Today, I get to share my 100th post with you!!! This is a crazy milestone to hit, and I’m so excited that my 100th blog post gets to be about my favorite thing — writing a book!
Late last year, I was asking around on social media, trying to figure out what writing blog posts you guys would like to see. One of the answers surprised me. From a non-writer, there was a request to see the breakdown of how I write a story and what all goes into it. They wanted to really get a feel for my process, especially since they haven’t ever gone through it themselves.
Before I launch right in, I wanted to share a quick disclaimer: Obviously how I write a story isn’t the end-all, be-all. Every author writes books differently! This is simply my process and my breakdown, and I am not, in any way, claiming that this is the only “right” way or trying to speak for other authors. Thanks! 🙂
Part One: Is this an actual story or is this just a fun idea?
I get my inspiration for stories from everywhere — from daily life, dreams, Pinterest word and picture prompts, legends and mythology, books I read, etc. I really couldn’t tell you if I have one inspiration-category my books land in over the others because I’m seriously all over the place. But that’s okay because at this stage, it’s completely natural for things to be messy.
The big step in-between turning an abstract idea to words on a page is figuring out if the story will work. Sounds pretty obvious, right? But for most authors, it isn’t that straightforward.
Sometimes, I immediately get a sense of the world that a story can take place in, but I have no plot or characters. Sometimes I dream up a fragment of a plot but not the rest. More often than not, since I’m more of a character-driven writer, I’ll come up with characters that don’t have a story. And these characters will hang out in my head until I either come up with a great story idea for them to fit into or until, unfortunately, I have to dismiss them because they won’t fit in anything I’m working on or plan to work on. And more often than not, as a writer, I cling to these fragmented ideas much longer than I should; even if I realize their story won’t work right now. I always have an overabundance of ideas, and I hate to turn any away.
Yet other times, these fragmented ideas can seem stronger or start to fit in with other ideas I’m having. Taking characters, for example — sometimes I’ll think about them so much that all of a sudden a plot for a story involving them will pop into my head, or the world they came from will make itself known. If I reach this stage, I usually take the time to write down what I know so I won’t forget it. Not only is this great for a sometimes-scatter-brained writer, such as myself, but getting it on paper means that I can finally start to see if a story is going to take shape, or if the lack of one means this idea is set to the side or even trashed for now.
From there, if I really feel like I’m onto something, I’ll sit down and start thinking in more detail. What plot would work with this? Do I have fragments of a plot or conflict or a world that I can build around? What are these characters telling me about themselves? (Yes, characters can talk to me. Maybe that’s a wee bit insane, but hey, at least I’m owning it. *shrugs*) If connections and a solid idea comes forth, normally this is where I’ll move into my planning or outlining stage…
Part Two: Planning and Outlining
Now this part is where I feel like I set myself apart from other authors… Not in a vain way, but in a way where I create a lot more work for myself than I probably should. Ha!
I tend to be a work-on-only-one-book-at-a-time person, at least when it comes to writing. I can, however, easily divide my time between writing a book and outlining/planning another. Since I’m constantly coming up with and testing out new ideas, if there are cohesive ones that I like and want to keep, I will literally sit down and outline the book and/or work on character and world building. This sounds a little crazy, right? I mean, I currently have outlines for multiple books and book series that probably won’t get written or published for at least another year; most likely longer than that. But for me, there is immense clarity and relief when I see that my works are outlined and have a starting point; that I’m not sitting down to a completely blank page. Maybe that’s the planner in me. *winks*
But what all goes into my outlining and planning? First, you have to understand that I’m a huge plotter through and through. This means I need to know who my characters are, all the details about my story world, and I need to have a chapter-by-chapter, at-least-one-paragraph-long description outline of what is happening in my book. This researching and outlining phase varies by the book I write. I think the shortest time I’ve spent outlining and preparing was three days, while the longest was at least two weeks. I remember Smoke and Mirrors, my debut novel, taking me well over two weeks by the time I had everything I needed. The amount of research I have to do often depends on the genre and what I plan on including.
For example, I’ll use Smoke and Mirrors, my dystopian novel. Not only did I go through character questionnaires to help me learn more about my characters, but I also wrote a thirty-chapter outline. As soon as I picked out the location for the setting, I did research on the city of Newburgh and looked up pictures and maps. I looked up the climate, I looked up famous people who were born or live there currently, and I looked up street names. Since the characters had to travel from Newburgh to NYC, I literally Google Mapped the route and then hand-wrote the directions, making note of how long it would take the characters to get there by walking and where they would be on each day. I researched our national debt, since that plays a pretty important part in the story, and I researched different religions when I realized the characters all believed in different deities or things. I also researched trauma and the effects certain ones have on the brain, as there is a huge psychological element that plays out in this book as well.
