There are five stages in the writing process, and by the writing process, I mean the process that starts with an idea and ends with a manuscript you can pitch to a stranger. Like many things that are more art than science, these stages aren’t set in stone. Still, if you’re a beginner, the following makes for a good roadmap as you embark on your writerly journey.
I started writing The Crucible Experiment sometime in 2018, and I expect to have it completed and ready to pitch to literary agents (fingers crossed!) before my kids are out for spring break. It’s probably a good time, then, to reflect on what I’ve learned these past four years in writing this thing. While I don’t expect that what works for me will necessarily work for you, I believe that this book-writing journey is all about trial and error. Especially if you’re starting, you have to experiment and stay focused on finding your groove.
So, without further ado, I propose this framework for getting your novel from A-Z.
During this phase, you take time to figure out your core story, and you start to flesh it out. It’s essential to recognize that this phase will take some time. If you only have an hour or so a day to write, it’s a good idea to spend a solid month just on development.
This is when you want to make your big creative decisions, like where your story will take place, who are your primary and secondary characters, and what are the major plot points of your story.
It’s a personal decision on how much you need to flesh out your story before you can begin writing. Some people are planners, others are “pants-ers” (as in, fly by the seat of your pants), and others are a mix of the two. I’m a pantser/planner mix but lean more heavily on the planner side.
Once you are comfortable with what your story is about and many of the major details, it’s time to start writing. During this phase, let your creative brain take the wheel and shut off your editorial brain. The most important thing during this phase is to get your story out of your head and onto the page and to let the creative decision-making process flow freely. For a 60K novel, this phase could take a couple of months. Give yourself the time to create the story and get to a completed first draft.
Once you have your first completed manuscript, it’s time to switch hats. I suggest printing off your entire manuscript and tackling this phase, first on the hard copy and then on your computer in your word processor. This is because you want to experience your story the way a reader would. You also want to let your editorial spirit run wild and red pen what you’ve written. If you try to do this all on the computer, you’ll end up trying to edit and re-write simultaneously, which will slow things down and might kill your process. Split up these tasks by printing off your copy and editing first, then tackle the rewrite.
Once you’ve got your manuscript as far as it will go, it’s time to send it to a professional editor if you’ve gotten this far, congratulations! While your editor is reviewing your manuscript feel free to COMPLETELY FORGET your story. That’s right. Dump it from your mind. Take a break. You will need a fresh set of eyes for the last and final phase.
If you’ve got a great editor, you probably have more work to do upon receiving your manuscript. That’s okay. Depending on whether your editor recommends a heavy lift, you can reprint your manuscript and repeat the rewrite phase (albeit with less work to do than the first time, I hope), or you can work directly from the format from your editor. It’s at this stage that you want to really think critically about your characters and your plot and make choices for what will best serve your story.
Each of these phases is a topic all its own, but this is how I do it. I hope it’s helpful for any would-be writers out there.