Friday, June 10, 2016

The Writing Process

Everyone's got a different writing process and there's no one size fits all. Since I've recently finished up my novel, I decided to share my process and what I found works for me. I'll also share what I'll do differently in the future as well as what parts I would recommend other writers try.

To start out, I am a pantser(someone who makes up a story as the go). I have about three lines of what I want a story to be about and start from there. There is zero planning that goes into writing and I've found that's the best way for me. A plan leaves me frustrated and I end up giving up on the story that I plot.

The downfall of being a pantser is I don't know where the story is going and I'm discovering my characters and my plot as I go along. Fortunately, I seem to have a talent for inventing. Not in creating a perfectly clean rough draft, or even close to one, but that I can get most of my main plot elements in a line in such a way that I haven't needed to do any major reconstruction or rewrite an entire story. (Feel like I'm tooting my own horn, but that's not my intent. I've had several writers tell me they can't believe I pants my first draft because of how cohesive the story line is.)

Step 1: Think of story concept

My example is what I used for "Heart of the Winterland".

"I want a princess to be in a kingdom of snow and have an invisible voice that keeps her company. They should go on a journey. And meet lots of people."

Yes, that basic. Obviously that's not a story, but that's the concept level I work with when starting.

Step 2: Write!

This one is pretty self-explanatory. I like typing out my stories as I type much faster than I write and it saves me from having to convert everything over to the computer anyway.

I'm a slow writer as I have three kids, a husband, a house, cats, etc. But more than that I do a lot of thinking while I write. I don't even map out what a chapter will accomplish, but I think hard on what I'm currently writing so as to get a solid base.

Step 3: Post!

With "Winterland" I posted each chapter as soon as I finished to Scribophile. So step 1 and 2 were happening at the same time.

There's pros and cons with this method(in my case).

Pros

  • Feedback while I was still building the story. 
    • If helpful this allowed me to figure out what "large" problems I had that required attention before building more story on top of them. It's like building a house. It's good to know that the foundation is good before you start building on it. 

    • It encouraged me that someone was out there who was interested in what I was putting together.

    • Sometimes a comment from a critter, or a discussion that'd ensue from a crit, would inspire me and give me an idea for what I wanted to do (in that chapter or in the future). 

  • Critiques to go through by the time I finished a draft.
    • This was a time saving perk. I could finish up my first draft and have feedback that I could go through right away on a second draft. No waiting for the feedback to come in!

  • Able to gradually build up "resources".
    • Scrib is based on a karma system(you have to crit to post, and then you have to network to get crits). So you could just get random people critting your work without networking, but since you have to crit to get karma to post anyway, it makes sense to build connections with people who'll be in it for the long haul. In posting each chapter as I wrote it, I only needed 5 karma a time vs. posting all at once and needing 5 karma x however many chapters. 

Cons
  • The time gap. 
    • This is something that effects most "as you go" novel posters. For those who write faster it's less of a problem. To put it easily. Readers read at varying rates, but in general we move at a faster pace than critters. It takes more time to dissect a story, pick out what could be improved on, and make a note of it in a clear and understandable fashion, than it does to just read. This leads to longer length of time between chapter reads and overall it takes longer to get through a novel. When I was only posting one chapter at a time, a critter couldn't read faster than I was posting, increasing that time gap. As a consequence there are some obvious things that get missed because the reader can't remember as vividly what happened before.

    • For good or ill, there's always a turnover rate to deal with. It's possible that by the time I get to the end, people who may have planned on sticking with the whole novel are now busy with other things or no longer active.

  • The edit itch.
    • This is where I would get a crit and GAH!! A typo! SERIOUSLY, how did I miss that? And then I have to go fix it. And typos are easy. Sometimes it'd be something just as irksome, but would require more time to fix. Basically if I had crits sitting there with edits I knew for sure I wanted to utilize, it would bug me and bug me until I had to revise. Overall, this makes for a slower pace in getting out the first draft.

  • Crit buildup.
    • People like to start at the beginning of a story, and for the most part that's where I like them to start. Starting at the beginning allows people to comment on all aspects of a story. The problem comes when people don't get farther than a chapter (or a few chapters). This could arise from lack of interest to life got busy and they're no longer around. But what DID happen was as I was looking for long term crit partners and we'd "do a test run of one crit or two" I was getting an absurd number of crits on my first few chapters.
                    This is not an inherently bad thing, but it made it so that 1. I had to keep editing my first                       3 chapters or all of those crits would've been on my first draft and just been rehashing old                     things instead of commenting on new things, and 2. I was getting crits even when I was                       ready to end the "outside input" stage because I wanted readers on later chapters and they                     had to start at the beginning.

                    I had over 30 chapters on my prologue, another 30+ on my first chapter, and around 25                         on my second chapter. That's a LOT of feedback and I found it to be overwhelming.


Step 4: Revise/edit.

I did a jump edit method to start. This is where I'd go back and edit chapters while I was writing future ones. By the time I got to the end of my first draft, my first 20 chapters had been revised at least once and the first 10 had been revised multiple times. My prologue had been completely rewritten, my first two chapters revised so heavily they might as well have been rewritten.

