8 Steps to Discover Your Perfect Writing Process

8 Steps to Discover Your Perfect Writing ProcessWhen I started writing (years ago) I really didn’t have a clue. I was painfully naïve. I thought I could do a first draft (of a short story or a novel) that would be ok’ ‘good’ even, ‘almost there’ and not need that much work. HAHAHA, Oh how silly I was. If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you will know I have a little obsession with the writing process. I read about it, think about it and write about it all the time.

I don’t think I am alone in obsessing over reading blogs about writing, but all it does it confuse me. I mean, how much attention do we really pay to understanding our own writing process?

Until recently, when I had an epiphany, I’d spent a long time thinking there was a right way… a right writing process I should be following. There isn’t. I decided to sit down and really give my process some thought, because if I can understand my own process, then I can shape it and tweak it to maximize my effectiveness. I hope this post helps you do the same.

Everyone’s process will of course be different, but if you are in any doubt about your own method, if you’re blocked or just feel something isn’t right, then I strongly recommend you do your own version of this to understand your process. Because I love visual things, I have depicted it in a pyramid:

Slide1

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Outline

Usually I prepare and organise till I’m blue in the face, lists run in my blood. But it wasn’t working for my writing, so I let go of doing most ‘preparation’ to write this novel. One thing I couldn’t let go of was an outline. I need it, for my sanity! For me, it doesn’t have to be massive, but because getting the timeline/action down is the most important thing in my first draft, I need a paragraph outlining each chapter. I never follow the outline to the letter, things get moved, cut completely and then changed again, but it’s a guide.

Step 1: Decide what you need before you start – an outline, a synopsis, masses of research or just an idea.

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Draft 1  Plot

PLOT

This is where you figure out what is most important to you to get down on the page first. This will also be dependent on how you work out and develop your characters.

Step 2: Decide what’s most important to you in draft one.

Here are my questions to help you work out your own process for draft 1:

  • What do you like doing first?
  • How do you develop your characters? Do you know them before you start writing or do you see how they develop on the page?
  • How well do you know your setting before you start?
  • Do you need to do lots of research?

I tried to use character sheets and interview each one before I started, but it didn’t work for me and trying only made me tie myself in knots worrying I was a shit writer because I couldn’t answer the questions.

So I sacked the preparation off and let the characters develop on the page. For me draft one is all about timeline and action. I need to get the basic plot down on the page. There’s only a little bit of creativity and imagery woven in to the story at this stage. I can’t get everything perfect in the first draft, so I don’t even try. I don’t worry about the chapter, three chapters ago, that Ive decided needs a rewrite, I just keep going. But how do I combat this incessant need to edit?

Step 3: Create an editing map.

I create one place, with a designated section for each chapter. Dump decisions or notes about chapters or characters or whatever you like under the appropriate chapter section. That way you keep your thoughts and decisions ready and organised for when you want to edit.

The benefit of an editing map is it will allow you to pattern spot your thinking. If you find you constantly put notes about characters then you know that’s what needs to go in the next draft. If you comment about setting then work on that next and so on.

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Draft 2

CHARACTERS

Have a break before starting draft two, the longer the text the longer the break should be, but its up to you to decide how long is right for you. I imagine I will put my manuscript down for a month or two – or as long as I physically can.

Here’s where I hack the manuscript or story to pieces, I focus on finalising the timeline. Moving chapters or scenes till they are right, but I get it right here. Once this draft is over I don’t want to have to move the timeline much more. Whilst I do this, I study the characters. Picking up on their salient traits, emphasising or minimising them, checking consistencies and making very rough notes about each one, so that I get consistency across the whole story – bit like an editing map but for the characters – let’s call it a character map.

Step 4: Check your editing map for patterns of your thinking before you start editing- whatever is most salient is what you should work on next.

Step 5: Create a character map – it can look like whatever you want, and be as big or small as you want but should have relevant or key bits of information about your character to ensure consistency when editing.

Step 6: Once the timeline is finalised plot a loose map of chapters / scenes so you can easily find bits you need when editing.    

The character map ensures I check their back story and history and start weaving in detail.

Finally I start thinking about the world and environment. I know a lot of detail about my stories world before I start writing, so I don’t need to do much work to create it, more weave the detail in, in draft 3.

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Draft 3

WORLD-BUILDING

Have another break before starting draft 3.

This is world-building time. I know for some people this will be the first draft stuff. But not for me, world-building comes in as a finishing touch – madness given the genre I write (fantasy/dystopian), but my world building is really done before I outline. The world in my current novel is what came to me first, so even though I only start to weave the detail in now, I already know what needs doing. My other focus in this draft is to finalise characters, detail, backstory and ensuring all the foreshadowing is in the right place.

