My Writing Process Can Help You
I don’t intend for this title to seem egotistical, so let me clarify. I’ve been writing for a long time and I’ve learned a lot of helpful techniques that can help others. I also love learning how other writers work because someone else’s process can help me, too.
Every writer works differently. If you’ve been writing long, and studying your craft, you already know that, but I wanted to preface this post with that fact. The correct way to write is what works for you.
Over time, you’ll refine your methods. You’ll try different techniques, find new tools, and if you do it well, you’ll keep getting better.
It can help to know how other writers work. My own method has been evolving, and I figured I’d outline it here. If this helps you, great!
Idea and Research
It starts with an idea and a basic concept of how the story will go. I’m not going to go into coming up with ideas. That’s always been a mystery to me.
Then, I do a bunch of research. I may look up information online or purchase a book. For my latest novel, Bodacious Creed and the Jade Lake, I read two books about early San Francisco: The Barbary Coast and Rogues of San Francisco. Both gave me excellent ideas, tons of information, and shaped the course of the novel.
Next, and this is new for me, I use a beat sheet to plan the most important events in a book. A beat sheet allows me to plan the most significant events in a book, the turning points.
When coming up with a story, there are always a few scenes that enter my mind. These are major events in a story, big emotional moments that I know will be amazing to write and read. These are some of your beats.
When writing, I then plan how to get from one beat scene to the next. Let’s use Star Wars as an example. A couple of the beats would be Luke discovering Leia’s message to him deciding to go with Obi-Wan to Aleraan. George Lucas’s job was to figure out what happens between those events. This method blends outlining—planning out the story ahead of time—with pantsing—figuring the story out as you go. I can write a book quickly this way and I rarely get stuck.
Moments of Research
Sometimes, I have to do some extra research and planning. For example, I’ll get to the end of an important section of the book, and my main character is about to go on a new leg of his or her adventure. No problem! I note what I plan to have happen next. I create the characters and settings for that part of the journey and perhaps read an article or two for research, and I get to writing again.
Where do I keep all this information? I have a series bible at World Anvil. I’ve made some of it public, so if you’d like to learn a bit about the Creedverse, you can see that here.
This is great because I can easily look up characters, places, events, technology, and more about my world and keep everything straight within a series.
Beyond the First Draft
That’s how it goes, then, until I finish the first draft! I’ve actually taken to calling mine a “garbage draft,” a term I learned from Russell Nohelty, and that gives me permission to write badly. That initial draft is supposed to be rough.
Then, I give myself time to cool off, as it were, to get some distance from the story. During this period, I create the beat sheet for the sequel.
When I come back to the garbage draft, I can read it and take tons of notes. The next step is to get the story right. Here’s where I fix plot holes and inconsistencies, where I make my characters’ motivations clearer, and so on. This will involve rewriting entire scenes, but at this point, that’s not difficult, since I know the story well.
After a draft or two of fixing those things, I polish the prose a bit. Then, I get a few friends to be alpha readers. Do they see any plot holes? Does everything make sense to them? Do they see scenes that aren’t clear enough, or that don’t belong?
I take their comments, decide if I agree, and make changes accordingly.
Here’s where I really polish up the prose, which will take a draft or two. I want the writing to sizzle. I want people to feel like the events are real. I want them to empathize with my characters and to keep turning the pages, and I do all I can to make that likely.
Then, it’s off to my copy editor! Yes, I pay for professional editing. I also pay for a professional cover.
I could say a lot about this, but I want to refer you to two books, Your First 1,000 Copies by Tim Grahl, and How to Become a Successful Writer by Russell Nohelty. They cover this topic well.
Basically, I start by getting it to reviewers who will be able to post their reviews the moment the book goes live. I get the word out about the book and that it’s coming out soon. I put the digital version on sale for a week or so. I share it on social media and with my mailing list.
On launch day, I hold a launch party on Facebook. This is a lot of fun. I’ve written about this in the blog previously and encourage you to check it out. I’ll give out certain prizes, including the opportunity to work with me on a character for the next book.
Then, I start working on the sequel!
There are a couple of resources I didn’t include above that I encourage writers to check out. Both are on Russell Nohelty’s site, The Complete Creative. Russell is a guy who did what I had been trying to do for years: figure out the business of writing in the modern age. I’m grateful that I got to meet him at Pasadena Comic-Con this past year. What I’ve learned from him has already transformed the way I work.
Here are two courses on his site. I’ve taken both and recommend them highly.
The first is free. It’s called Write a Great Novel. You’ll recognize some of my current novel-writing methods in there because I adopted them after taking the course. If it takes you a long time to write a novel, or you just don’t know where to start, this class is a must.
The second costs a chunk but is worth it. Build a Rabid Fanbase teaches you how to find new fans and to scale your fan base from brand new to huge. I loved this course. It’s packed with information and techniques and has already helped me grow my mailing list and make more sales.
And hey, if you want to chat about writing or other creative work, drop a message below!
“You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page. Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write.” –Annie Proulx
6 thoughts on “My Writing Process”
Larry J. Dunlap says:
Thanks, Jonathon. Enjoyed reading about your process and it makes sense to me. I’ve written a two-volume memoir about my view of the Sixties, and overall, I’m pleased with them but they took 8 years to write, and I mean virtually every day. So when I began my current first novel I tried to find a different process. I studied several different philosophies and I got a lot from most of them. It’s been taking me most of a year to finish my first draft on a high-concept space opera. I do think I’m evolving into a system that’s closer to yours. I am more of an outliner than pantser so that shows in what I do. As I grow in confidence in tools and technique I’m certain I’ll get even closer. I do things a bit differently at the scene level using Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid concepts, though I have devised my own tools in using it. I have also have had adventures in bible-building and I keep a sizeable filing system on Dropbox and in Evernote. I have not seen how anyone else’s bibles are kept. I’m going to look at your link. I see your name in several of the writing groups I’m in and I’m glad to make your acqaintenaance. Thank you very much for your post. 🙂
Jonathan Fesmire says:
Nice to meet you, Larry! I’m going to look up Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid; I’m not familiar with that. I think you’ll like WorldAnvil. It’s such a great site for creating a series bible, and you can share whatever parts of it you want with the public, and keep parts of it private, too.
Mark Schultz says:
Good post. Every writer does develop their own process over time. You nailed this quite well and I really like your process. Would you mind if I post a link on my website for this post? You don’t have any share buttons, but I can figure it out.
Jonathan Fesmire says:
Thanks Mark, and I’d be honored if you posted a link on your website or on social media.
Steve Lazarowitz says:
This is pretty interesting. My method is almost completely opposite yours. Enjoyed reading it. Always fascinating to see what steps a writer goes through. I might try some of this as an experiment.
Jonathan Fesmire says:
That’s funny. Our methods have always been very different, but we’re both good at what we do.
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