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The writing process

September 17, 2012

One of the main questions I get when people find out I’ve written a novel is “How did you do it?”

Now, that could apply to any part of the process, from finding the time to write to actually uploading a manuscript. What most people, at least those who have a modicum of interest in writing, mean, is “What steps did you follow to get from staring at that blank screen to having 100,000 words on there?” I’d like to take some time and detail the process that I’ve used for my first 2 1/2 manuscripts (note to any potential writers: while this has worked for me, I can’t promise it will for you-everyone’s different).

Over the past two weeks I’ve done a little bit of everything in terms of creating a book. Flipping back and forth between my second and third (both as of yet untitled) works, my time has been spend on everything from the very beginning of the editing process to the culmination of a first draft. What follows is in chronological order and comprises the main steps I take on this journey.

Once I sit down and decide it’s time to dive in once again and start pounding the keyboard, the first thing I need to have is an idea. I’ve got to have a rough concept in mine, the tiny seed of a story that, with time, love, nurture and the occasional curse word, will eventually blossom into a book. Most of the ideas that I have for a story are simple, basic concepts that will develop over the course of writing to become something completely unrecognizable when compared to the first day. I can pretty much guarantee that whatever I jot down in the first few sentences of an outline will never make it to the final draft.

To start, I always focus on things that I know or enjoy. With my first novel, it was American history. I’ve had a love for it since I was a kid, so writing about the subject shouldn’t be totally mind-numbing. If you the author don’t have any  passion for what you’re writing, how can you expect the reader to give a damn? If the nugget of a story I begin with isn’t something I explicitly enjoy, it will almost always be an idea or concept with which I’m familiar (set in a city where I’ve lived or an area I’ve visited). Ideally, both criteria are met, and you’re off to a solid start. Writing about something you enjoy in a surrounding you know gives an author the best chance to make their story  jump off the page and grab someone’s attention.

A second source of ideas would be in current events. Take a look at the newspaper or CNN. What’s going on? Anything you find interesting? What’s affecting people in your community, your state, your hemisphere (at least those who speak a language that the book will be published in. They’ll be buying it, after all.) Grab a headline or two and run with it. This is the best part of writing…you get to make it all up. Always keep your eyes open for any wacky or fascinating idea or event that could turn into a novel. You never know where inspiration will strike.

So let’s say you’ve got an idea. This idea is a barnstormer, is going to set the world on fire and finally let you tell your boss to shove it. Next step, nurture that wonderful little guy  by doing the right thing and creating an outline. (Again, this is what works for me. Some people undoubtedly love to just wing it-I can’t and I think it creates more headaches than it’s worth). Identify your major plot points. There should be at least three of them. Lay them out chronologically with plenty of room between for stuff to happen. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to head to the library and do some research. Or pull up a new browser. Whatever floats your boat. Regardless, now you have to do some research to fill in all the pages between your three or four or ten major plot points. For example, if your chosen subject is a story on cats overrunning the city of Paris (which may imply you’ve visited France and either have far to many cats or a major fear of the little critters), it would be a good idea to learn as much about the city as you can. Figure out what times in the past have seen feline infestation in the city, or what diabolical politicians would be the most likely to unleash their furry minions on the unsuspecting citizens of Paris. Whilst researching this subject, you may learn that Paris has more painting of cats in their famed museums than any other city on earth. That, my friends, would be a good thing to remember. How, or when you use it is up to you. You may never bring it up again, but I’d put it in my back pocket if I was you (actually if I was you I’d think of a new storyline, but that’s beside the point).

Ok, so you’ve got this great idea and you’ve done some research. Time to get deeper into the story. And of course, the first place you want to start is…at the end. I’ve found that by starting at the end of the story, it’s much easier to work backwards and, like any good politician, make the facts fit your story. This is fiction, after all. We don’t answer to the voters. If you want to save yourself some major editing time down the road, do your best to get things straight the first time. I’ve found that by starting with the end and focusing on the overall ideas for a chapter going in reverse, i cut waaaay down on correcting stuff later. By that I mean that there’s usually a continuity in the story, explanations following events to make certain the reader isn’t confused and ends up throwing your book out the window. It works for me, so I’d say give it a shot. You might like it, might hate it.

Next is the most important part. Hands down, you’ve got to pay attention to this. Now it’s time to WRITE.

Write, write, and write some more. Get everything that’s racing around your mind down on paper or onto the screen. Throw knowledge and character development at the wall like so much spaghetti. Toss dialogue like it’s hot, kill characters, shoot guns, unleash natural disasters or atomic bombs. Whatever you do, keep writing. You can worry about editing later. I like to set a word count for each day (around 1000 or so) and not stop until I hit it. Some days are better, some worse. Just make sure you have a clear goal in mind and you strive to reach it every day. I find the 1000 word mark breaks the massive task of writing a book into manageable parts.

After this, you’re well on your way. I just realized how long and boring this post is, so I’ll save the next steps in my writing process for later. Things like editing, cover art, formatting and uploading.

Anyways, thanks for stopping by, and if you haven’t had a chance to pick up your copy of my first book, A Patriot’s Betrayal, get on it today. Football season is here. There are bets to be lost.


From → Writing

  1. Nikki Manson permalink

    I may sound strange, but for me, “draft” is like a milestone in the overall process rather than an instance of editing the text.

    When I finish writing a blog post, I realize that there’s not a single sentence in it that I haven’t changed for at least a couple of times.

    “Sometimes it takes me a whole month just to write one line,” Haruki Murakami once wrote. I understand him oh so well…

    • I couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve actually got a small celebratory ritual that I go through each time I finish the first draft of a book. It’s easily the most excited I will be during the entire process (until I start selling copies and making ACTUAL money!), so I have a glass of whiskey and listen to a favorite Warren Zevon song. (So far it’s always Lawyers, Guns and Money).

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