My Ten Steps to Novel Completion


Royal KMM "Magic Margin" Typewriter

Photo by Seth Morabito

So Monday we had the lovely Elana Johnson describe her out-of-order, stitch-it-together style of writing. Seriously, just reading through her steps could send my brain into a panic attack. But alas, it was a great example of something I've learned while hanging around with other writers--we all have our own way AND there is no right way to write a book.


The only right way is what works for you. Sometimes it can take a while to figure out exactly what that is. And even when you think you've got your method down, it's still good to keep reading craft books and exploring because you never know what new trick my help you or enhance your own method. But on the same note, don't try to force yourself into some method just because it seems like the cooler/more organized/more professional/more interesting way of doing it.

I've accepted that I will probably never be a plotter no matter how much I love office supplies and looking at those color-coded storyboards people do. It's just not how the creative part of my mind works. But that doesn't mean I've given up on learning to plot a bit more ahead than I do now. I just have to find the right method that works for me.

So anyway, because I find other writers' processes infinitely interesting, I thought I'd share mine today since I just finished my latest book and it basically followed the same method I used for writing CRASH.

1. When the seed of a new idea comes to me, it's usually in the form of a character and their backstory. Plot almost never comes to me first. So I sit and let it stew for a while. When I feel I have enough to go with I write out the character sketch--basically a bullet list of the person's background, where they came from, what has shaped them, and what they want now. 

2. Since I write romance, next is usually the hero or heroine (whichever didn't come to me first). I think--what kind of person would absolutely not be who my other character wanted in their life right now. : ) I basically look for the conflict between them right from the start to give me my setup. 
3. Once I have those in my head, I ruminate over how these two people are going to come across each other. Are they already in each others' lives? Are they from each other's past? Strangers? etc. This will usually be my first chapter inciting incident. I may write down some really vague ideas of bigger conflicts in the book, but it's more in a brainstorming way. 
4. Once those three things in place, I'm ready to write. I tend to obsess over the first line--not because I can't come back later and change it, but this sets the tone for me and gives me a bedrock to go off of. The first lines in every book I've written haven't ever changed during my editing. (Now my editor might change those once she gets her hands on them, but we'll see.) 
5. Then I write. I usually don't know what's going to happen beyond the chapter I'm currently working on. I just write until I'm done with what's in my head then I spend time thinking through "what happens next" usually while I'm lying in bed at night or in the shower, lol. Somehow that's my best thinking time. 
6. I DO NOT write out of order even though sometimes when I get stuck I would like to. My brain goes into ctrl-alt-del mode. Out of order doesn't compute for me. After I finish a book, I have no problem going in and adding scenes in, but when drafting it's all A B C in order. 
7. I edit as I go. I'm trying to get better at this and I think I did do somewhat better on this last book, but it's another ingrained part of my process that's hard to fight against. So basically what I do is when I make a major plot change or some other major adjustment, I save a new draft with a number (i.e. WIP2, WIP3) and fix it to fit that. Want to know how many versions of the one I just finished I have? *checks  hard drive* Fifteen. No lie. While drafting I made big enough changes along the way to save a new draft FIFTEEN times. 
8. The good news about #7 is that I'm usually left with less dramatic rewrites at the end because I've been rewriting the whole time. The bad news is this means I draft SLOW. This last WIP took me six and a half months to finish the draft. And I'm a bit on edge the whole time I'm drafting. I never feel truly settled until the draft is done. 
9. I edit big stuff first--tightening up plot threads, going back and adding things earlier to foreshadow things at the end, etc. Then I line edit. (I'm going to try Margie Lawson's Deep Editing this time, so that will be new.) 
10. I send it to betas after all of this because I cannot get feedback while I'm drafting, it screws me all up. I have to be completely done before anyone else sees it and offers and opinion. Then I send it away and await the editing suggestions from the pros while I start working on another project.

So that's my neurotic, painstaking method. Anyone can relate to me? Or does this stress you out like Elana's method stressed me out? 

And stop by Friday and hear from YA author Julie Cross about her writing method, which is totally different from mine as well! :)

And the WINNERS of the 5 page or query crits from me from Friday's contests are...Rachel Blom and Tory Michaels!!!  Congrats, ladies! I'll email you. And thanks to everyone who entered the contest. (The winner of Elana's book will be announced on Friday.)