My own process for writing a book / is there a proper way?

How do you go about writing your novels or other writing projects? I can see clearly now that I will be going through my book in three significant drafts (definitely more, but then mostly for small changes) with a fairly swift editing/proofreading run after each. It should be noted that there are actually more than three revisions because during the edit/proofread runs I of course make some larger changes as I find places where they are required.

Draft 1 is the skeletal structure of the book. Any effective writing is essentially “showing” the reader what you are talking about, as opposed “telling” them. Draft 1 is more of me “telling” myself what the characters are doing, because it is not really meant to be read by others. It uses simpler language overall, the focus is on ensuring all the key elements are there. Draft 1 is shorter but important for me to understand the plot completely before getting seriously entangled in its creation. It also is a way to fight procrastination, ensuring that I at least get it done, at the bare minimum.

For Draft 2, I go through it again and really add meat to the bones. Personally, I would call this draft the most important. Using more complex and figurative language, I expect the word count to increase by anywhere from 15% to 65% (usually). I have a great understanding of my own story now, so I can add in higher quality descriptions to feed the reader’s five senses, and real, deep emotions and morals to character actions, thoughts, and dialogues (the good stuff). This stage takes slightly less time than the first draft as the basics (and more) are done, and much of the writer’s block from ‘what happens next’ and ‘what does this character think of the situation?’ has been suffered through.

Draft 3 is the polishing-up of every chapter and, if needed, the re-ordering of sentences for optimal fluidity, and even possibly changing the order of the chapters to ensure the timelines all make sense. At the end of this stage, for the most part I deserve to feel like “this is done”. Every additional look at the chapters thereafter is mostly small edits and nit-picking to make it as perfect as can be. Then after that, you know, getting published.

So, that’s the plan. I have to say it works for me quite well. But I am not a professional. Heck, I always hated English classes in high-school and was never able to get decent grades in those subjects, and I while I did quite well for myself in university, that was in completing a commerce degree. However, some might be surprised to learn there is actually a ton of writing in that discipline. My struggles in English were mostly due to the reality of rarely being provided with topics, novels, and other things that actually interested me. And also maybe because yes, I was that person in during high-school (the last time I took an official English class) who did little homework and next to no studying before tests and exams, obtaining A’s mostly by paying attention and a highly intuitive personality (INTJ personalities for the win!). That did not work well in English since one must read to know what is going on. Anyway, I have no clue whatsoever as to what the “proper method” is, or if there even is one…?

So, tell me how do YOU do it? Seriously, I would love to know. Feel free to call me crazy, but I can tell you, quite confidently, that I will not find myself working through my manuscript making overhauling changes a 4th time. When I read through my current incomplete first draft, I quickly see ways of vastly improving its quality, but much – sometimes most – of it is there. It can be greatly enhanced and added to, oh boy can it ever, but hardly changed. I love that there are many ways of doing almost everything. We each work differently, and that’s a great thing.  I think my planning and outlining really help me out. I know for the most part what happens, yet frequently I am pleasantly surprised how things take shape as I write, because I am always learning the how and why.

© 2013 FOTS Fantasy

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15 comments

  1. For me (I’m writing novel number 5 or 6 at this point), the novel begins with the Concept Phase. I do not usually write anything solid during this phase. All I do is brainstorm. I figure out what I want the character arc to look like. I divide the story into three acts (like a screenplay, but longer with more internal beats) and do a bunch of ancillary writing to flesh out aspects of the setting, plot, and characters (so, for instance, I might write a journal entry from the point of view of a main character or a villain or something, but not set during the arc of the novel – just something to get me into their head a bit. I’ll write travel guides to made-up places, flesh out commercials for tv shows that don’t exist, etc.).

    Then I Write It. One draft, no rewrites at all. Start to finish (or as close to the finish as it needs to be for me to see what to do next). This draft usually involves an ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ approach, wherein I include everything I might ever possibly need for the story to work.

    Then comes Revision 1 (alpha stage), where I cut all the extraneous matter, smooth out the story, firm up the character’s voices, etc. This is when I’ve got (hopefully) a workable novel. If it doesn’t work I do this again. Or again. Usually one pass does it, though.

    Revision 2 (beta stage) is the nitpicking revisions – the proofreading, the language-level firm up, one or two scenes getting minorly rewritten.

    Once the novel is in Beta, it’s really just nitpicking and fussing over it until an editor or an agent wants rewrites. They’re always going to want rewrites anyway, so at a certain point trying to second guess your own story doesn’t get you anywhere. It might not be perfect, but there’s only so close to perfect you can get anyway. At some point you just have to decide to stop revising or lose your mind.

