I have this nifty plugin on my site called MyBookProgress. Basically it’s just a progress bar you see there on the right, but it lets me customize my own writing phases. It’s not just about hitting a certain word count and off you go – at least in my system reaching the goal length has only to do with the first draft, which has absolutely nothing to do with how “ready” my book is.
So when setting up this plugin, I actually had to sit down and define what my writing phases are. I’ve always had stories in my head. Coming up with stories is not the problem. My problem was always how to put the stories into words, and this was a huge issue. Like, HUGE. My writing usually ended in me tearing up the manuscript, stomping on the manuscript, torching the manuscript, or abandoning the manuscript and going off to have a five-year writer’s block.
How the heck did I manage to write and publish a book? With my debut novel His Hostage I finally found a system that works for me (it took an insane amount of reading and writing and reading about writing to discover this, but that’s beside the point for now). It goes approximately like this:
- First draft – this can be whatever drivel I come up with. Trying to edit while writing was my biggest mistake ever. Now I do my best NOT to edit or revise or even think too much (otherwise I get blocked). I try to hit a certain word count (50-60k words), but other than that, whatevs. As long as the story has a beginning, an ending and a rough character arc, I’m good.
- First revisions – I rewrite the story a few times, trying to fix all the plotholes and make the characters come across right. I add new scenes and cut out useless ones. I try to turn the drivel into a coherent and interesting story.
- Beta readers – Once I’m out of ideas and blind to my own text, I ask beta readers to pick it apart. This is crucially important. I trust my betas to tell me when something is boring, incoherent, or plain unnecessary. I’m also eager for advice on better wordings, typo elimination, etc. There’s bound to be plenty to fix that I just wasn’t seeing on my own. Feedback from betas helps to gain perspective and blows new life into the project.
- Second revisions – I rewrite the story again based on the beta readers’ suggestions. I’m prepared to repeat this cycle several times, asking for feedback and making changes, asking for feedback again, etc. Once I’m done with rewrites, I polish the text. I use an online editing tool called ProWritingAid (https://prowritingaid.com) to comb out repetition, passive tense and other style issues.
- Final edits – I hire a professional editor (I’m rather fixated on Laurie Skemp (http://www.bookeditingpro.com) who did an amazing job with my first book) to line edit the manuscript. There are authors who self-edit their work, but I’m not in that league. For someone like me, hiring a pro is a good investment.
So these are my steps in writing a book. I don’t make any notes beforehand; I start with the first draft. I do research on the side if necessary. I often see the story kind of like a movie in my head, and I write down what I see. Mind you, writing still doesn’t come easy to me, but at least this kind of approach prevents the project from going up in flames.
What are your writing phases? I find myself spending more time revising and editing than actually writing. What about you?