This is MY writing process and it works for me. It may or may not work for you, it's just how I do things. Every writer I've spoken to has a different process and lots have admitted their process has changed as they've gained more experience. In short, if you're a writer reading this, do what works for you. Cannibalize the processes of others until you find what works for you.
Here's how I do it.
My writing process has evolved over the years and the evolution has seen me perform a complete 180 degree switch. For years I would sit down to write with nothing more than a vague idea of the story, the characters and how I wanted the novel to end. Nowadays I write to an outline that I have approved by my editor or agent before I even create the document where the novel will be written.
As someone who is now a confirmed plotter, I do find that my writing is much more streamlined and there’s a lot less time spent navel gazing or restructuring the novel because of edits that are suggested to me. (When I say suggested, there’s a strong but unspoken inference that if I don’t make the necessary edits, the novel wouldn’t get published.)
For my plotting, and to assist a memory that’s one more fact away from quitting altogether, I create three documents to accompany the manuscript I’m working on. The first of these is a simple spreadsheet where I record the Christian and Surname of all named characters. The central column of this spreadsheet is the alphabet so I can see at a glance which letters I’ve used when naming characters, and this prevents me from absent-mindedly overusing a particular letter. Regular characters such as Fletcher and Quadrado get added at the start and others get added as the story progresses.
The next document is a more detailed spreadsheet where I keep details of all the characters. The columns on this spreadsheet include, names, status, physical description, family, age, location and many of the other details I’m wont to forget as soon as I move onto the next page. This document is one I call CAST LIST and is largely filled out as I work through the novel. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve saved by checking something on this document instead of having to scroll through many pages trying to find it.
The final document I create is the outline. It starts out with the prologue and continues with details of each chapter until the story ends. For each chapter I have the same basic layout as shown below.
Chapter – (The number of the chapter)
Timeline – (What the time is so I don’t have a fistfight lasting three days or a car chase twenty seconds)
Goal – (What the character’s goal is)
Obstacle – (What will stop the character achieving their goal)
Events – (A few lines about what actually happens in the chapter)
End Hook – (How I intend to leave the chapter hanging so the reader keeps reading)
POV – (Which character’s point of view is the chapter written from)
Once I have all three of these documents in place I will begin writing a story. It can take one – three weeks to get the outline right and approved, and then it’s just a case of me getting myself in front of the computer and writing the story.
When I’m writing a first draft, I generally aim for a thousand words per day. This gives me a minimum weekly word count of 7,000 new words, although because I tend to spend at least one of my days off writing my weekly average is generally closer to around 11,000 words per week. At the time of writing this, I’ve just completed the first draft of Grant Fletcher 3 and it’s taken me eight weeks to achieve this.
Before I planned books out, it would take me three months to write a first draft and the edits were always much heavier. During the lockdown, I managed to write a book in four weeks, but short of becoming a full time writer I can’t see me ever achieving that level of efficiency again.
After the first draft is complete, I’ll let the book sit for a couple of weeks and then read it over, to look for plot holes and general inconsistencies that might have crept into the narrative. Once I’m happy those things are finished I’ll polish the prose.
My next step is to send the novel to a group of trusted readers who are experienced enough to point out any of the things I’ve overlooked by being too close to the story. I then assimilate their feedback and make any changes I feel are necessary.
Then, and only then, will I submit the manuscript to my agent or editor (The agent gets new manuscripts, the editor gets ones I’m contracted for)
From there I’ll get structural edits about the shape of the novel, these are now minor due to the outlining process. After the structural edits come the copy edits, line edits and proof edits. By the time my books are in the hands of readers, I’ve been over them at least a dozen times and they’ve been through the hands of several discerning publishing professionals.