Step 7: Check your editing map again

Ask yourself:

  • What’s left to perfect?
  • Have you checked details?
  • Is your world complete?
  • Are your characters perfected?
  • Do you need to foreshadow?
  • Does your timeline work?

***

Draft 4 5 6

PERFECTING THE MANUSCRIPT

I’m rubbish at proof reading. But I have to at least attempt it before giving it to beta readers and editors. So I proof read, check everything, over and over till I feel like I have done as much as I can do. I check:

  • Characters
  • Timelines
  • Consistencies of: characters, world, locations, storyline, descriptions etc
  • Grammar/spelling/word order/sentence structure etc
  • General errors
  • Story arcs / character growth

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 Draft 7

BETA FEEDBACK

This is the bit where you crap your pants a little – your hand shakes as you tentatively give your manuscript over to be critiqued by beta readers.

Once you stop crying! You edit in your feedback and hey presto you’re ready to pay a developmental or copy editor or seek an agent or whatever you feel your next steps should be.

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Research

RESEARCH

Step8: Research along the way, don’t get stuck making all the decisions before you start

There’s one section I haven’t mentioned. Research, and that’s because I research constantly. From before I pick up the pen, right through to the end of draft 3. I don’t worry about having all the tiny details before I start, or I would never start, plus I change my mind too often to decide everything before I begin; so I research details along the way.

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This post is not meant to be a guide to the only writing process– the complete opposite in fact. This post is just my personal method of writing, my process. It will only be right for me. But what I hope it does do, is help you get some insight into discovering your own process. 

What does your pyramid look like?
Sacha's Writing Process

79 comments

  1. When I first started writing, I thought I wouldn’t have enough ideas to write about.

    Interestingly, once you start writing, ideas seem to start popping in your head more often. While you’re writing you’ll think of something that could be a topic for a different post.

  2. Lots of advice Sacha, by the way how do you go about finding beta readers? Are beta readers paid for their help? Being a bit cheeky but could you maybe write a post about that? I’d love to find out more about the mechanics of this.

    1. Hi there ? I’m honoured you asked let me see what I can rustle up by way of a post on beta readers for you give me a bit of time ? ps thank you for reading the post.

  3. Very interesting post Sacha! I keep a notes section for each book but its more about ideas for chapters, dialogue etc. I start with a very brief outline and lots of research, but like you, the research is ongoing. But I have to do it all at the same time for that first draft, the world building, the character development, setting etc… I would find it very hard to separate it all out. However, its very fluid, and liable to MUCH change, hence the very brief outline at the beginning lol! You are clearly very disciplined and well organised, yet still able to bend and flow with changes in the story. Looking forward to reading it. (bloody get a move on will you? Lol!)

    1. Funny thing is I don’t even feel that organised! I just think its so fascinating how other people write, I really am fascinated by processes. How do you keep your research? Do you do anything in particular with it? is it hand written – typed? haha, I’m trrrrrrrrrying! :p

      1. I keep notebooks full of scrawl! One day they’ll be worth a fortune lol! I know its old fashioned, but writing down my research helps me to remember it. I also bookmark fave sites.

        1. Yeh I think that’s a really valid point – it’s the reason I write lists by hand – when I write them on my phone they are somehow harder to remember. Strange old thing our brains!

      2. Just looking over some of your older posts, Sacha, I love reading about how others do things. Wonder if you’ve ever used Scrivener? Since I’ve learned it along the path of writing my first novel–also 90,000+ words–I’m jazzed to dive into a second book using Scrivener from the get-go. It rocks for getting research, notes, drafts, ideas, links, photos, etc all under one roof!

        1. Hi Jann, thanks for having a look. I do indeed use Scrivener, it is THE best piece of software I have ever used. My only negative being that they don’t have a phone/ipad app so you can sync documents. That drives me bonkers!

  4. Holy crap, this is such a helpful post! My writing process consists of a very in-depth outline and then writing the first draft. Honestly, I think I spend more time on the outline then I do on the first draft. I outline and write down the scenes as I write, as well. So when I edit it’s easier to add/delete/move/change some scenes.

    1. Thanks Rachel 🙂 fascinating, how long is your outline word count wise? I think thats a REALLY good idea – outlining each scene as your write it. I think that would help me with my chapter map. 🙂

          1. Writing processes are great because they’re each unique in their own way. What works for one person, won’t for another. But you’re still able to learn and takes ideas from each other. (Lol, that rhymed.)

