With each book done, I learn so much about how I bring ideas to life, and what I need to do to make it the best it can be. Here are my top suggestions on how to progress on your writing journey.
Each author has a method and as we write we refine that method from what we’ve learned works and what doesn’t. Writing consistently over the last few years has changed my process. Even the method in which I write-edit-proof and eventually publish my stories has changed.
Mine has even evolved even since I last wrote about it in the blog in February.
My checklist of writing milestones
The writing process is a lot of circular processes of writing – editing – writing and back to the circle. To track what stage I am at, I use a checklist of the process.
- To Do – still to be done. Blank chapter.
- Zero Draft – the raw first draft, gets ideas (or a sketch of a scene) down on “paper” (meaning the computer).
- Working Draft – a complete chapter from start to finish, but still in rough form.
- Revised Draft – the story is nearing a complete final rough draft.
- Miles proofs and I correct through several stages. Miles is my husband.
- ProWritingAid – after using Grammarly for two years, I can tell you ProWritingAid is much better suited to a writer. Highly recommend it.
- Alpha Readers – sometime in this process, Alpha readers see the raw draft in one of the preceding stages for initial feedback. Since the story is still bumpy, only trusted advisors see it in Alpha.
- Sent to Editor – returned from Editor – recommended editing changes made.
- Proof again with PWA and compile to a Google doc (or if you have it, use Word) to proof again.
- Beta Readers now get a chance to see the book. And/or use a proofreading service.
- Another good way to proof is to record a reading of the book and listen to it while proofing. Do this especially if you plan an audio book.
- Compile to ebook – read on my tablet and phone, and make corrections again (yes, again!)
- ARCS – Advanced Reader copies are sent around this time, about 45 days out from book’s publication.
- Compile to pdf for print book, and proof again in a paperback form. Corrections made again.
Where do the ideas come from?
I saw this question from a writer who was having difficulty in finding ideas. All I can suggest is observe life. Watch television outside of your usual fare (I now watch a lot of documentaries, especially about history or other countries). Question why things happen the way they do.
IMO the best writers are the ones who watch and listen.
If this still doesn’t work for you, start participating in writing prompts (see Facebook writing groups or Instagram #writerscommunity posts).
How do you develop an idea?
For me personally, something I’ve seen or heard inspires me. A photo, a phrase, a character, or a situation. I play with that, writing about three chapters. Is the idea taking off? Or has it dead-ended?
Allow yourself play-time when you write what you want and not what is on the schedule. Keep those ideas even if they don’t work out. You never know when they may spring back to life.
Dealing with writer’s block
One problem I have experienced is feeling like I can’t write anymore or that my ideas have dried up. I had this problem with the College Fae #4 book, Storm of Songs. For the life of me, I couldn’t come up with a title. I had the vaguest idea of what would happen, but I didn’t see how so many different threads could come together.
Give yourself the grace of time. Let yourself rest. The creativity will come back, but it can’t be forced. Your creative mind is not a dog to come when called.
The Writing vs. Editing mind
Writing uses a different part of the brain than editing. I rarely do the same in one day but when I do it’s usually on two different projects. For example, right now I’m editing A Spell of Rowans, but writing Storm of Songs.
I’m aiming at writing sprints for Storm – setting aside time to write non-stop without editing or changing material.(More details here on how to use a writing spring). This is the best way to get words on paper/computer. However, I disagree with the article – sometimes it is utter crap. I’ve had to scrap whole chapters that didn’t fit into the plot of the book, so it is best to have some organization before beginning this such as a rough outline of a plot.
Pantser vs. Plotter
A Pantser writer starts with a character or scene and starts writing. The story evolves from there. A Plotter writes out the sequence of the story and what will happen in detail before beginning to write.
I personally started as a Pantser and the BIG problem I encountered was wasting time. You must know how much to do and when to start outlining something. You learn when to draw the line by writing, failing, and writing again. Give yourself time to playfully create, but know when you need more structure.
For example, with A Spell of Rowans, was mostly written in Pantser mode, but early on, I knew I was losing track of certain threads as it is part mystery. I ended up using Milanote to track the things I needed in order to move forward.
Because I’m a Pantser, my plotting is very basic, usually 1-3 lines. What I need to know is who is in the chapter and the major plot point that moves the story forward. Here you can see it in Scrivener (the writing software I use) for the same book as shown above. Compare Chapter 1 above to Chapter 1 below:
To me the drawback of being a Plotter is sometimes you get lost in the details. It’s a real concern as I’ve seen some authors still working on their first book, unable to get it done because of the massive amount of detail they are trying to juggle.
For Plotters’ I caution you not to get lost in all the many details of your characters and plot.
For me personally, if I sketch things out too much, I become bored with it and resist writing it. The scene has lost freshness to me.
Starting a new story based on experience
I’m starting to build the plot outline for Storm of Songs. I already have a vague idea of how the story ends but I need more structure so I don’t waste time. Most importantly I know from writing other stories a few things that help me set myself up for success.
