My Writing Process — in Six Steps!

I have written six novel-length works and am working on the seventh. Over the years I have developed a writing process that works for me. I may have written on this before at my defunct writing blog, but most of that is out the window, because I let myself change some things for East of Yesterday, and it breaks some of the “never do this” writing rules you always hear about.

Warm-Up – Check Out Social Networks

I count this as part of my writing process because it is kind of a warm-up and because promoting your existing work should be part of your writing “work”. Sales of The Magic Mirror and the Seventh Dwarf have not been stellar, but I do work to keep my name out there, even if I don’t exactly trumpet “buy my book!” from the rooftops. (Seriously, if you enjoyed The Sevenfold Spell or The Magic Mirror, I could use some word-of-mouth, be it a review on online sites, or just telling your family and friends.)

So the first thing I do is start up my email, Twitter, Facebook and lately, Google Plus, and participate in some conversations. I also open Goodreads to see if anyone added either book to their shelves. I generally do not check out my page rank at Amazon.

After 15 or 20 minutes, I shut down all browsers. All my email comes via my browsers, so that is de facto shut down as well.

Fire Up Applications

This varies by book. For East of Yesterday, I open the following:

  • Manuscript in Microsoft Word
  • Plot diagram in Visio
  • Gazetteer in TiddlyWiki
  • Discard file in Microsoft Word

And as needed, I open my calendar of 1922 in Microsoft Excel (calendar courtesy of dateandtime.org).

Edit Last Scene Written

Yes, I edit as I write. I know that the writing advice is to just write it, but honestly, I did that with The Magic Mirror and the Seventh Dwarf and when it came time to developmental edits, it was a nightmare. My editor told me that it was not a nightmare, and that my manuscript was actually in pretty good shape, but for my schedule, it was difficult. So now I polish as I go along. I also question every scene that makes me uncomfortable, or that I have difficulty with, because it was those scenes that I ended up editing the most heavily during the dev edits.

The result is a first draft that is in a better state of polish than any other book I have written. My discards file is less than 10,000 words. Much of that consists of scenes that I have since added back into the story (and changed, leaving the original in the discards file). In fact, the novel is in such a good state that when a friend asked to read some additional chapters beyond the opening, I felt confident enough to send her the entire 100+ page section that makes up Part One.

Write the Next Scenes

The way I write is also unorthodox. I’ll write a scene are part of a scene up to a certain milestone. Then, I’ll go back and reread what I just wrote, and edit it. I constantly edit as I write, like a sculptor, continually smoothing and polishing.

When I write first drafts, I concentrate on moving the plot forward. I leave off all non-essential descriptions and transitions. These are the things that I fill in during later drafts and editing sessions.

If I write something that affects a previous scene, I go back and fix it immediately, or at least leave a note. I don’t leave as many notes as I used to, because too often I have come upon the note later and wondered what the heck I had in mind. So now I fix immediately, unless the change is sweeping.

Just-In-Time Research

As I write, I occasionally come across some tidbit that I need to research. Yesterday, I needed an early car. So I did some quick research and decided that a Model T Ford would suit my needs. I learned enough about the Model T to write the scene, such as the type of engine it had, its top speed, whether there was a back seat (I needed one), and whether it could be a convertible (I needed one). I also learned that its nickname was the Tin Lizzie, which I worked in as well. I’ll probably research it again to add more details later.

Other times, I’ll do more in-depth research that will affect my story, such as photographic research, where I just page through outdoor and indoor photographs, looking for things that were common in early times, that might affect my story in ways I didn’t expect.

Finishing for the Day

I have no particular routine for when I finish up. Oftentimes I will be interrupted and will never get back to it, and I’ll save and shut down right before bed. This happens more often than not, which is why I need to reread my previous scene to determine where I was.

I am doing so much that’s different for this novel (plotting, letting out my inner editor), and its really working out well this time.

So sometimes, you just gotta break the rules.

4 thoughts on “My Writing Process — in Six Steps!

  1. I sometimes polish as I go too- but I have trouble telling the difference between a warm-up polish and procrastinating so if I find I’m just making busywork for myself I have to say `don’t worry if its not perfect, just write.’ I think that’s probably why so many people make a rule of not polishing -they’re too tempted to never go forward. I’m glad that hasn’t been a problem for you, and you found a system that works. :)

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    • I guess I can see the problem of polishing when you should be continuing. Speaking for myself, I try to just make a pass thru recent parts before starting up again, to get the continuity. While I do that, I will make changes. I’ll stumble here, and pause there, and as long as it doesn’t take too long, why not fix whatever made me stumble or pause this time? {Smile}

      Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

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