We all know stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. But I’m often asked about the process of writing a novel. Where do I start? What happens along the way? How do I know when it’s finished? How much work is involved in writing a novel? These are all questions that authors disseminate and grapple with during the writing journey—from beginning to end.
I decided to create a blueprint of the steps involved in this process and a view of my own approach. (Other authors may use different approaches, developing titles and characters in different sequences, but this is my personal approach).
- It starts with a concept. A singular idea of a basic storyline. I generally know (in a rough sense) what my story is going to be about, who the main characters will be, what the main conflict will be and where the story will take place.
- I generate a title. Sometimes the title may change multiple times over the course of writing. I want the title to be symbolic of the story or the goal of the main character. Ideally, it will be concise and/or poetic.
- At this point, I’ll flesh out main characters and develop minor characters. This is where I document hair and eye color, types of clothing, personalities, occupations, friends/family and motivations and goals of the characters.
- Rolling up my sleeves, I’ll begin to research settings, time periods and any other details that are included in my story. This includes online research and reading books related to my story line or in a similar genre.
- Using a notepad, I’ll record copious notes while writing. Notes serve as a checklist of details which can be woven throughout chapters and scenes. Though not always successful, I strive for a word count goal each day. I consider my method to be an amalgamation of ‘pantser’ and ‘plotter’. In other words, I plot my story in broad terms in the beginning and then occasionally write chapters by the seat of my pants, with no preconceived idea where it may be heading. Some chapters organically appear, setting the stage for more conflict, or serving to elaborate on characters and their goals.
- Revision time arrives. Typically, I’ll go through each chapter, looking for weak plot points, poor dialogue, typos, word repetition, and so on. While I do periodic editing during the initial writing, the majority of my revisions occur at the end of the writing. Often, I’ll let the manuscript ‘rest’ for several days to weeks, returning at a later date to take a look with fresh eyes. I used to struggle with this, as patience is not a virtue I possess, but letting words sit for awhile and giving my mind a break really makes a difference. It’s like staring at the same view every day—after a while your eyes become numb to the vista but if you go away and return after several days the view offers surprises and you’ll pick up new details you’d missed.
- Now it’s time to send out copies to trusted friends, family and beta readers for feedback. I want to know what people think. Is the story interesting? Does it drag in the middle? Are the characters developed enough? Are they likable? Anything you dislike, or feel is missing?
- The writing is complete (for now); the feedback and editing have been attended to. What next? It’s time to send the manuscript to an editor. If accepted, it’s time to review and sign a contract.
- Working with a cover art editor, I’ll provide input into my vision for the cover art. I’ll offer details of characters, settings, symbolic objects, colors, fonts, etc.
- Once I receive a cover image, it’s time to spread the word on social media. I’ll post blogs about my upcoming release and share teasers. I’ll update my website and social media platforms.
- I enter the editing cave with the editor. Generally, there are three rounds of editing and each time I must go through the manuscript with a fine-toothed comb. I’ll discuss changes with my editor and make necessary revisions. Afterward, I await the final galley.
- As soon as possible, I’ll send out an ARC (advanced reader copy) to bloggers and online magazines, seeking reviews. This should ideally be done at least two months in advance of the release.
- I’ll build hype for my upcoming release—planning blog tours, giveaways, launch parties, and social media campaigns. This is a busy time!
- On release day, I’ll announce the availability of my novel, sharing buy links with as many people as possible.
- The minute my book is available, I’ll monitor my sales rank and continue marketing my book. Soon, it’ll be time to delve into my next project, aka WIP (work in progress).
Voila! Writing a book in 15 steps may seem simple. It is not. While it may get easier the more books I write, it remains a job requiring a great deal of time and effort. The entire process can take several months up to a year. Longer for a print book.
If you were to ask if it’s worth this time and effort, I’d concur, offer a beatific smile and attempt to explain the root cause of my obsession (knowing I likely couldn’t). Writing, similar to many professions, requires more than ability—think dedication. Most authors will tell you that they simply could not conceive of NOT writing.
Passion keeps us banging away at our keyboards year after year. You can’t shut it out, turn it off, or walk away from it. This relentless, gravitational pull lives inside us and most of us wouldn’t have it any other way.