    1. Lol I’m not sure about that. I didn’t really know before I sat down to write the post – and to be fair like everything – it will probably change as I grow and learn as a writer – I’m still a newbie after all ?. Thanks for reading .

  5. Thanks for sharing your process, Sacha. It’s interesting. I was thinking that not only may the process vary from writer to writer, but also with the genre of writing being done. I haven’t as yet written a novel, but I do find that I use different strategies for different types of writing. While it is not necessary for us to take on board the practices of others, it is always interesting to glean from them what we can.

    1. Now THAT is a really interesting point – particularly because Dylan writes in a similar genre, and wrote in his comment that he has a similar style. That would be a really interesting thing to study Norah. I guess I do use different strategies for different types – i.e. a flash I wouldn’t dream of doing so many drafts. I must come and catch up on all your posts 😀

  6. Bloody hell! Forensic or what? Amazeballs as my son once upon a time used to say – I think it is apt and not inappropriate but you are of the same generation as the arch-sponger – I’m so random by comparison. I really struggle with any structure at all. Just write and crap it up and rewrite and gradually force a jigsaw to work from a lot of mismatched pieces. But go girl, good for you. And get writing!

    1. Forensic??? really? why? Do you know what I find concerning? The fact that I thought I was being DISorganised by doing it this way – I seriously hate to think what you would have thought of me before I ‘let go’ of all the prep. Honestly, you’re like the third person to say im well organised cause of this post. To be honest, I dont think I ‘think’ about doing it this way – its not like I plan to ONLY cover what I said I would in each draft, and shit changes, sometimes I wont do things exactly as I said I would here, but it’s more that my puny brain cant cope with any more things to perfect in each draft. So I sort of try and focus on getting big focused chunks right in each bit! and what I described above is the kind of order I have noticed that I follow.

      Am I over thinking? I just like pictures! I thought it was interesting to depict the process visually :s

      What is ‘arch- sponger?’ and are you sure its my generation given ive not heard of it?! lol.

      What terrifys me about your process is the sheer number of redrafts, when you emailed me and said you did 19 or something of one book I about threw up on my keyboard! I dont think I could cope doing that, but maybe thats why I am so unbearably slow? Maybe I do more on each draft, where you are speedy and refine over several drafts? God knows, but 19 redrafts I could not do!

      1. I sat and listened to the head of the Creative Writing MA at UEA – Andrew something- he said he wrote one sentence a night of his first book. The next day he read that sentence and then added a second. Each time he returned to the book, he re-read all he had written, edited it and then wrote a new sentence, Just one at a time. Eventually he wrote the last sentence and sent it off. It was published. He said. I read it. It was dry and facile. That is one shit way to write a book but, assuming it’s not utter bullshit, it shows there is any number of ways some involving countless edits like mine because the first draft is really all over the place and others that so much is done on the way through, so much thought given to structure and character before committing to paper that you don’t need 9 redrafts let alone 19. DO NOT BE DISHEARTENED. That is not anyone’s aim. Arch sponger is the 25 yer old still living at home and relying on his parents before he passes his legal conversion course. He’s a hero, not at all apt to call him that but I have to keep his feet on the floor.

        1. Ah ha! I was never that way inclined! I left home when I went to uni with zero intention of going back. And I didn’t! Can’t stand the people or place!

          Now say WHAT? One bloody sentence a night? That has to be utter bullshit. It would take a lifetime to write a book I mean seriously how many sentences must there be in a book for goodness sake???!??? And also how could he re read the whole novel before writing a single sentence – would take me longer than a working day to read some books!

          Nothing wrong with 19 drafts I just don’t think I have the staying power to do that many! I salute you. I’m disheartened and I’m not even all the way through one bloody draft!

          1. One sentence at a time, like the marathon runner, Sacha. You will get there. And of course, we run the most faaaabulous hotel here, so once you’ve experienced Le Pard hospitality you don’t want to go. So prising him away may be a challenge!

          2. thanks 🙂 I honestly think with the exception of pushing a baby out my foof this has to be the hardest thing I have ever done! seriously whose frigging idea was it to write a novel? What a tit.

  7. Great post! I like your comment that the process evolves. I’ve noticed that too. I no longer do the things I once did, and I may not do today’s things at some point in the future.

