The Process of Writing

Every author is different. Every book is different. There are hundreds of different methods to compose a novel. My site has numerous posts about how I do things. There are thousands more on the internet. But, I think there comes a time where we have to remind ourselves of one simple truth: there is no one right way.

When I create a blog post detailing how I do something, I do so with the intent of giving people options. The only person this method works 100% for is me, and it doesn't even work for me 100% of the time.

We've heard it before. Writing is hard, and this is part of the reason why. If there was one set method everyone could use to write a damned good book, we wouldn't need a star rating system on websites because all books would be damned good books.

Over the years, my writing process has changed substantially, and I'm going to talk about what I used to do versus what I currently do. I hope you walk away with something out of this, but if you don't, that's okay, too.

When I first started writing, I didn't actually have a computer of my own. I wrote in the cheapest lined notebooks my mother could get me. My sister had a computer, but she used it on her own. It wasn't until 1-2 years after I started actually expressing interest in writing I got a computer of my own.

It was someone's broken laptop. It didn't have a hard drive, but it did have a zip drive, and I had to run windows from the zip drive. But hey, it worked, and went from having nothing to having something. I then got my sister's hand me down computer.

I wrote maybe 5,000 words a year at that point in time. I also had no idea how to touch type and I had to hunt for each and every letter.

(As a side note, my mother had a typewriter, and she even let me use it sometimes… but I didn't write very much, because paper was too expensive to waste.)

For what it's worth, I didn't really consider myself a writer back then. It was pure escapism, and I did it purely for my entertainment. I didn't start thinking of myself as a writer until after I turned eighteen. Now, I wasn't really a writer then, either–I wasn't writing. I only did it when I was in the mood, which wasn't often.

I transitioned from notebooks to digital after I moved to Canada, although I did write some stories on notebook paper still.

I was maybe writing 10,000 words a year at this point, usually in 2-3,000 word bursts.

That changed several years later when my husband called me out on the fact I liked claiming I was a writer and I wasn't actually writing. I bought myself a case of Nestea, and in my determination to prove my husband wrong, I sat down and wrote my first book. I did it over the course of three days. My highest word count was approximately 33,000 words for a single day, and my fingers bled.

It was a terrible story, but I had written it, and that's all that mattered. I proved I could.

I pantsed that story from start to finish. I continued to pants my way through stories thereafter for a few years. I actually hated the idea of writing outlines. I thought if I outlined something, it would destroy the story and ruin the love of discovery. (Note: I was miserably wrong on this point.)

I upgraded to 50,000 to 80,000 words a year of novel writing. At this point, I was starting to actually consider myself a writer. I didn't write all the time, but I was writing every month, even if the amount was small.

Years went by, as they have this tendency to do, and somewhere along the way, I decided I wanted to become a published author. (Some might claim this was actually the biggest mistake.)

My process underwent a massive changed. I started handwriting 90% of my writing. The ‘good' stuff I would then transcribe into the computer. Storm Without End (Closer to 50% drafted on notebook after I got done with the edits…) and The Eye of God (Pretty much exact to what I had written in the notebook) were both written in this way. Storm Surge was also written in this way.

I pantsed Storm Without End and The Eye of God. I mostly pantsed Inquisitor.

I learned pantsing leaves a lot of room for improvement and a lot of room for errors, too. I wanted to tell stronger, better stories. I wanted to take my creativity and do something better with it. I wanted to tell better stories.

I started looking at the weaknesses in my early books, and I realized I was shooting myself in the foot. I was good at pantsing–at least, I thought I was. Ego, you're a cruel mistress.

Pantsing was hurting me more than helping me. I started making the shift to outlining (in synopsis summaries) to help me define and improve my books.

Winter Wolf was the first book I did extensive outlining on. Of course, the outline was a drastically different beast than the finished book, but I learned something very important. Outlining in synopsis summaries per arc didn't ruin the sense of wonder and discovery. It did function as writing a draft without nearly as much time commitment. I got to know the characters better. Winter Wolf has flaws and a lot of them, but it's a much better book for me learning I was hurting myself by pantsing.

The below image showcases my life before I learned how to outline in a way that works for me.

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 5.50.47 PM

None of these books will ever be fit for production. They're terrible. They all share one commonality: I pantsed them all.

This is the index of my shelf of shame, which now lives in a scrivener file for easy referencing.

This accounts for almost 600,000 words of learning, effort, and tears. Some stories I restarted over and over and over. I don't regret pantsing these stories. I'm glad I did. I learned a lot about the writing process by writing.

I learned a hell of a lot more about the writing process by forcing myself to outline, though. I had to pay attention to character development. I had to pay attention to plot flow. I had to learn what these things actually were so I could use them effectively.

I didn't realize I had no idea what I was doing until I realized I wasn't outlining because I didn't like the method… I wasn't outlining because I didn't know how to write a book.

Storm Without End actually changed a lot of things for me. I rewrote that book many times. To give you an idea of the amount of work I invested in trying to make it a decent book, I present to you the scrivener showing my production books.

Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 1.31.03 PM

There are enough scenes in the cut scene folder to account for almost an entire draft of the book. Five full versions plus the final production copy plus the cut scenes.

That represents several years of my life trying to learn how to tell a better story.

Your writing process should evolve. If it doesn't, you may not be growing as a writer. That may not be an easy pill to swallow, but why should a method continue to work if you're evolving as a writer? It shouldn't. As your knowledge and skill grows, you'll find better ways to work–ways that enhance your ability to tell a story.

If anyone tells you they are the authority on how to write a book, run away.

No one is. No one can tell you how to write your book. You can choose to listen to advice–and you probably should. It's a good way to learn, even if you learn that their method doesn't work for you.

Here is a glimpse at my current writing process, which is far different from when I just sat down and puked words onto the page. Note: This is modified from a post I had made on Google+; why reinvent the wheel when I can copy/paste?

1: Outlining.

I write a summary synopsis of the book I want to write. This is done 1-5 times on average depending on the story. Pack Justice had 4 outlines. New Pseudonym Books average 2-3 outlines for refinements.

An outline pretty much equates a draft for me because I go scene by acne to develop the world and characters. It took me almost three weeks at four or so hours a day to outline Pack Justice.

2: Drafting.

I am currently writing directly to the computer. The outline phase is done in levenger circa journals.

Note: when I draft, I edit as I draft. Whenever I start my day, I go back and edit at least one section for continuity checks and so on.

Drafting takes approximately one month for 80-100,000 words.

3: Editing.

While I do edit while I draft, I also do an editing pass of the book before I send to my copy and proofing editor.

4: Copy / Proofing Edits.

Once I get the notes back from my editor, I implement them.

5: Arc creation.

Book goes to reviewers. I do a basic scan for stupid things I may have missed during the regular edit phase as I also check over the entirety of the file for formatting issues.

6: Final Proofing.

I try to do this step as many times as possible to catch the stupid errors, on several different devices.

Every book is different, so my process does change for the specific book I am working on, but this is a pretty good summary of how my flow typically is at current.

Most importantly, find a way that works for you.

No one can hold your hand and tell you what that way is. You can only discover that way by sitting your ass down in your chair and doing the work. Becoming a writer isn't a magical process. The road to victory is paved in your hard effort, and you only have yourself to thank or to blame for your successes and failures.

And we all fail–the real question is this: will you get back up and try again when you do?

I'm glad I did.

Leave a Comment:

1 comment
T.F. Pruden says November 23, 2015

Hi R.J.;

Thanks for sharing the nuts ad bolts of your process. Your advice is spot on ~ again! You’ve earned a new fan here with your wisdom & kindness.

All the best,

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