I liked that I was further ahead in terms of polishing than I'd have been if I'd just finished my first draft without going back and editing. Around chapter 20 I'd decided to push for the end and didn't do any more editing. Even the typos got a free pass for the time being.

After I finished, I continued to do crit swaps with people to get more feedback throughout the "outside input" stage.

My first "official" revision I applied what I wanted from crits and my own edits. I realized I needed an extra chapter, and went back and added a chapter and moved things around to make it fit.

From that point I'd have revisions where I'd start at the beginning and go all the way through, and revisions where I was only taking a poke at one chapter.

Step 5: The heavy work

Here a bunch of things happened. I went through my manuscript again. At the same time I sent it out to a few beta readers. I also purchased my ISBN's, got my blurb, my cover, and my website set-up. My husband did a lot of that(cover, website, ISBN's). Once I had my full revision done as well as the notes from my betas, I sent the manuscript to an editor to be looked over for any grammatical/formatting errors. I then applied those edits once I the editor finished. At the end of this, I purchased three proofs to go over one last time.
 
Step 5: Proofreading:


I gave two of the proofs to people to go over and look for any errors, and the last one I went over myself. This was by far my favorite stage. I was pretty burnt out by this point, but the end felt close at last. Here's how I went about this stage and what I'd do next time.


  • I started out using a little yellow hi-liter to mark sections that needed attention and then wrote down the page number in a notebook and a note about what I wanted to change. This took some time as I had to mark inline, then take notes as well, but it saved me from having to remember what it was I wanted to do. (as you can see there's a lot of marking, but it doesn't show up very well and if the lighting was poor that day, it was nearly impossible to see.)
  • My hi-liter died so I went out and bought a multi-colored pack and assigned a color to different edits. 
    • Yellow was substitute this section with _____(whatever I wrote for that page in my notebook)
    • Green was put between paragraphs or words and meant "add word(s)". Again, whatever was to be added was in my notebook.
    • Pink was for formatting errors.
    • Purple was delete. 




Next time I'd use the colored ones for the entire proof. This improved both this stage and the next one for several reasons.

  • The colors(yellow included) were much easier to see.
  • I had to take less handwritten notes as pink and purple didn't require explanation.
  •  When I applied the edits at the next stage, I didn't have to reference my notes as often since only the green and yellow sections needed written details.
  • The green was normally just used as a line between words, and that stood out more than the yellow.
The proofreading started out slow as I was trying to fit it in wherever I could. I finally decided enough was enough and put my foot down. I gave myself a goal of 20 pages a day. The first week and a half I failed at that, partially because I went on vacation during part of that time. But when I got back I put everything(except the kids) on hold. Cleaning, laundry, dishes, sewing, critting, socializing, you name it, I let it languish. 

The result was I started overshooting my page goal and wrapped everything up nice and quick.

Step 6: Applying the final edits:

Still on a high from the pace I'd set in step 5, I continued to put everything else on standby while I took all of my edits and applied them to my manuscript. I'm a very unorganized writer, so I don't have numbers and timeframes for most of this stuff, but I think this stage took me 5 days. 

The beginning where I had just the faint yellow marker went slower, but as suspected, the brighter variety of colors enabled me to move quicker.

Finishing up with that, I took the few comments I had from the readers of the other two proofs and applied what I wanted from those as well. That took me a day.

Step 7: Finalizing:

The moment where you have to let your baby fly. That's what this step really feels like. I had the story, the cover, ISBN, blurb, website, everything was formatted and submitted to Createspace for printing. 

We set up our business(publishing company) with the state and formatted everything for ebook. 
 
Everything was done, and it was time to say no more editing, no more tweaking, because editing can easily suck you into a never-ending cycle. I had to mentally walk myself through the idea that not everyone will love my book, not everyone will even like it. There'll be people that downright hate it. I'll probably have something I missed, something I could've done better. There'll be highs and lows, positives and negatives. At the end of the day, I can't please anyone. Even the best books out there(not matter what you think those are) have people that didn't enjoy them. 

Step 8: Promo/Preorder:


Preordering isn't a requirement. You can very well just publish when you're done. I chose to go the pre-order route because I had been working(in an author sense) hard lately and needed a bit of down time to both catch my breath and start on a giant learning curve for all that comes after.

Preorder was set up, and my husband made a few promos for me. I've been releasing those every few days to try and get people interested. I've also been trying to get more actively involved in various social media platforms. There's been a couple of blog tours I'll be part of as well.

Step 9: Release:

This is the moment! So I haven't got here yet, but this will be when my book is released and that's pretty much all there is to that. There'll be a step 10 of course where I'm learning marketing and networking aspects, but as I have just started on the bulk of that journey, I'm not going to do a detailed step for that as I don't really have any advice or details.


The entire process took me about 2 1/2 years. I don't have numbers or exact time frames for each step, as I said, I'm not that organized in my writing.

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What parts of this would I recommend?

1.) Feedback in the form of critiques. Depending on each writer, when you get this feedback is different. Some do better with early feedback, and some prefer it after they've fixed all the things they can see. I've been using Scrib for close to 2 years now and I would recommend that as a critique site.

