My Writing Process: Draft Zero to Done by Suzanne Johnson

It's guest Monday time and today author Suzanne Johnson lets us in on her writing process. I always find it fascinating to hear how other people work. It's amazing how there are so many different paths to get to a finished novel. I hope you find it fascinating as well.


BLOG TOUR ALERT: And coincidentally, today I'm talking about My Crazy Writing Process at the Wytch's Mirror. Guess Suzanne and I had the same thing on our minds, lol.


Also, I'm at the Writerspace blog talking about people's perceptions of me: The Girl Next Door Writes Erotic Romance



Take it away, Suzanne....




My Writing Process: Draft Zero to Done
by Suzanne Johnson
I’ve been going through an online “revise your novel in 30 days” type of course because I have a novel that needs revising, and, well, I’m a bit of a workshop slut. (Is there a twelve-step program for that?)
In the beginning days of the workshop, the participants all shared our novel-writing processes. Some had completed multiple novels and had a system well in place; others were still looking for the process that would work for them. What’s fascinating is that, at the end of all these different ways of doing things, a novel came out the other end. Well, usually.
I’ve shifted in the past six months from my beginning process, which was a) write book in however long it takes to write and revise it; b) send book to agent; c) work on something else while manuscript is shopped around. It turns out, that’s a leisurely way to work. 
Now that I have books under contract, the pace has changed. There are hard *gulp* deadlines when new manuscripts are due—manuscripts that are no more than a twinkle of an idea in my head. Suddenly, the day job seems more onerous. The annoying little household things—you know, like buying groceries and feeding my pets and paying bills—seem to take up too much time. I’ve had to develop a new process.
So, here’s the process I’ve used on the last two manuscripts, and will use on the next one, which is due May 15 and is still in that “brain-twinkle” form. I don’t throw this out there because it’s a “right” way to do it, or even that it will work for anyone else—just that it gives me a chance to ask you as writers what your process looks like!


So...INITIAL IDEA is something that usually starts bouncing around in my head while I'm driving or doing something not writing-related. I brainstorm on it a while before anything hits paper (or computer screen). I tend to start with a "big idea" and then build the characters around it. I don’t consider this part of my 90-day-to-novel process since nothing’s written down at this stage.

OUTLINE...I spend from one to two weeks working on what I call a plot arc, a detailed outline that averages about 10,000 words. I don't' work out scene specifics, but by the time the plot arc is done, I know what scene falls where, where the book will start, where it will end, what the high-level action points are, about how many chapters I'm going to have, and what the relationship arcs for each character look like against the action arc.


DRAFT ZERO...I do a down-and-dirty draft, start to finish, using my outline as a guide but improvising as things come to me (updating the outline as I go). I call it “draft zero” because it’s so bad it doesn’t even deserve to be called a first draft. Nobody, but nobody, sees this one except me. When I sit down to write, I read over the last two or three paragraphs from the previous day, but no more. I don't do descriptions, setting, or worry about word choice--I'm strictly working on plot and pace. I don't stop to look up words or names of things. When it’s done, my Draft Zero usually runs about 75,000-80,000 words long. My strong suit is grammar/punctuation so that part of it's going to be pretty clean even in DRAFT ZERO stage. It takes from eight-to-ten weeks for me to draft since I work full-time and have freelance obligations that can’t be shirked.

FIRST DRAFT...I take a week to do a thorough front-to-back read. I smooth over rough spots. I add description and dialogue according to a set of questions (i.e., is the character dressed? are there sensory inputs? can the scene be amped up?). By the end of this stage, I should have the manuscript at or near my contract-required 90,000 words. If not, I need to brainstorm ways to add or expand scenes.

At this stage, if I'm on an accelerated deadline, I send the manuscript to beta readers. While they read, I polish. I look at word choice, sentence structure, rhythm, pace. I consider/incorporate suggestions or ideas as they come in from betas. My poor betas have to read quickly, I’m afraid.

FINAL POLISH. I do a final pass, reading aloud when possible, to tinker with anything that doesn't ring true to my characters or story. And off it goes. 
Whew, I’m exhausted. But that’s my pace to produce a couple or three books a year while holding down the full-time EDJ (evil day job). What does your process look like? (Yes, I’m looking to steal ideas!)


Suzanne Johnson is an author of urban fantasy “with romantic elements.” Her first book, Royal Street, a magic-based fantasy set in New Orleans at the time of Hurricane Katrina, will be released by Tor Books on April 10, 2012. Two more in the series will be released in Fall 2012 and Spring 2013. Find Suzanne online at her Preternatura blog, or read about her books at her website.

*Look for more from Suzanne here every 3rd Monday of the month!




"Hot and romantic, with an edge of suspense that will keep you entertained.” --Shayla Black, New York Times Bestselling author of SURRENDER TO ME




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