file0001948795741In college (or even high school), the steps of a writing process are rigid: prewriting (aka brainstorming), research, outlining, rough drafts, polishing… Sound familiar? For a fiction writer, there are steps to creating a book, but they aren’t all the same for every author. Finding YOUR process, the things that help you create a great story, is one of the most important pieces of knowledge a writer can have.

What am I talking about? Most writers fall into one of three camps. Either they are a pantser, meaning they sit down at the computer with absolutely no idea what they want to write (or a niggling of an idea but not a fully fleshed-out story) and they simply start. Whatever comes out, comes out. Then there are plotters. They plot everything out to the smallest scene in the book, know everything there is to know about their characters, etcetera, before they ever begin actually writing the story. And then there are the rest of us, who fall somewhere between the two extremes. Figuring out which approach helps you write is figuring out your process.

Every author is different. I for one used to be an extreme plotter. Over the years I’ve realized that as fast as publishing moves — especially romance publishing — I don’t have months to plot out a book before I ever write it. That was a luxury of the predigital age, for the most part, and in romance, the faster you move, the better. But if I sit down at the computer without any preconceived ideas about my story, what I end up writing is usually a hot mess. So I had to hybridize my process to what fits my needs. Now I do some pretty thorough explanation of my characters, their motivations and goals. I explore various themes for my stories and how what will happen to my characters demonstrates that theme (like a character learning to trust — how do the actions of that character and those around them play into that need?). I also want to know some key points in my story structure (something we will cover at a later date, but basically the opening, middle/midpoint, black moment, and a couple of points in between). Once I feel strongly enough about the material I have, I start to write. There may be changes along the way, modifications, revelations about my characters, but that’s just part of the journey.

Another part of my journey is revision. I never send out a rough draft. As you go along writing a story, things do change. You are more into the world you’ve created and the characters you’ve poured onto the page by the end than you were at the beginning. You have to go back and layer that deeper understanding in, refine the language and the setting and the dialogue, look for mistakes and continuity issues and such. No book is “done” just by getting it on paper; it needs to be smoothed and finessed until you have a finished product. That’s part of the writing process too. Don’t forget it!

file5281279373109Another part of your process includes the things that help you write. For me that includes music. Every book has a playlist, and I use it both to speak to me about my characters and to set the mood when I sit down to write. This is especially helpful when I’m editing a book I finished a month (or months) ago. Other authors might need silence. Some need pen and paper, while others need the feel of true typewriter keys beneath their fingers. There are different approaches to being stuck as well: taking a walk or bath, switching your writing medium, listening to music (or different music). There are as many ways to approach writing or writer’s block as there are writers. You discover by trial and error what works for you.

So what is your writing process? Have you discovered it yet, or are you still working out details? Many authors find that their process changes over time or from book to book. Is that true for you? Share some of your best tips for a smooth writing process — you never know when another writer might need just that piece of advice. 🙂

– Lea

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