Sunday, February 6

The Process of Writing

I'm skipping Sample Sunday today because I really don't have anything new to show you. I do have a special one lined up for next week, so be sure to check back in then. But for today, I thought I would talk about my writing process.

This is a question that occasionally pops up, and it's not one easily answered. See, up until I finished Spiral X, I didn't have a writing process. I discovered it along the way, gradually transitioning from what I had been doing into something that works a whole lot better, and which will ultimately allow me to produce more works over a shorter period of time. This doesn't mean I'll venture into 3-4 books a year territory, but 2 a year isn't out of the question, even with a full-time job, a family, and school. But, for now, one works and since I'm currently in the beginning stages of my process for the follow-up to Spiral X, I'll relay to you all how it's likely to go over the next few months.

First, I have to have an idea. I know, sounds simple right? Not so much really. For me, and I imagine for a lot of people, an idea is like a seed. You get the initial idea and you let it sit for a while in your subconscious. At least that's how it works for me. Then, I build on the idea every time it comes to the forefront of my mind. For example, with Spiral X it was, "What if vampires in Dallas were dealing drugs?" Then, I slowly built on that basic premise to include the why, the how, the who. See, all those English classes aren't useless after all, because this is basic stuff. However, the basics are always the most powerful way of expanding and exploring an idea. Keep in mind that even after you've worked over the idea for a while, there's always room to expand on it.

Next, once I feel I have the overall gist of the idea down, I start working on an outline. I've added a new wrinkle to this process, which I've detailed on Facebook and (I think) a few posts ago, but my head is fuzzy and I'm somewhat lazy so I'll reiterate here in case I didn't. Essentially, I pulled out thirty index cards, labeled them Chapters One through Thirty, and am writing down a super-summary of each chapter on each card. Why thirty chapters? That's sort of what I shoot for in terms of chapter count, though it can go up and down depending on how things work out, but it's a goal. As far as the super-summary goes, each card holds the characters involved, the gist of what takes place, relevance to the overall plot and any subplots it hits on. Once I finish the card outline, the intent is to go back over the cards and make sure both the overall plot (the reason the book exists) is resolved, and there are no dangling subplots left open. Now, both of these are separate from overarching plotlines. The intent is to make this into a long series with a definitive end, so I want to make sure there's something added to the overarching issue with each book, while also making each book itself a singular whole. I've gotten dinged on some reviews for tying things up too neatly, but those comments also could describe about the first half-dozen books in the Dresden Series or the Anita Blake series. Besides, if you thought I tied things up too neatly, then you weren't paying attention. And you'll find out why I'm saying that in the next book.

Okay, with the card outline done, it's time to hit the summary outline. What's the difference? Glad you asked. The summary outline is similar to the super-summary outline, but greatly expanded. In this one I write a complete summary of everything that happens in each chapter down in a spiral-bound notebook I lug around with me. Yes, you heard that right. I still write stuff down. The reason I do that is because every time I sit at a computer to write about a book, I want to write the damn book. So this keeps me from doing more than I want to. With the expanded outline, I sometimes even write out dialog I think up. It's also where I finalize where the settings are and who exactly is going to be in that chapter.

Once the summary outline is done, I now can sit down at a computer and write the book. I write both the rough draft and the first draft in a single go through, and no they are not the same thing to me. The rough draft is a straight through typing exercise. I don't correct mistakes, I don't tweak things, I just write. This tends to burn me out though, as I'm a constant tweaker (as evidenced by me still tweaking Spiral X three months after "release"). So after I get a three chapter cushion, I go back and do an edit/revision of the first chapter. Once that's done, I write chapter four, then edit/revide chapter two, then write chapter five, etc. and ad nauseum until I am done.

At that point, I let the book sit for a bit. How long? A minimum of a week, preferably two, or until I get the itch to go back in, whichever is longer. I took a month off for Spiral X. Then I go back in to do the comprehensive edit, which has two phases. The first phase is a read through to make sure all the plot lines add up, there's no holes to speak of, and no subplots disappear inexplicably. Once I take care of that, I enact phase two. This is when I turn to the last page in the novel and edit each paragraph in a backwards succession. Why do I do this? Because reading backwards allows me to disconnect each paragraph from the overall flow of the novel. This way, it's easy to spot problems with structure and take a more clinical approach to the editing process. This is a very time consuming way to edit, but I guarantee it will have positive results.

Once the backwards edit is done, I put all the changes into the manuscript and step back for another break. During this time I'll contact some beta readers and have them go through the story itself to point out mistakes. Nothing mechanical since those will be handled next, but anything that could make the plot stronger, shore of weak areas, that type of stuff. Because once I start on the next step, I don't want to have to go back and add more content.

Once the beta readers are done and have come back with their thoughts, I run the manuscript through Serenity Editor, which is a program designed to catch many of the major mistakes a writer can make in a mechanical sense. Improper hyphenations, conjunctions, homonyms, overused/cliche words and phrases, stuff like that. Not all corrections are taken, of course, because some things that are wrong are actually intentional, but it's a great way to spot some oops that your eyes might glaze over. Then, with that out of the way, I do one final read through edit to catch the last of any mistakes I can find.

That's pretty much it. That's my writing process. I hope you all enjoyed this peek behind the curtain and I'll see you later this week.

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