While I’ve tried discovery writing, I find I’m more comfortable outlining, and my process has developed more towards this. It continues to evolve (and hopefully always will) but this is the approximate state of it at the moment.
Initially I let the ideas percolate in my head, occasionally writing down rough notes but generally letting it come together in its own time. I usually have a few in mind at any one time, and some kick about for years until they’re ready (or fade away, or get cannibalized for other stories).
I generally let them stew until I’ve got most of the beats of the story laid out and know how it ends. I then keep thinking about it, making more and more notes, until I have to lay down the basic structure of the story, at which point I’m in outlining.
This starts with writing out the basic beats of the story, and breaking it down into chapters. I keep working at this until I have a list of chapters, and work out who the main viewpoint characters are going to be (I should have rough notes on them from the thinking stage).
I’ll then make sheets for each character with notes on their history, personality, character arc, and other things based on the type of story.
If the story has fantastical elements I’ll generally have sheets of things I need to cover, whether world-building or magic systems or whatever. [I’ll expand on some of this stuff in a separate post on outlining]
For fantasy stories I may also do a rough map of the story areas, and maybe even a historical timeline (although that’s more likely to get done, or filled in, as I go along in the writing – when I know what and where I need the history to be).
I then break down the story by chapter, usually using a sheet of paper per chapter (they’re easier to rearrange, insert, or remove). I’ll initially do a rough list of what needs covering, and the sequence of events, which’ll be expanded on subsequent cycles.
I continue going through the chapters a few times, adding detail where I have it. Some bits can be vague, others I could have detailed exchanges noted if they occur to me. This process continues until I HAVE to start writing.
Writing the first draft I tend to do at speed, getting the story down in rough without waiting around to tidy things up. That’s what revisions are for.
I write the story in order, not starting off with the more interesting bits and then filling in the connective stuff. If any bits don’t interest me then they probably won’t interest readers, so I try and fix those in outlining and make sure that every scene has something to interest me.
After the first few days I generally get into a rhythm of doing so much a day (usually around 5-6,000 words) and try to stick to that until it’s complete.
While I have the outline, it can be more of a guide than a formal specification. I don’t necessarily keep everything the same, so if something isn’t working, if I run afoul of plot holes, or if I come up with something new, the story can deviate from the outline. I try to get it done in this phase though, as making serious changes in revision is harder – once the story is written down it becomes more concrete, and I find myself less willing to change it. This is why I prefer to spend as much time as I can on outlining.
If I do run into serious issues I can’t work out, then as long as it’s not something that could seriously derail the rest of the story (hasn’t happened yet) I’ll make a note and continue writing. I find maintaining the momentum is the important thing for the first draft.
After finishing the first draft I generally leave it aside for a month. I may make notes if things which need addressing occur to me, but I don’t read any of the work until it’s had time to cool down.
This is the longest phase of the writing, and the one I need to work on more. I’m trying to change to approach it more methodically, so one round is done to ensure characters maintain their voices, and another to tidy up their character arcs.
My current process is unfortunately less refined, and probably takes too much work. I’ll have a list of things that need changing, and I’ll work through the script changing them when I get to them and tidying up the language as I go.
Character arcs tend to be vague in the first draft, and are often tightened up or altered during revisions. Their personalities can change (turning out different in writing than they were in outlining) so viewing their part in the story as a whole from this perspective lets me better fit their story to the overall one. I list their arc in bullet points, and ensure each one can be matched to something in the story, so their progress can be seen and their choices make sense to the reader.
After the story seems solid and I’m happy with it I’ll still be going through the text tweaking and tidying up the language. No matter how many times I go through it I’ll always find something to alter. I only really stop when I’m absolutely sick of it, then it goes off to proofreading.
[On a couple of occasions I’ve had stories edited, but with meagre sales I can’t afford this for every novel. This would add at least a couple more rounds of revisions in here, possibly with serious changes.]
After any fixes from proofing are implemented, it gets another (gah) read through as I format it. I format it for print first, since it requires a fixed format. I’ll often do a bit of text massaging to remove widows and orphans (the first or last line of a paragraph at the bottom or top of a page, which are frowned upon).
I’ll then get the printed proof copy of the book (about a month later using Createspace – I’m not paying extra for expedited delivery) and read through to see if any further typos pop out in the different reading format.
Once those are done, and I’m thoroughly sick of the book, I format it for eBook versions (one for Amazon and one for Smashwords) and publish it.
And then I get on with whatever I started during the breaks in the above process. I should do marketing somewhere, but by this point I’m generally glad to see the back of the thing and get on with the new project.