People have been asking me what my writing process is, and they ask a lot. I have even gotten texts that say nothing other than “Writing Process?” I pondered that question. What exactly is my writing process? Is there a prescribed or clandestine process that I have to follow to the letter in order to write a book?
Let’s look at the definition of the term “writing process.” Writing can, of course, be terrifying, but following this tried-and-true process will help you to focus, plan and write your books.
The writing process is broken up into five steps, prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and finally publication. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well, it is and it isn’t. It’s complicated. I have researched and taken classes on the writing process, and I always left confused- either like I was missing half the information or my brain was so stuffed full of both useful and filler information that I couldn’t process it.
My one take away is this: in order to understand the process, and develop your own way of doing things, it helps to have someone walk through their process and give examples, so I’m going to do just that. Let’s talk about each step, and I will walk you through the process I used when I wrote “A Ghost of a Chance”.
Step One-Prewriting: Before you sit down to start writing that first draft you need to know what you're going to write about. Something has to have inspired you. This is the first spark. Then comes the idea. Now you are you going to turn that spark of inspiration into a story. Once you have your concept, you can expand on that. You should end up with a basic story outline. From here you can go to the last step of the prewriting process the planning. Yes, there will be processes within the processes. It’s not that scary.
So let’s talk about how I did it.
The Spark: I got my spark for “A Ghost of a Chance” while we were on a family trip to Ireland. Our guide showed us many statues and sites that were memorials for the hundreds of thousands of Irish people that perished from starvation during the potato famine. One statue touched me the most. It was a Rhodin type sculpture that depicted a mother who was barely skin and bones, being followed by her children, who were shown to be just a bit too thin.
The Inspiration: I imagined a mother not eating enough to survive to make sure that her children got enough to eat. Then the possibilities started flowing. I had my seedling and now it was time to ask myself questions. Those wonderful “what if” questions that most books start with.
The Idea: Now that I was inspired, I began to ask myself questions. What if she died and haunts a cottage? What if she is lingering around because she believes that she committed suicide even though she sacrificed herself to ensure her children's health? What if some really cute writer with a nose ring ended up staying at her cottage, and found himself traveling back in time while there? Why would he have to go to Ireland? I pulled out a notebook (a writer should always have a small one handy) and started writing down all the questions and solutions that I thought of. At this point, I not only had a ton of ideas, but I also had the makings of a plot. This brought me to the final stage of prewriting: the outlining of the story. It was just basic at first, and then I went back and expanded it until I ended up with a very thorough working outline. You can see my first outline below.
Something happens and Tyler has to flee to Ireland.
He has a brain tumor and is hiding from the media.
He starts to travel back in time.
He meets Brigid.
He learns more about Brigid.
He questions his sanity.
Lots of romance and setbacks.
Brigid helps him; he helps her.
Tyler’s health gets worse.
Hard decisions need to be made.
Ends on a satisfying note.
By the time I had my outline done, I had pretty much the whole book planned out in front of me like a set of instructions. I knew that the shower scene had to happen in order for him to believe that Brigid was real.
I put that basic outline into a Word doc and kept expanding on it until I had a whole storyline done, with characters, locations, relationships, hurdles, and, of course, romance and drama. At that point, I had an outline I could work with. I knew which scenes needed to go where and I could start the drafting process because I already had my story written out. It was time to bring it to life.
At this point, I took a couple of days and do any research I needed to do. I did further research into the potato famine, the village of Ardmore (I’m going to move there someday), how and where historical records would be found in a small village, and more than I have ever wanted to know about living with a brain tumor and how people lived in Ardmore during the famine.
I wrote out my characters and their descriptions. From my main characters to supporting characters, I described them all.
Example: Tyler, 27-year-old horror writer from San Francisco. Dirty blonde hair with black roots, nose ring, killer blue eyes. He’s sarcastic and witty but also very respectful and caring. He’s also ridiculously romantic and quite the optimist, which causes him to not take his brain tumor as seriously as he should.
I researched my location and drew out a map of Ardmore. I went to San Francisco and toured around the neighborhood that Tyler lived in.
Any research you need to do. I write in both the present and the past. I gave myself two days to do research. That kept me focused and safely on this side of the rabbit hole that, for me, is research. Without a plan, I will research everything to death, so I needed to have a list of things I needed to know and set a time limit to find all that information.
Finally, I wrote my mission statement.
I now had everything I needed to write that first draft, and that was exactly what I did. Following my outline, using my notes and setting a 2500 word a day goal, I was able to write “A Ghost of a Chance” in just under four months.
Once I got the first draft done. I set it aside to let it rest for a few days and then I printed it out. I made all my changes on the hard copy and went back in and wrote the second draft on top of the first draft, cutting and pasting as I needed to.
Once the second draft was done, I sent it to a few of my writer friends to have them look it over, allowing them to make notes. Each had their own Google doc copy of my manuscript. I gave them all a week to work on it, and when I got all their suggestions back, I printed them out and went through them one by one, making the changes in my 2nd draft as I went along. My draft was shaping up into an actual well-written story.
Once I had all those revisions done, I had my first revised copy of my book. This I sent out to beta readers, asking them to find any inconsistencies, things that didn’t make sense, or places where the wording was wonky. After all, I couldn’t have Brigid burning blighted potatoes in the side yard and then three pages later have her checking that same bonfire in the backyard. Once I got all of them back, I followed the same process as I did with the 2nd draft. When that was done, I ended up with a complete, although unedited, story.
I ran the book through my editing software, and then, when all the basic grammar errors were fixed, I sent it off to my editor. Here is a hint for all of you, whether you plan to traditionally or self publish your book, spend the money on a good editor. Nothing turns off your readers like a badly edited book. I learned this the hard way.
Once you get the suggestions back from your editor, and you make the necessary changes, you have a completed and polished manuscript. From that point, where you take it is up to you.
I hope these steps have helped you as much as they helped me. I am now working on my 3rd book and co-authoring a cozy mystery with another author.
Please visit me on my blog to see more hints and tips, and how I use my planner to keep track of my projects.