Most of this was posted on the creative writing forums, but it made me think of starting a blog, so here goes.
I don’t know that I have a set process yet.
I’ve been writing for years and years and years, just little bits at a time, but never got anywhere.
About 5 years ago after getting laid off the first time, I decided that if JK Rowling could get rich and off welfare by writing, why not I? I certainly had better ideas than Harry Potter.
About a month or so after that, I discovered that it wasn’t as easy as all that. I floundered for a few months but kept at it. I discovered that though it was hard work and that I wasn’t going to be rich any time soon, I was going to keep at it.
It’s now almost 5 years, six novels and almost 500k words later, and I still feel like a newbie. My writing group published a book of short stories and I’ve had several looks (but no bites) from agents/publishers. I continue to work at this almost every day, all while holding down a real job, three kids, recovery from addiction/alchoholism, and terminal procrastination.
I don’t have a set writing process.
What I do have is an evolving set of guidelines that I try to follow. Some are relatively new, some have been in place for awhile. Being a part of a regular writing group helps; it’s a group of people that I can not only run my current prose by, but with whom I can talk about the writing process in a manner that I can’t with everyone else. If something is not working, I figure out what that something is and change it. In short, the following is my current process. It may change soon.
1) I keep a running file of cool ideas. Often while I’m working on something else, an idea will come up. I don’t want to lose it, but I don’t want to stop working on what I’m working currently. Some of these are ridiculous; some stay.
2) I usually start out by using the first little bit of “The 90 day novel” by Alan Watt. I don’t use the whole thing, but his process of gathering ideas to start a book with intrigues me. I follow it ’till it seems counter-productive. This encompasses what I believe would be called “pre-writing”. There’s a lot of background material and character work. By the time I’m done with this phase, I know my story and my characters pretty well.
3) I try to have a rough outline together. It’s been loose at times, but it’s getting more specific. (note: I tried writing completely ‘seat of the pants’ recently; it was a complete disaster for me, but it did show me that I’m not a discovery writer. No opinion on it, it just didn’t work for me)
4) I write my first draft almost to exclusion. I write very little else during this time period. This can take me anywhere from 3 months to about 9 months.
5) I leave it completely alone for about 3 to 6 months. I want to have a completely new experience with it when I come back to revise it. I don’t always wait that long, but whenever I don’t, I discover pretty quickly why I made that rule, and I stop soon.
6) I reread it and see where the plot holes are. I sketch out an outline, fixing those holes.
7) I rewrite it completely, fixing any plot holes.
8) I repeat steps 5 through 7 as often as needed.
9) At some point, it just becomes copy-editing. I know when this point is. I cant’ describe how I know, but I know.
10) I find a few dedicated beta readers and have them go over it, giving me detailed reports.
11) I go over the responses, usually following steps seven through nine.
12) Time to shop it!
Like I said, this is an evolving process. I am NOT one of those authors that can make a first draft so good that it barely needs editing. I have some folks in my writing group like that. I tried to emulate it and got nowhere. I just don’t have it like that. The best advice I can have is to try a bunch of things and make your process yours. DO NOT listen to people who tell you “it must be like this, this is THE WAY to write”. In fairness, it may be ‘THE WAY’ for them, but I can almost guarantee that it won’t be for you. People that have their process down, that can write and barely edit, that know what they ‘re doing, they’ve come to that process usually by years of trial and error. This ain’t a quick thing. Find your process. Stick to what works for you, and only change that when it isn’t working. It may take awhile, but you’ll find your process.