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.
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.
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:
"YOU IDIOT HOW DID YOU MISS SO MUCH YOU SUCK."
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.