On the contrary, to give you another example, I’ll use my Quelmirian duology. Villager and Storyteller didn’t take nearly as long because I didn’t have as much to research (more what food and natural resources grow in tropical climates, gypsum, a variety of dress and hairstyles, recipes, etc), but since it was a fantasy, more time went into going through a world building questionnaire where I fleshed out the fantasy world of Quelmir.
Once I have both character and world building details written out and a full chapter-by-chapter outline, only then do I feel ready to start the writing process.
Part Three: Writing and Editing
I write chronologically, following my outline. I never can stand to write out of order. The writing part is as simple as can be, I suppose… Now it’s time for me to take all of the details I’ve figured out and pay attention to what I have outlined in each chapter and somehow translate all of that to a blank document page on my computer. This is the part where I really can’t describe to you how it all works… I wish I knew the science behind how writers can do what they do. Perhaps that’ll be one of my future blog posts — compiling the research, if there is any, on how this occurs.
What I CAN tell you, however, is that how long it takes to write a book can vary. It took me about or over a year to get the first draft of Smoke and Mirrors finished, whereas it took me a month and a half to finish the first draft of Villager, book one in my Quelmirian Duology. It took me four to five months or so to finish the rough draft of book 1 in my Tales of Nottingham series.
Some authors like to write with a end-goal word count in mind (such as, “this chapter is going to be 3,000 words,” or “my book is going to be 80,000 words when it’s finished”). I’ve found that I can never do this. If I put a word goal on myself, I feel pressured, and this can cause me to either write too much (adding what’s known as “fluff” since it doesn’t add any depth to the story) or too little (panicking and not adding enough detail). Instead, I simply follow my chapter-by-chapter outline. If the chapter ends up being 1,500 words, that’s fine. If it ends up being 6,000 words, that’s fine too. Whatever it takes to get it down and feel like it’s a mostly cohesive chapter when I write it; no fluff or missed details. Another fun fact about me here: I can’t stop writing in the middle of a chapter. It has to be finished. I HAVE to get from Point A to Point B, again, regardless of whether it’s 1,500 or 6,000 words.
When I write the first draft, I notice more often than not that my main goal is to simply get the plot and the characters on the page. There will be some world building details, but very few. Funny, since I spend all that time in the planning stage figuring out my setting details, right? I’ve noticed that I can never compile all of these elements correctly in the first draft or I start to get overwhelmed, so I focus on the two main categories that are most important to me. Yes, this means adding a lot of detail about the world later on, but it’s well worth it to me to not get confused or frustrated.
When I finish writing a book, I like to let it sit for a minimum of two weeks. Sometimes I can allow longer, but this isn’t always the case. After letting it “rest” and giving my mind a break from it, I’ll print it off and make notes on what needs to be edited. I like to do a pretty intense line edit on the first draft, which means that I look at all story elements (plot, characters, world, themes, pacing, tone, etc) as well as the grammar/punctuation/sentence structure issues. From there, I’ll make all of the changes on my computer, which usually takes anywhere from 1-3 weeks. Then, I’ll hand it off to my husband, my “alpha reader,” to read through and offer editorial suggestions.
What I used to do from there was make the changes Hubby suggested and turn it over to 2-4 beta readers. But this year, I added in an extra step for my Tales of Nottingham trilogy and hired an editor after making changes the Hubby suggested. My experience with my editor was absolute gold, and I look forward to keeping this change in my process from here on out. This year, after getting thoughts from my editor, I made changes one more time based on her suggestions and then sent my book off to four wonderful beta readers who I trust immensely. My beta readers are sent a questionnaire asking them about the specific aspects of the story that have changed since the first draft; if they work, things like that.
After betas return the questionnaires to me, I will make final tweaks and do a quick proofread (thank you, Grammarly!), and that’s when the book is ready for publication.
I’m really thankful that this reader asked me to describe my process, not only so I can hopefully clarify my process, but also to prove that writing isn’t a super easy walk in the park like most people make it out to be. 😉
I hope this helps answer all of your questions on my personal writing process! It was such a joy to share this with you all! Do you have any other questions I can answer for you, or anything in this post that I can clarify?