Add a little bit of dictionary with a tinge of thesaurus, 1 week of intense historical research and 1 year worth of hard work. Oh, and 1 cup of internal tears, frustration, disappointment, lethargy and writers block too. However, do not fret, for in the end you can top it off with a big happiness cherry and all will be well.
Okay, so that’s not how we authors write stories. But I thought it would be a good idea to spread some knowledge and personal experience to new writers out there, or even writers who have been doing their thing for years.
I managed to conjure up a general step to step guide in how I write my novels. This shouldn’t be followed step by step (unless you really want to), and it shouldn’t be taken as the right way in how to write. This just works for me, and if it works for me, maybe it can work for you too! So let’s take a journey into my writing process. You ready?
Step 1: Plan it all out. This kind of seems obvious huh? But I used to be someone who could sit down and write without a plan, and things would just roll off my mind and onto the pages. However, the more longer and complicated my stories got, the more I needed a plan; something to guide me as I wrote. I suggest first thinking of your idea, and then writing it down, in dot points, as if it were a detailed summary of the entire story. Make notes to remind yourself about what you’re thinking at the time about certain parts, and make sure everything you’re thinking goes down onto the page. Read, re-read and re-re-read over your plan constantly so you can correct any parts you don’t like, add or remove parts, and just familiarise yourself with everything. You want to begin writing and know exactly what’s going to happen in your story. When you have your plan and you know what you’re going to be writing about, when you look for research to compliment your story, you’ll know what to look for so you’re not on a wild goose chase wasting time looking in the wrong places (or the wrong era…). Planning also includes creating your characters, so when you’re reading over your plot, it will give you a chance to think about them – who they are, what they’re like etc.
Step 2: Write it! Go ahead and start writing. Don’t worry too much about each line being perfect – that’s what editing is for. Focus on getting your story down, illustrate everything you’ve seen in your mind, and give it your best shot. Then let it sit and cool for about hmm… A few days, depending on how busy (or free) you are. This is because your mind needs time to forget about every detail of the book you’ve just spent creating. I used to go through and edit, then as soon as I finished the last chapter, the next day I would start from the beginning again. This isn’t so good, because most likely what will happen is that you won’t pick up the tiny mistakes you would normally pick up on if you just let the book (and your mind) rest for a bit. So in the meantime…
Step 3: Read what you’ve done. And take notes. Lots and lots of notes. Microsoft Word lets you make comments for this very purpose, people! Highlight too if you like, but definitely make comments. Comment on what you think sounds ridiculous, if there is conflicting or missing information, about whether you need to research into something… But don’t forget to comment on what you like! Nothing feels better than going back over and seeing a comment saying “Good job! This sounds amazing” (Oh, stop it you!) If you like, you can even use this opportunity to begin to give your work a bit of an edit (check for grammatical errors, punctuational errors etc.), as I know authors are grammar Nazis and can’t help but fix those tiny things, but try not to put too much time or pressure into that (for now!)
Step 4: Now you’ve read over it, you can start to think about what needs to be added, removed, researched… Use this time to research and look through your comments to make sure you’ve answered all you’ve commented on. This part is really important for a historical fiction writer like myself, because now I know exactly what to look for in my researching session. Instead of writing, I research, and it allows me to get information as well as rest my eyes from the book, so its like a two in one step!
Step 5: Now you can edit. Yeah, you’ve been looking for this perfect opportunity, I know. But taking time off to research, and not thinking about whether your sentence structure is perfect, is very important. Now you’ll pick up on all those mistakes you would have most likely missed if you went straight into it, and you haven’t lost time between editing sessions because you’ve been working on your manuscript behind the scenes in the meantime.
Now, the rest is up to you. You can read over and edit, focusing on different aspects each time you read through (for example, focusing on consistent speech, correct facts etc.), or just doing a thorough edit. I personally suggest leaving the manuscript to sit for a few days, or a week (or even better, a few weeks) which is hard because you just want to keep writing and editing, but trust me, it really helps pick up on mistakes, and gives you a clear head space to think about other things you can add or remove.
All the best in your writing, and I hope this guide can bring some structure or can suggest another way to look at the writing process!
Any questions or comments? Feel free to comment below.