I’ve heard from a lot of aspiring authors lately who want to know my writing process.
While I’m flattered by the interest, I don’t want people thinking my formula is the ticket to publication.
Believing an unfamiliar writing technique is the key to your success is kind of like me believing that if I lick my own butt, I’ll be able to catch a Frisbee like my dog.
In the interest of showing multiple approaches to writing, several phenomenally talented authors agreed to share theirs. When you’re done with me, be sure to visit Sean Ferrell, Linda Grimes, Cynthia Reese, Nelsa Roberto, and Kiersten White to learn what works for them.
But here’s what I do:
Step 1: the idea. I’m not an author whose brain generates zillions of stories, so I grab little idea nuggets wherever I can. My debut novel, MAKING WAVES, began percolating in 2006 on an Australian sailing trip when I noticed there was something kinda sexy about a man steering a boat. (Honey, if you’re reading, it’s totally sexy when a man steers a station wagon, too).
Step 2: the pondering. This lasts for days, or even years. It’s the part where my brain chews the idea nugget and either generates a story concept or spits it out like a bad jellybean.
Step 3: the beginning. Once I have some vague notion of the characters and setting, I dive in and start writing. I don’t do much plotting beforehand, so I seldom know how the story will unfold or which characters I might kill. The first three chapters are the toughest for me, and can take a couple weeks.
Step 4: the beating. After I’ve pounded my head on the keyboard enough to produce three chapters, I let someone else pound me in the head. It’s usually critique partner Cynthia Reese, and the exchange goes like this:
CYNTHIA: This part’s good, that needs work, this part is funny. Where’s the story headed?
ME: (long pause) Did you like the poop joke on page 12?
Then Cynthia will graciously suggest that while my characters are amusing, the story might benefit from a plot. And conflict. And I will go look those things up in the dictionary and have a glass of wine.
Step 5: let’s get serious. Though I won’t have a concrete plot outline, I’ll usually have ideas for key scenes and I’ll know my characters pretty well. From this point forward, I don’t share pages with anyone but my cat. I set weekly word count goals, and achieve them through some combination of diligence and dumb luck. I pick up speed as I go, sometimes writing 75 pages a day near the end. Because I don’t map things out beforehand, I’m always adding details to the earlier chapters as I develop a plot twist or new character trait. I’m also rereading constantly, making tweaks to chapter 5 when I need a break from writing chapter 20.
Step 6: more beatings. Once I’ve finished and spent several days revising, I email the manuscript to critique partners Cynthia Reese and Linda Brundage. As fellow authors, they’re terrific not just at identifying problems, but suggesting how to fix them. After I’ve made their changes, I email my beta readers. These three women are voracious book fiends, and I trust them to tell me when my hero sounds wimpy, my heroine is unfashionably dressed, or a character has blue eyes on page 26 but green on 314.
Step 7: the home stretch. I do a final round of editing before emailing my agent, Michelle Wolfson. Then I hold my breath. Inevitably, Michelle will have another round of edits that make the manuscript stronger and/or more marketable.
Step 8: squeal and drink wine. Oh, who am I kidding? I do this to celebrate all the other steps, too.
Step 9: panic. Because now the part I control is done, and my fate lies in the hands of my agent, the editors, and the readers who might eventually buy my books.
So now you know how my writing process works. Don’t forget to visit these amazing authors to see how they do what they do:
Sean Ferrell (literary fiction)
Linda Grimes (light paranormal mystery)
Cynthia Reese (southern romance/inspirational romance)
Nelsa Roberto (young adult)
Kiersten White (young adult)