In starting Storm of Songs, I knew:
- It would be as large, if not larger, than the last book, Bane of Hounds #3 (around 76,700 words). So I set the target word count at 80,000. This is my personal sweet spot on word count.
- From writing A Spell of Rowans (has about the same word count), I set my target at 45 chapters.
- I know my typical chapter runs between 1600 to 2000 words. Anything over 2300 needs to be split as it doesn’t meet my average word count. Your average word count by chapter my differ; I use this one as an example of what I know and plan with.
- This book will have more action, so every three chapters builds to a danger that needs to be resolved. How your book builds is determined by genre, but overall a book’s plot is built with problem – problem resolved – bigger problem – until you get to the finale.
- Knowing high points of danger I can insert that in the plotting outline even if I don’t know exactly what monster my hero will be facing. I have been known to write “something exciting happens here” when plotting!
- Since there is an ensemble cast I need to let each have time on stage (the POV notes on my plot cards below). It helps to have a character list and if doing Pantser writing, as you write about a new character add them to your list so you don’t lose track.
For my fairytale series, I now keep a list of characters and timeline right at the top of the document. This makes it easy to keep track of basic info such as name spelling, appearance, etc.. so I can keep writing without getting bogged down in details.
What to know about your story so you can write
While you are working on your story some things to get established quickly so you can move on with writing the plot include:
- Names of main characters with a general basic description (hair, eye, build, gender, ethnicity etc…). If you don’t have a name use a marker like BOB so you can continue writing. Later you can search and replace BOB with Sally Spendthrift (or whatever).
- Places – keep basic descriptions of places will help you prevent errors. For example, the Leopold Otto campus has a bell tower located at the heart of the old abbey area.
- Time period, part of the world. Knowing Dance of Hearts is in 1816 England means certain words, phrasing, and actions would be wrong. If I see another use of “okay” in a historical book I will scream!
- If fantasy, that requires worldbuilding. Make sure you have a list of highlights which you can return to and quickly read so you don’t get stuck.
- The ending. You don’t need to know exactly everything but having a good idea of what the finish is helps the roadmap a lot!
These are the areas that have helped me stay on track while writing the first rough draft.
Editing or the Art of Letting Baby Grow
Probably because of my experience as a journalist, I am ruthless about editing. When I get my edits back from my editor I attack them full force. Almost 90% of them I accept. Mistakes with verb usage, typos, and lines that were unclear to a third party reader (why can’t she READ MY MIND!?).
To move the story to a better place you must know when to let go of your notion that your work is too pure to touch. For example, that minor character that adds nothing to the story but is a confusing sideline? DELETE!
In the beginning of this process I would get mad at seeing the edits. How dare my editor actually edit! LOL But it did hurt my pride that the work needed correction. If this is you, I suggest taking a few days away from the work before going back to read the suggestions. You can also use another person to read through and see if the change are justified.
The reality? Finding the right editor who knows how to handle your ego can be a challenge! It’s a relationship that must be based upon mutual respect.
What you can learn from an editor:
Writers get into a rut. We fall back to using the same words, or the same phrase. Editors can keep us on the right path by pointing out over usage or where we could use a better word.
Editors can point out areas that are unclear. These places in the narrative happen because you are writing from a viewpoint where you know everything. Remember, it’s best to get things explained. Confused readers do not continue reading.
Editors can point areas where you need to do a little more or areas where another line or two could flush out the idea you want to get across.
Overall, I am now spending MORE on editing because I want to push my writing to the next level. That will only happen with a writing coach.
When do you know what to edit and what to leave as-is
This can be a difficult gray area. IMO writers don’t cut enough (generally). They are too close to their work to let any of it go. I’ve read a lot of indie books that needed to be unpublished and go back to extensively edited. It’s why I’ve stopped reviewing indie books on this blog. To read this disjointed, badly edited stuff can be quite painful.
As you gain experience you will know what is right for your story. For example, there have been some points about characters and how they said something that I felt strongly about. Grammatically it was fine to leave it, and I wanted that viewpoint (whether readers got it or not) to remain.
Sure I’ve made mistakes, but in the end the book is my book, and I call the shots. I’m also the target for good and bad feedback in reviews.
In the end, my suggestions to writers are:
- Have a consistent writing schedule (not editing). Without writing you won’t improve.
- Have some structure for planning your story but also know you need the freedom to play. Understand your own rhythm of what is needed to be productive.
- Your pacing and how you write will change over time. Correct the course, use tools that work for you, but realize that writing speed and production is uniquely yours.
- Use a professional editor and think about their suggestions.
- If you can’t afford a professional editor, join a writer’s group and buy ProWritingAid.
- Realize you will mistakes. When you can correct them (I always go back and fix typos in published books so the new ones are good).
- While your book is your “baby” that baby may need to be told no you can’t eat a piece of cake before dinner.
- Don’t get mad at reviews. If they keep upsetting you, don’t read them. Let another person on your team read them and let you know what needs to be done with it (if anything). If a review cites numerous typos that is something to correct. Reviewer doesn’t like your character shrug it off.
Keep going and make something lovely with your words today!