In January of this year I wrote a lengthy post called, “Writing a Fantasy Novel: The Basic Steps”. Looking back I can see how naïve and pretentious I was then compared to now. At the time, I was still ankle-deep in my first rough draft. I hadn’t yet entered the doldrums of massive rewriting and editing. Here’s a simplified version of the steps from that post:
- Create a central plotline and try to sum it up in a few sentences.
- Write a mini narrative or an outline walking through each event. Note characters and places that need creating.
- Spend time creating character and place details.
- Start writing!
- Edit and perfect.
- Get critiqued! (and then edit again, and critique, etc…)
It’s not bad advice. You will finish a book if you follow the steps. You will also bore yourself to death in the process. The above advice works best for those out there who like to follow directions. Problem is most writers prefer to march to their own beat. If I were to re-write my advice it might look something like this:
- Create a character you love and understand, you might want to create a short story or two to see if the two of you can get along. Sometimes we think we understand a character until we try to use them and they refuse to coöperate.
- Throw that character into a unique situation and see what they do with it, they might surprise you with their ingenuity. Continue to build the story based on your characters reactions.
- Set a goal for a certain number of words to put to paper daily and weekly. A goal of 1000 a day and 5000 a week (my current pace) will produce a decent size book in 2-4 months and won’t kill you in the process. Some days the writing will stink, that’s ok. You will still learn new things about your characters.
- When you finish the first draft put it away for several weeks, some recommend a whole month. Don’t even look at it during that time. You can start a different project while you wait or try your hand at a few short stories.
- With a pen in hand start reading, making notes and corrections as you go. Do this on a printed copy. Read through the manuscript figuring out exactly what needs to change to bring the draft to the next level.
- Implement your changes starting at the first page and plowing through to the end. Avoid the urge to jump around.
- At this point you might want to put it away again and do another round of editing or you can start the critiquing process. Other people will catch many things that you might have overlooked.
- Continue the editing process until you are satisfied with your book. Then you can start the querying process, which we will discuss later.
I can’t say that this is the most efficient way of writing a book but it is a more natural and interesting one. I’m working a mix of step 5 and 6, I never printed out the manuscript after the rough draft. I regret it now because I don’t have any notes to guide me as I slog through trying to pull the pieces back together. Won’t make that mistake again. Still making progress and that’s all that matters!
What is your writing process like?