2.) It's your story, so don't be afraid to be picky about who you work with. I've found that there's a lot of people who believe you should except critiques from anyone and everyone and that being selective is "evil"(okay, evil's not the write word, but it sounded better than some of the stuff that gets slung around).

I'm sure some will disagree, but I say find people who understand your style, whose feedback you respect, who you can trust are helping and not just in it to get something, and it helps you not get overwhelmed with opinions.

A good critic will do their best, learn your style as they read and not impose their own, be honest without being condescending, and be someone who you think "I've seen this person's writing and/or critiques to others and I trust their advice".

3.) Know your story. If something doesn't jump out as you as "yes, this does need changed", then let it rest for awhile. Don't change something unless you either know that it's an error(Ex. you said blue earlier and forgot and now it's red. Or a typo/grammatical error.) or immediately you think, oh my gosh, they're right *lightbulb*.

4.) Get a paper proof even if you only plan on selling ebooks. I cannot stress enough how important I think this is. There is something about holding a physical copy of your book instead of staring at a screen where I just caught a lot more things. Next time I'll do a paper copy earlier as well as one near the end. DO THIS!!! :D

What part of your writing process have you found to be the most beneficial? Which part would you do differently next time?





13 comments:

  1. This is really useful, especially for the newbie writer. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. I'm glad it was helpful. I wasn't sure if it would be. Thanks for stopping by!

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  2. Wow, this is fascinating, Kristen! It's interesting to see how you handle the entire process, because it's similar to how I did it. When I wrote the first draft of Karen's Year, I posted it to Scrib as soon as I finished it, which was kind of a blessing in disguise.

    Also, I'm pretty sure that I was kicking your ass to get the book finished once you'd reached step five. LOL

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    1. I always love reading other writers processes, even if I know they're vastly different from my own.

      I posted the first draft as I was writing it, which really helped me keep going. I loved the encouragement and fixing the plot line as I went.

      Err, yes, step five should say "Also Corinne got involved here and asked me 10x a day if I was done yet!"

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  3. Great post! It's really interesting to see your process in detail. You may say you're organised but it sounds structured by the end. Write - crit - revise etc.

    I like the idea of colour coding a proof copy. I might have to steal that. Although it must feel very wrong WRITING ON A BOOK!

    You know my process...and what I'm hoping to do second time around is to get a draft with a cleaner underlying structure on to Scrib, so I don't have to do so many rewrites at the basic plot level.

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    1. It definitely felt wrong at first. I had to keep in mind that it was a proof, not a published book and it was meant to be marked up LOL.

      The color coding really helped the process, and you're welcome to the idea!

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  4. Ok, that should be *not organised

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  5. I love your writing process! It really appeals to me as a fellow pantser. I do pretty much the same thing--start with vague idea, write, post, then run through crits linearly... I like the idea of posting as I go, and might try that next time I'm starting a project.

    I too had issues with crit pile-ups... Once I had something like 13 on one chapter I hadn't edited for a while. That taught me to never let them pile up again like that, because I simply can't handle juggling so many at once.

    Also, I'm definitely going to snag your highlighters idea for next time I need to read through a proof. (Last time I just took notes of what needed editing, rather than marking in the book, but I think it's time to get over that!)

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    1. Yay! Always good to meet a fellow pantser. It seems most of my writing friends lean towards the planning side

      I do love posting as you go as an option if you write regularly. To give an example, I started book 2 of the Corison Chronicles last spring and I'm only on chapter 8. It's a huge time gap between posting and since my current critiquers are fast to go through what I have, I find it's a lot to expect them to remember.

      Ah yes, the pile-ups are terrible. It's gotten better now that I have a solid group of people I work with. I restrict my work to them and I pretty much get 6 crits on something before it locks, and I don't unlock until I edit.

      I think I ended up with about 13 pages of notes. I'd write Pg. ___ first and then go over a bit and write the note that went with the page, but then I'd also mark right in the book where I wanted the change to apply.

      So for example. Pg. 1 Sunlight (highlight The sun in book in yellow to indicate I'm replacing that with Sunlight.)

      And then if there's more than one edit per page, I just add them below in order below each other in my notebook.

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  6. I love reading about the processes of other writers, and there's lots of great info here! I actually wrote a similar, if less detailed, post a couple of weeks ago. (Will post to bloggers unite).

    I've been flip flopping between posting as I go and waiting until I'm finished and do a couple of self edits for my longer works, but I think that with this I've decided to wait.

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    1. Thank you for sharing! I loved reading through it as like you I find the different processes interesting.

      It's hard for me to advocate for posting as you go, or after completed, since I see the perks of both sides. I would say that if you write slowly as I do, that the best way to help your readers keep things fresh in their minds is to wait and post all when you're done.

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  7. great stuff--do you think at some point you could maybe do a post about the process of self-publishing? Like a how-to or maybe just things that surprised you about the process and how you dealt with it?

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    1. Great idea! Maybe I'll do that one next week while it's all fresh in my mind.

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