For today’s edition of From My Desk To Yours, I thought I would talk a little bit about my writing process, since I am still writing the story I freaked out about the other day :)
I started out on this journey to write novels by just feeling my way along the stories. It was something that finally worked for me after years of staring at blank outlines. I had always heard you should write an outline of your story first, but it just never worked for me. It was so frustrating to have an idea, but be unable to get it from my brain to an outline. And the story was always nebulous. I had no idea where to begin, where to go, or how to end it.
So I just started writing, not having any idea where the characters or world would take me. This is known in the business as “pantsing” or “discovery writing.” It worked but it was painful. It took me forever to write a first draft, often having to stop midway through, go back and fix things before continuing. Plus, I had to write multiple drafts. It was time consuming, but in the end I got novels out of it, so that was all that mattered to me. After years of nothing, this was something.
Now things are different for me. I’ve learned more about writing process and story structure, and I went back to more of my screenwriting craft books for guidance.
I have a new writing process that works for me now.
I start with a guided outline. This is something I’ve made with the help of two things: James Scott Bells’s WRITE YOUR NOVEL FROM THE MIDDLE and The Hollywood Formula Writing Excuses Podcast. It describes all the points I need for a successful story and guides me through the plot structure from beginning to end. In the process of figuring this out, I also tried Dan Wells’ 7 point story structure, but this works best for me.
Here’s glimpse at the beginning of my outline in Evernote. All the plot points are blurred out.
It should be noted that just because I have a guide with plot points and structure DOES NOT mean that I always abide by this structure. It is merely a guide, but it is a GOOD guide, and one that MANY well-loved stories use. It worked for them, and (so far) it’s working for me. Knowing that there’s a structure to stories does not make them any less enjoyable.
Once I write down the basics of the story from beginning to end, I write out the first beats of the story. “Beats” are 2-6 sentence descriptions of what happens in a chapter or scene. It can be anything from super detailed to “He walks in and sees her standing there. They kiss.” Sometimes that’s all I need.
And that’s how I start. I get beats written for the first few chapters then I start writing. This is when I switch to discovery writing. I discover the story along the way with my outline guide. Sometimes I’ll write something in the moment, and it feels right. This is what my character needed! But it affects the story later down the line. So I open the outline, adjust the story, and write on.
What happens when I run out of my first few chapters’ worth of beats? I write more at night before bed. I lie in bed and think about what should happen next. I write it into Evernote, and then use it the next day. Sometimes I can write out a few scenes’ worth before bed that’ll last me a few days.
I continue this process: writing the story, adjusting, writing beats, until the book is done.
How do you write? Has it evolved over time? What works for you?