What’s the process of writing a novel? What’s your writing process like? Do you follow a process when you write?
Readers and other writers often ask me about my writing process, and my answer never makes any sense. Usually because I invent it on the spot to camouflage the fact that I have no process — it’s more like “utter randomness” based on stuff like which planets are rising in the house of whatever and what’s playing on iTunes and what kind of incense is burning and whether there’s any dark chocolate in the vicinity.
Now that I’m fully enmeshed in the writing of a third book, I’m getting better at this whole “writing process” thing (at least, as of last night, when I completed this particular process) and can actually articulate something about it — specifically, the time-tested index card method.
But first, a process history for comparison’s sake.
Writing Process: TWENTY BOY SUMMER
It took me almost 4 years to write TWENTY BOY SUMMER. In the beginning, I sat down with an idea and some themes that I wanted to explore, and over dozens of workshops and critique sessions and retreats, I developed the book, 1 non-consecutive chapter at a time, with lots of feedback and do-overs and surprises. Once I finished, I hired someone to help me revise and fine-tune until it was 100% flawless and complete (ha!), then secured an agent. Together, my agent and I spent time revising and fine-tuning until I was certain it was 100% flawless and complete again, then we sold the book and went through another revising process with my editor before sending it off into the world (and now I know that nothing is ever 100% flawless and complete).
Writing Process: FIXING DELILAH HANNAFORD
With FIXING DELILAH HANNAFORD, there was this crazy new thing called… *cue ominous music*… a deadline (flexible, but still a deadline). First, I worked with my agent to sculpt my loose ideas into something tangible, cementing it during a Lighthouse writing retreat weekend. Now, because I had to write a full synopsis for my editor, I had to figure out the ending before I even wrote the beginning. Yikes! Somehow, I got through it, and spent just over a year crafting the story, mostly in consecutive chapters, using the synopsis as a guide. I had some feedback from early readers and again went through a round of revisions with my agent, but we knew Delilah would require a more intense editorial revision since my editor would be involved at an earlier stage of development and I didn’t have 4 years to work on it. So… I’m currently revising with my editor and will likely go through a few more back-and-forths before it’s officially ready.
Writing Process: SUPER SECRET TITLED BOOK 3
This time, I had a pretty solid picture of the full story arch, so I thought I’d try the formal outline method. After getting positive feedback from my agent on my idea, I outlined it and wrote a full synopsis and a few chapters. Then, last night, I did a complete, scene-by-scene outline with paper index cards, spreading them all out on the table and rearranging them again and again until the story started to make sense. See?
The yellow cards represent points in the story where things take a new direction, like conflict and reversal and crisis points. The white cards represent actual scenes with scene notes. Each one is titled and many of them have bullets or notes to build from later. The green cards are backstory details that need to be added in throughout, and the purple card is a list of the main character’s traits and qualities to keep in mind when writing each scene.
From here, I added and removed and shuffled cards until I felt that every major scene was accounted for and the pacing was right. Satisfied with the resulting gigantic stack, I transcribed all of the cards into their digital counterparts in my writing software, Scrivener (Mac-lovin’ writers, if you haven’t heard of this awesome tool, what are you waiting for?).
Check it out — book 3 in Scrivener’s outline, corkboard, and chapter view:
*Pets Scrivener software lovingly*
Now I have the digital version of the cards from the dining table set up on my computer. From this skeleton of notes, I can flesh out each scene, still adding and changing and rearranging as I go.
I’m digging the outline / index card method so far and hope it sustains me through the completion of this book. If not, well… I can always go back to the moon-rising-dark-chocolate-musical-incense-randomness stuff, right? Right.
So writers, tell me… what’s your writing process?