Monday, May 7, 2012

From Idea to Drafting: My Writing Process

I love when writers talk about their processes. How they write. How they plot. How they revise. It's kind of like getting to take a peek in your neighbor's house. Getting to see how they decorate, their furniture choices, their color schemes. Sometimes it might not match your particular style, but still. You can't help but be curious. (And sometimes you discover a style that might work for you as well!)


In case you've ever been interested in taking a glance into my house . . . here's a high-level peek into how I write a book.

Sometime in the next couple weeks, I'll talk more specifically about how I plot. And maybe about how I revise, too. :) 

For the record, I've yet to have my process work the same way twice. It changes every time I start something new, but some of the basics are pretty constant.

1. I usually get hit with inspiration for a new story (one that actually sticks, I mean--I have plenty of concepts that fizzle out after a day or two) right around the time I'm halfway (or almost) finished with the draft I'm currently writing.

Sometimes timing can be everything.

For the WIP I'm currently revising: A year or so ago, while in the middle of a different WIP, I got a Word-a-Day email with a word I love but rarely use--and suddenly it became part of the title idea for a new book. The email came in on my phone as I was walking down the stairs and when I got to the bottom I stepped into the living room to find that my husband had an old surfing movie on--and right there my main character for that new book came to me. (Hint: she surfs!) So those two things happened nearly simultaneously. And from there, she--and the concept--grew.

2. I spend a while letting the story/characters develop organically--if (in the story's case) somewhat vaguely--in the back of my mind. Every once in a while I'll jot notes down if something particular strikes me about the plot that I know is a keeper. (This goes on for four to six months or so. It might be shorter, but usually I'm busy finishing--or, ha, sometimes deciding not to finish, *sigh*--another project.)

Although, in some cases, characters spring into my brain fully formed. And mess up everything.


For this WIP, I'd been getting to know my main character for six months--and right when I was about to get down and dirty with plotting, a second main character plowed her way in. (TWHS) (Sorry. Couldn't help myself.) (So immature . . . ) But anyway. There she suddenly was. And she ruined MANY of those plot points I'd thought were keepers.

But, okay, to be fair, she also added a lot to the story. (I totally grew to love her, the sneaky little thing.)

3. I get serious about the project and start plotting for real. With both my computer (Scrivener, whut whut!) and a notebook. (This part of the process can be two weeks to two months, depending.)

This is when I 1) read a bunch of books on craft and try to follow their advice (which lasts approximately three days--because my stories/characters refuse to stay in line, even when I'm just plotting them, *sigh*) and 2) call in a CP for some major brainstorming.

4. The writing starts. (A month or two for this step.)

This is usually a false start. It happened twice with my current WIP. Got about 30-40k in and ended up scrapping just about everything. Because I almost never have the world built enough--the fantasy aspects. I know vaguely how everything works, but when the writing actually begins, I end up realizing I need to know things in a MUCH more detailed way.

5. More plotting. (Another few weeks.)

It's another CP's turn. Or two. MOAR brainstorming. But this time it's focused on very specific aspects. This is when things get all messed up, and I feel like I can't make my story work the way I want it to . . .

And then, somehow, things start falling into place.

6. The REAL writing starts. (Three to six months.)

I follow the outline I've plotted as closely as I can. Which frequently isn't possible because once the real writing starts, everything shifts and changes.

And I love every second of it. :) 


Every second I'm not otherwise engaged by complaining about how hard writing is. And how I have to re-plot the second half again. And how I'm never going to finish this stupid draft. And how my characters are refusing to cooperate.

So, you know, basically the same as every other writer I know.


  1. Yeah, the "new shinies" always seem to hit right at the doldrums of the other WIP. I really, really try to push those ideas to the back of my head (after writing them down, of course) so they can percolate for a while. A bit harder this time--for some reason, I have two stories battering away at my brain while trying to do a big edit on the current WIP. Needless to say, I'm not getting much accomplished on anything!

    Oh, I do so love Neil. He knows. That man, he knows.

  2. You sound much more organized than me. But then again, ideas usually come to me pretty well fully formed. A character comes to me, and then 10 or so scenarios they'll find themselves in, and I just outline it briefly, and then go to town.

    Then it usually takes me around 5 years to get it right.

  3. Loved Neil Gaiman's quote and learning how you develop a story. I agree with Matt. You're more organized that me. I do need to have the key plot points to get started but I found I can't outline more than that. And I'm like Matt. It'll take a long time to get it right. Hopefully less time after I've learned from all my mistakes in book 1.

  4. Neil Gaiman's quote is so true--writing is just that easy (and difficult). I enjoyed reading about your process. It's amazing how different we writers are!

  5. That's what I love about writing--there's no one right way to do it. There's leeway. I love leeway. :)

  6. You sound way more organized than me, Sara. With my last MS, I wrote it in 5 weeks. I got the idea, joked with a friend that it would fizzle out at sentence 1 and then ended up staying up that night til 4AM to write 10,000 words. It was ridiculous. My first novel though I outlined and I read about famous queens and history and I read about plotting and setting and what names mean what, etc. There's no wrong or right/perfect way to do it---this writing thing, it just is. (I also wrote about writing, today okay well duh because thats the theme today :-P)

  7. It's amazing how you can plot everything, and then all of the sudden, a new character shows up and changes it all. That's happened to me way too many times. :)

  8. So interesting to hear your perspective on this. I usually have my concepts and characters appear to me almost fully formed, but I need to let them and the story sit in my head for months--if not years. Usually it's a good year I like to let an idea be in my mind before I actually start writing it all down (aside from notes and ideas in a notebook). Very cool. And yes on the false starts! I will write my novels over and over and throw them all out until I hit the right way to tell the story or the right voice to use.

  9. It is interesting how all the stops/starts/redos are part of the process...better to just accept that and roll with it!

    Characters tend to drive the plot for me too...probably why I stay a pantster most of the time.

  10. Love hearing about your process! I usually mull over an idea for a few weeks and then have to write the first few chapters before really deciding to chase it. Yeah, I don't actually run WITH an idea as much I try to CATCH it.ha

  11. Thanks for sharing this, Sara! And I love that Neil Gaiman quote. :)

  12. You're right. I do love seeing into how others go from concept to draft and so on after that. This was so fascinating. Thanks for sharing, Sara!

  13. I love that final quote you included. :)

    So glad you shared this. My process is VERY similar. I like to let an idea stew for a good long while before I really tackle it. And yeah... I've been known to stray from my (very) detailed outlines. :)

  14. LOL,I don't even let myself THINK of a shiny new idea until I have the time to work on it. And once I do, I usually spend a lot of time thinking about the conflict and how that will all end. Then I think of a character, and brainstorm how they will fit into the conflict.

    This WIP, I skipped the step where I know how it ends, but I'm getting great character development by using a less constrictive method of plotting. It's all about balance! Good luck with your wip, Sara!

  15. Awesome post! I'm so impressed that you have it all mapped out. Don't you just love those sneaky characters that rush in a screw everything up! Sometimes you love them, sometimes you just love to hate them!

  16. I'm 25 and I've been writing since the 7th grade...still working on getting that perfect novel. So far, everything I've written has eventually ended up in the trash in one form or another (some in really teeny compacted little wads of paper because they really sucked!...but led to better characters and plots). Anyhoo...loved hearing about your writing process. It made me feel better about what I thought was an excruciatingly long time to be working on my character (I'm just starting to get to know her right now, still exploring that relationship).

    Happy Writing to you!

  17. I do the Writing, Plotting, Real Writing thing, too. Glad I'm not alone there. :-)


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