Ever wonder how authors write? Well, wonder no more.
Writing, it’s as easy as sitting at your keyboard and bleeding continually until something good happens. I wish that were hyperbole. It really isn’t, though; writing is tough, writing is difficult, writing is occasionally terrifying. But writing is also immensely fun and satisfying if you stick at it. And writing comprises far more than the simple act of sitting at your keyboard and hammering away on the keys.
Here, I’ll be sharing a bit of the process behind how I write and what goes into the whole business from start to finish. I’ll keep it reasonably brief, but hopefully you should have some decent idea of how much work actually goes into writing by the end of this post, work that the average reader is rarely privy to.
Stage 1: Preparation.
Now, hold your horses and put that keyboard down, sport, it’s dangerous. Before the real business of writing can begin, there are a few things I’ll generally deal with first; planning, research, creating characters and settings, procrastinating, and drinking many cups of tea. Let’s dig into these briefly.
Some people plan, others wing it. I tend to sit in the middle, planning the overall structure but winging it for most of the individual scenes. If you’ve ever seen people talking about NaNoWriMo you’ll probably have heard these two referred to as planners and pantsers, as in writing by the seat of one’s pants.
What I plan is the main meat of the work—general structure of events, which girls end up in relationships and with whom (if writing romance), individual scenes I’d like to write, how this might tie into other parts of the work, and potential new settings/characters I may use later on.
Some people use programs like Scrivener or OneNote to collate and keep everything neat and tidy. Personally, I used to use simple notepad text files for my notes, which were loose and messy and basically worked for me at the time. But these days? I use a single docx file with headers and navigation, plus search functions and other useful features that make life easier when plotting and planning.
Once initial planning is complete, I start on any research that may be required. If it’s a real world setting, deciding on an area of the country (or world) is probably a good idea. Looking up images for reference purposes, checking nearby areas for interesting locations/things I can use for scenes, using Google Streetview for getting a handle on street layouts and local businesses, and so on.
Alternatively, for something like An Idol Romance which takes place almost entirely on a fictional planet, I’ll again be looking for good image references to base locations and characters on, but will also start thinking of all the essential world building stuff; names, history, back stories, relationships old and new, economies in use, major historical events that might impact current events, etc.
Then it’s onto the really fun part: characters! Research, figuring out interests for the girls, building a back story for each, establishing relationships, and anything else that might be necessary based on the world building I already worked on.
Finally, my big ol’ docx file has chapters added where I put notes for each individual scene and plot point that needs to happen in each. I generally plot out the whole book in advance like this, but leave the specifics of dialogue and scenes vague. That allows me creative freedom in building the scenes while still being able to write efficiently because I have a good outline to work from.
So that’s the planning stage. Though I’ll end up going back to my notes and editing, revising, adding new scenes, removing or changing things, and otherwise fiddling all through the process of writing, this stage just provides a useful basis to work from initially. This whole rigmarole is less necessary if I’m just writing a short one-shot story, however. But for an enormous planned-out work like An Idol Romance or Starlight? Yeah, this stuff’s essential.
Stage 2: Writing.
After spending several days—or even weeks—on the planning stages, it’s onto the really hard part: writing the damn thing. I possibly sound a little negative here, calling this the hard part, and… well, it is. But it’s also the fun part. Writers all have their own ways of writing, their own quirks and rituals, and I’m no different.
Some people write in a straight line, an entirely linear affair where they start at word one, chapter one, and write until they reach the last word of the final chapter. Others might pick a particular chapter and write that fully. Still others may write more or less at random, fleshing out a scene here, editing a chapter there, building it up piecemeal until it’s a coherent whole.
I started out in the first category, writing linearly from start to end. Eventually I discovered a better way and switched over to the third group I mentioned, writing scenes as they occur to me, jumping back and forth around the whole work and tying it all together as I go along.
This works well for me as it allows me to focus on scenes I’m particularly interested in or passionate about right now, without being worn down trying to write things I’m not currently feeling. This is especially true of ero, which I have to be in the right mood to write. Having a solid plot outline really helps with this! I can check my notes, find a chapter I feel like writing, and just get on with it.
