Writing Is a Process, Not a Product

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The first draft of the first novella in my new series is done! It has a new title, too: Essential Magic.

As with many projects, I flew through the first several chapters, slogged through the middle, and then dove headfirst into the end. Now I’m going to close the file for a few days, work on something else, and then start revisions once I’ve given the story some time to breathe.

First drafts are funny things. They are usually messy, with lots of information you don’t need and just as much missing that you need to fill in. The plot often rambles around, characters are sometimes merely sketches, and, if you’re me, description is pretty much absent.

So I remind myself at the end of every first draft of the mantra that I used to drill into my writing students’ heads: WRITING IS A PROCESS, NOT A PRODUCT.

What that means is that writing doesn’t spring from nothing. Even if you’re the type who can bang out clean copy on the first try, your entire experience shapes you writing. How well-read you are, how much practice you have as a writer, how much research you did, and what experience with your subject matter you had before you started all plays a part.

My writing process tends to start with an outline, what I think of as the skeleton of the story. I don’t stick to it fanatically. Sometimes the characters’ choices pull in in another direction. But it’s there when I’m not sure what to do next. During the outlining stage, I pinpoint things I need to research. I try to do most of my research up-front, but I run into things during the drafting stage, too.

If the outline is the skeleton, the first draft is the underlying body systems, like major organs (chapters), tendons (scenes), and nerves and blood vessels (scene beats).

The second draft is the beginning of the revision stage, when I start adding muscles (conflict/tension, description, emotion) and moving the other pieces around. This helps me sculpt the finished shape of the story. Sometimes this stage goes into many, many drafts, depending on how bare or misshapen the first draft was. Somewhere in here, I send my work to my critique partners and beta readers.

The final draft is for polish, where I add the surface layer, like skin and hair. This is where I play with language, creating a rhythm from sentence length and structure, word choice, and pauses. I’ll proof-read for any grammar or spelling mistakes, too (though hiring an editor is highly recommended; no one is perfect).

I’m feeling pretty confident about this story, so I don’t think revision will be an endless mire. I’m also in the outlining and research stage on the second novella. My plan is to start releasing the stories in June, with once-a-quarter releases thereafter (September, December, March, June). As soon as I finish the cover art and get the cover copy written, I’ll put a pre-order up on Amazon.

If you’re a writer, what’s your process like? Are you a plotter, with lots of pre-writing work, or a pantser, who discovers the story as you go? Do you do a lot of revision? Let me know in the comments!

 

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