So it is mid-March, and I’m living the dream. I have a book contract, and a hard deadline. And so I have a book to write. 80,000 words total. I’m writing them 1000 words at a time.
Now, I’ve got friends who’ve written books. And I have taken classes, sat in on panels, and had conversations about the process. So I know what I’m doing, or at least I hope so. But as I was working on my schedule, working back from my deadline, it occurred to me that I know so much more about what it really takes to write a book than I did ten years ago. I thought I’d share my process in broad strokes. Throughout the year, I will check back on where I am in the process, and let you know how it is going.
First Step: The idea. What is the story you want to tell? Who are the main characters? If you are writing a mystery, what is the crime? Who is the victim? Who is the sleuth? Who is the criminal? Where are you setting your story? Who else is in the world? What does the world look like?
Second Step: The plot. I am a plotter, which means I think about the dramatic structure of the book, what needs to happen to move the story forward, what scenes are needed to do that? For each scene, what is the goal? Who is in it?
Third Step: First draft hell. This is where I write and write and write. I may go back and tweak scenes, or add some, but I don’t stop, or second guess, or go back and edit. I just let the characters tell the story, and try and transcribe it. This is where I am right now.
Fourth Step: Rest. I need to give my brain time to forget the specifics, so I put the manuscript in a drawer right for a bit.
Fifth Step: Read it. How does it hang as a story? Does it make sense? Do I need to move scene around? Do I need to add some, or take some away? How is the tension?
Sixth Step: Rest again. And then dive in, and edit. Add descriptions. Elevate the language. Ratchet up the tension. Make it better.
Seventh Step: Go through it one more time. How close to perfect can you get it?
Eighth Step: Give it to someone else for feedback. Or a couple of somebodies.
Ninth Step: Read the comments, and either ignore them, or make the changes.
The loop of steps 7-9 can take a while, but that is fine. It should. Because before you hit send to your editor, or query the book to an agent, it needs to be as close to great as you can get it.
This takes TIME. 1000 words a day means an 80,000 word manuscript takes 80 days. Almost three months. When I wrote my first book, I didn’t understand steps 5-9 as being part of the process. That my first draft wasn’t perfect, and that fixing was part of writing. Understanding that, and giving it time, is critical.
So, this is my process. How do the rest of you tackle writing a book? Any tips you want to add?
J.A. Hennrikus writes short stories. Julianne Holmes writes the Clock Shop Mystery Series.