  8. I now know how Dr Frankenstein felt. “My God, what have I done?!” 😉
    I loved this. My process is very similar to yours in a number of ways. I have a rough outline of what happens when but not necessarily how. I love to learn about my characters on the page and I have an editing map – although I don’t call it that.
    My editing process is to read it through once to get a feel of pace and flow, find out where it drags and where it feels rushed, and edit accordingly. Then I look to check all the notes of ideas I thought of while writing the first draft or when it rested, and adding those I think are still valid. Then it’s a case of checking characterisation, following the timeline of each character to make sure they’re consistent in the behaviour and reactions. I’ll then do a brief check for typos and grammar before sending it off to beta readers.
    Once I have their feedback I’ll make whatever changes are required before embarking on the polishing and refining with the help of my editor and proofreaders.

    1. haha! That is a really good distinction – knowing the when but not the how. I hadn’t thought of putting it that way. 🙂 When you do your initial read through of pace and flow, how do you resist the urge to scribble all over it? I noticed you printed your whole manuscript too – do you read it on actual paper? Do you edit by hand and type up?

  9. This seems like a very sensible way of going about things! Though I don’t do that ‘putting it away for a month’ thing – because by the time I come to start the first draft it’s 3 months since I wrote the beginning, anyway!

    1. Hi Terry, thanks for stopping by, I read your post on how you can still sell books on twitter today 🙂 thought it was fascinating, think I shall be coming to scour your blog for hints and tips when I get to that point. Very interesting point too – I hadn’t ever thought that I would have had a break from the beginning of the book and could therefore just carry on…. ooooh the temptation! 🙂

  10. That’s an awesome pyramid. I also appreciate how you share your process in a way that can be flexible to others. My step one is draft, although with my current WIP I began with masses of research. It getting into revisions that muddies me up, so this is helpful to see your steps. Thanks!

    1. Thanks Charli 🙂 I had a feeling you might like the pyramid ?? ahh that’s so interesting that the redrafts muddies you up I feel muddied with my first draft! I feel like I’m wading through a slush of confused chaos. I swear my editing map is longer than my actual WIP!! Lol.

  11. Great pyramid. Me too–organize till I could no longer find the forest or the trees. I still do that, but realize there’s a lot to be said for allowing what wants to be said to be said. Thanks for the visuals.

  12. This is fantastic. You nailed it — reading too much about writing winds up confusing us. I agree with Norah in that the process varies and it depends what you’re writing. You worked on what works for you (and it looks awesome) and so are helping others figure their own shite out. 😉 Thanks for sharing this.

    1. Aww thanks Sarah ? that means a lot. It was really cathartic actually just sitting down and figuring out how I write rather than always reading others. I love Norah’s point and I hadn’t considered it actually but she’s right if I write flash I wouldn’t do it this way ?

  13. It’s always so interesting to see the process other writers go through. Thanks for explaining yours so thoroughly. Since I’m on my first novel, perhaps I, too, will have a process to post about sometime in the future . . . for now, I’m just happy I discovered the Scrivener software to help me put form and structure to my #wip.

    1. Ooh I would love that please do let me know if you write about your process I’m absolutely fascinated by them. And ahhhhh yes – scrivener my best purchase EVER my god do I love that programme! If you have any handy tips on that one let me know I’m still trying to get to grips with it and I know I’m not using it to its full potential. ?

    1. Hi Eric, well it’s not really meant to be for everyone, just an idea of how to discover your own process. but if any of it is helpful, then thats fab news 😀 I find it SO useful 😀

    1. Thanks Sally, and thank you for such a lovely comment… we have a date for the next bash, so will get that out shortly. Would love to see you there, if you have finished moving 😀

  14. My pyramid looks a little different. I start with the crime, then add and develop the cast of characters. Then I get the basic plot down. I need to meet and greet the characters before I can figure out the story. The rest of my pyramid looks like yours.

    1. Awesome, I guess when I created this, I never expected any two pyramids to be the same really, we are all so unique in our styles, I am so fascinated by the writing process. I love learning new tips and tricks from others, so I love that you have told me how yours differs 😀 thanks. I guess as a crime writer – the crime is probably the most important bit anyway! so makes sense to come first 😀

  15. My first visit to your site, Sachi, duly enabled by Sally’s reblog. I am yet to try my hand at short story or novel, so your route map is really instructive, which I am sure will come in handy if and when I get my hands on to those genres. Presently my blogging is limited to writing 1000 to 3000 word articles on subjects that hold my interest. I just start writing when my mind feels full of a particular topic and complete it in one or a few sittings, preferably in the mornings. After competing the draft, I cross check on facts needing research and thereafter finalise it for posting. It is, obviously, not as intricate, and elaborate an exercise as writing a novel. I will cross that bridge when I get to it…best wishes… Raj.

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