    1. Very interesting process, the general idea is about the same. Your sophistication shows you’ve gone through the stages more than a few times, so I’m glad to know it works. Great comment!

  2. I write my first draft as the story comes to me. Usually my stories start around characters. I am bad at planning and plotting. In my second draft, the one I am editing now, I check overall stories, consistency and try to delete all unnecessary bits. Then it goes out to beta readers and a third edit will polish the plot and clean up the grammar. If money allows, I may add a proffesional edit round after the third one and hope to have it ready for publication after that. And for the record: there is no perfect method, just like there is no perfect person 🙂 Happy writing!

    1. Great to see another different style. You’re right, there is no perfect way out there. I wish you smooth sailing for your second draft.

  3. I always write with the final draft in mind, unless I am working on an early proof of concept. I carefully select diction as opposed to the frequent advice of “let it flow”. Each revision is a mix of edit and rewrite. Beginning with a smaller draft makes projecting a bigger draft much easier. I am technically professional, but not published or paid (yet). My methods have been honed over the last decade.

    In order to write like this, I employ the same method used in method acting. I must think, act, see things as the character in order to write them. In a way, while writing, I am not me since I follow a strict policy of “locked third person”, never switching from that one character for an entire story. It is only in editing that I permit myself, not the character, to have control.

    There are several writers I’ve heard about or have spoken with who’d easily make best seller or the six digit contract–they are also professional but unpublished because they choose to be.

    1. That’s a great comparison to method acting. I started my current book by writing in order, but now that I know the characters perfectly I’ve been choosing whichever chapter/character fits my current mood, and it feels real.

  4. I have to agree with Jenn. At some point you have to own your writing and call yourself a professional. As an aside, I am not at that point yet. I still hesitate to tell people I am a writer. For me I think I will be able to own my work is when I actually have a book in print. Until them I consider myself a novice with 165K words on the computer.

    I wrote my first draft all at once. Going back and spending a lot of time thinking about it. I decided to cut the first 20K words and start over. I re-did the opening from scratch and that of course changed things later on. I am about 100K into the second edit/drafting. It has actually been slower because I am writing with a purpose and trying to make sure there are no loose threads as I go along.

    The first draft, I did not give many names out, especially to lesser characters. Now, I am giving them all a name and a backstory if it is needed. Most of that backstory is a couple of lines just to set the scene. Also, I am paying close attention to the time line. That is important in my work, so I am keeping every thing straight.

    Thank you for documenting your writing process. I have found that the process is very individualistic and most people are very private about their process. Thank you for breaking out of the mold and sharing with us all.

    If you keep this up, one day JK Rowling will call you for writing advice and ask for a small loan.

    1. I suppose that really is the only difference between a pro author and others: a finished book. But other than that there isn’t much if you think about it. Thanks again for a great comment. I hope you keep the ball rolling with your project!

  5. At what moment are you going to say you ARE a professional?

    What you’re doing seem pretty professional to me. You’re not giving yourself enough credit!

    1. Fair enough, haha! I would say at minimum I’m well on my way, but probably one already. I just took a different path, I suppose. By the way, congrats for gaining the interest of a publisher!

      1. Personally I think you’re a professional writer when you call yourself one.

        So OWN it! *grins* (And thank you!)

  6. My first draft is usually a mess. The plot isn’t altogether there, the characters are flat, and the description is over the top. As such, my first draft is often the longest and I have lots of unnecessary scenes. After my first draft, I just keep writing until it’s to a point where I’m ready to show it to others!
    Good luck and take care!

    1. We’re similar, except I tend to not have enough after the first draft. And thanks, I wish you all the best with Quest for Salvation!

  7. I’m still trying to perfect my stride. Short pieces are so much easier. Read it through. Edit it once. Send it to a couple people. Edit once more. Done.

    I find everyone has their way, but it helps to know what others have tried. Gives you a quick start. I’m finding something similar to you. I write once, but I try to make it a full on draft. I have points where there will need to be edits and scenes added. Second time I’m planning on dissecting my scenes to make sure each one pushes plot or character forward and that there is some level of tension. After that, give it off to a couple readers and then do final changes. At a point, reading through again feels like you’re just trying to doubt yourself.

    1. Yeah, we have pretty similar ways. I also make the first draft a full on draft and I don’t look back until it’s all done. So the first time I read it to make fixes I actually laugh at some of my mistakes. It definitely changes from project to project though, like you mentioned.

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