I find it rather funny that I’m devoting an entire post to my writing process, as if it’s something radically new that will overturn the writing community. Unfortunately, I’m like most humans– I mimic the habits and processes of others to an embarrassing level. I happen to also be the equivalent of a swing dancer with ten feet. Every step of the way, I have to adjust to unforeseen circumstances, going back and repeating a step if I see a need. I have no doubt that my methods will change drastically, even in just the next few years. However, in the hopes that it will help someone, I offer the following *very easy* four-stage process, which is mostly the same for any prose project I attempt.
Stage One: Prewriting
Most of my ideas begin as a Freudian iceberg– a simple image, name, or scene with an entire plot lurking beneath the water. I know I’ll get more than that eventually, but I don’t rush. I let my subconscious ruminate while I go about my day. Maybe the next day I’ll find the right name for a character, or the setting that I feel will do justice as a climax point, while paying its respects to the theme.
For books, this prewriting stage can take up to a year. Yes, twelve months of swirling that idea around in the petri dish and hoping it’ll multiply into an ecosystem. During that time, I get a lock on the characters that I want, do any world-building required, and have figured out all the major plot events. Now I go ahead and fill in individual scenes between the milestones, giving a small summary of every scene and making sure to connect them with character goals and defeats.
Stage Two: Drafting
Now that I’ve laid a more than effective framework, I feel confident enough to jump in. Usually I have a few snippets here and there written somewhere, lines that jumped out at me, or ones I felt defined a character, but it isn’t until now that I allow the story to really flow from my fingers. I have a better sense of where it’s going, and I can still change it at any turn. Of course, the fact that I outline first makes me reluctant to make huge changes, as that’ll set off a whole chain of annoying dominoes all the way to the climax, but if it really needs done, I’ll change what I can here and there and save the rest of the clean-up for the revision stage.
As for writing the scenes themselves (and yes, I highly recommend writing by scene rather than by chapter), I prefer to do the unordinary: I write my scenes out of order. Considering my outlining process is stifling enough, I let myself hop back and forth from whatever scenes I want. On my latest draft, I worked on the first and last scenes simultaneously, trying to get them to mirror each other accurately. I was able to keep a large part of my enthusiasm, at the cost of tweaking what I’d written more frequently.
Because this drafting process can be grueling, I do everything in my power to speed things up despite my perfectionism. I look over my “Scene Bible” every time I finish a scene, to refresh myself on what I want to do with the next. I find character voice journals very helpful, and add to them as I write to get a sense of who I’m spending so much time with. One way or another, I find a way to piece everything together, so that it blends into some kind of tolerable mix.
Stage Three: Revising
Now that I’ve complied all of my scenes into a first draft and divvied them up into chapters, I take a step back. I ask the big questions, not hesitating to answer honestly, because I know those honest answers are going to sound a whole better from me than someone else. Is my character too reactive? Does he pursue his goals, and are those goals thwarted every scene? Is the plot engaging? Is the theme fitting? The questions go into eternity.
So as to not be crushed by the sheer weight of my solitude any further, I send my first draft out to some family and close friends. Caution: results may vary. I am fortunate enough to have a family that is approving of my projects, but not approving enough to cast a blind eye over any mistakes. Once I apply all of the criticism that I want to (or feel like I should), I file it all back together into a second draft.
Stage Four: Editing
By this point, my projects have (hopefully) progressed to the point where I feel most of the main features are in order. I’m confident enough to push it into the pool of editors circling menacingly below– in fact, too confident at times. However, I must rein in and do the boring line edits anyway. No, your first, or second, or third draft will not be error free. Even champion spelling bee champs aren’t immune when you’re racing to follow your character’s addled ramblings at two in the morning. Only once the third draft is produced do I feel truly ready to pull my work out from under the microscope and show it to the world.
All in all, this process takes me about two years to complete. I try to revise one draft while prewriting another, and this helps considerably, as the slow germination process doesn’t require too much effort. I’m hoping that I’ll find some way past my flaws and cut this time further down, but right now I’m fine taking things slow. I’m still an amateur learning the craft, using trial and error. Given that I’ve completed this process a grand two times, I think I have some leeway.
At least, that’s what I tell myself.