Okay, so I can start writing, that’s great. Maybe a few days will zip past, a chapter or two will be written, I’ll fiddle with my notes, change my mind a few times, continue writing… until I have a basically finished product.
Job well done, pat myself on the back, publish it to whatever site it belongs on, right? WRONG. Next up is the second and third drafts, then editing. Lots and lots of editing. For reference, An Idol Romance’s first book had twelve drafts, though generally I’ll work with three in total. The only reason Book 1 is twelve is because it was the first in a HUGE series and I changed/edited a lot of things as I was working out all the details of the world and story.
Stage 3: Second and third drafts, plus editing.
The very first thing I do after finishing up a chapter is not edit it. No, I’m not just being contrary, it’s actually important to let things sit awhile. Like a fine wine, it gets better with age. Though it also requires more direct input for that to happen, so perhaps that’s not the best analogy ever.
Either way, leaving a finished first draft to one side for a few days lets me focus on something else for a time, but more importantly it lets my subconscious chew its way through the inactive first draft a bit.
Once this rest period is up—could be a day, two, several, even a week or more—I’ll go back and start an edit pass. During this initial pass of the first draft I’ll add notes to the text using a cool blue font. These can be ideas for new scenes that didn’t originally occur to me, things that need fixing—typos, inconsistencies, things I forgot—foreshadowing and hints, and reminders.
Next up is draft number two. This is where I’ll focus more heavily on word choice, sentence structure, and pruning out unnecessary cruft like extraneous speaker tags (he said, she said), and dialogue that meanders too much. Additionally, all the new scenes and fixes will be added, and the notes from draft 1 removed.
Then draft number three is generally the final one, and will receive several edit passes where I focus heavily on fine-tuning word choice and ensuring I’m not overusing anything. ‘—ly’ adverbs especially can often be excised from your work without losing anything important as there are better ways to describe things, though they can work in some cases, and are useful placeholders until you edit. An example would be ‘she ran quickly up the street’, which can be changed to a much better action verb of ‘she sprinted up the street’.
It’s pretty easy to get super wordy when writing, so editing serves to tidy up the prose, tighten the dialogue, and ensure you’re getting the most bang for your writing buck. There are times I’ve stripped out 600 words from a 5,500 word set of three chapters and lost effectively nothing of importance, for example, but in so doing it’s tightened the whole thing up and made it snappier.
Editing helps fix issues like this by identifying the parts that waffle on, that meander, that don’t seem to go anywhere. Any writer serious about their craft will learn very quickly indeed that the real magic isn’t in the writing itself. No, the magic happens during editing.
Stage 4: Everything else.
At this point several things will generally happen, depending on what I’m writing. I won’t go into much detail here, but to give you a rough idea of how much further you have to take writing as a craft if you’re intending to publish to the likes of Amazon, the process can (and generally should) include any or all of the following:
The first draft, with one or two initial edits, will be sent off for a critique. Then I’ll go through and see what needs fixing. This can be literally anything in the entire work from pacing to structure to dialogue to consistency to plot confusion to grammar, and anything else that might be identified. Then the next couple of drafts and more edits.
A professional editor is a good idea around this point, along with proofreading (seriously, as good as I am at proofreading and catching errors for others, you miss your own mistakes way more easily). Assuming you’re happy with the result once the editor is done?
Well… then it might go off to beta readers for more feedback on whether the story is any damn good, whether it makes sense, if it’s consistent, how they like the characters/setting/whatever, pretty much confirming with a regular audience of non-writers that it doesn’t suck.
This is the part that you, dear reader, can help with, providing feedback and helping an author improve their work 🙂 You get free stories from an author you enjoy, the author gets feedback to make their stories better. It’s a beneficial symbiotic relationship.
Anyway, then… well, maybe then you can think about publishing it. But first you need a cover, and maybe a foreword, and probably an end matter section with links to other works and your email address so readers can contact you… and let’s not even get started on marketing.
I hope I’ve given you at least some idea of exactly how much effort goes into the simple act of wanting to tell you a story, beyond the process of bashing away on a keyboard. While it probably sounds terrifying, or perhaps boring, it really isn’t.
After all, I get to create entire worlds and populate them with fun characters romping around and doing fun things. Then I get to see other people share my worlds and stories and characters and enjoy them. And to me, that is priceless.