comfortable with a structure in place. Going in to fix the mess afterward sounds like a pain; I'd rather do as much of the work as I can up front.

    Thanks for the great post!

  10. Nice to see your process, Natalie. Mine is similar, except my "outlines" take the form of idle rambling in my head as I sort through ideas, typically while listening to appropriately motivational music.

  11. Thank you for sharing your process. It seems we have a similar editing process, the only difference is you seem to go through the I SUCKS while editing and I go through it bad while I write the first draft. During the editing process the self doubt demons don't bother me.

  12. I used to be a hard-core pantser, but I'm trying to slow down and plot a little. I've never finished a second draft. My lack of plot depresses me and I just give up on the book and start a new one.

  13. Great post. I loved reading about your process and it's always reassuring to hear someone so awesome say "how did you write so much suck?" LOL. I feel like that when I re-read.

  14. Your process and your feelings on everything sound just like me! I'm so glad to know that I'm not the only one out there who has the same feelings on drafting and on editing! Thanks for sharing.