Friday, April 30, 2010

I Can Haz Writing Process?

Surprisingly, I haz. And so does every writer. There are a bazillion different stories out there and a bazillion different ways writers create them. A group of writers (yours truly included) thought it might be interesting to see just how different (and similar) we all are.

For what it’s worth, here’s my process. I hope it gives you some glimpse into what works for me. Make sure you check out

Sean Ferrell

Tawna Fenske

Cynthia Reese

Linda Grimes

Kiersten White

to see their methods to the madness.

The Beginning – Percolating the Idea

A new idea passes through my brain like a drug - I can't get enough of it at first. I lie in bed at night, unable to fall asleep because I'm thinking about the opening, the characters, the ending, the bits and pieces that will make it into the story. Percolating is absolutely essential for me to be able to write a good story. At this stage, I might outline the book in a back cover blurb sort of thing – one page max – before I begin writing the first draft.

Writing the First Draft – In Longhand (yes, you read that right. In LONGHAND)

I do not currently have a life that allows me to sit at a computer for great stretches of time. So I write the first draft in long-hand because I can write anywhere - on the subway for a half-hour, in a waiting room, at hockey and figure skating practices. I'm more forgiving of my writing when the first draft is in long-hand because it prevents me from going into editing mode. I can scratch out or scrawl something that I know I can fix later. I don't feel the need to self-edit like I do when I'm typing into the computer.

The Murky Middle or Where I Usually Stop to Figure out Where I’m Going
I go through this with EVERY book I write. I write the first half then stop. Maybe for a couple of weeks. Sometimes a couple of months. I’m not a huge outliner and maybe that’s why I stop. I don't need to know every single thing that happens in a plot before I write it like Cynthia. But neither am I a complete pantser like Tawna. I guess I’m a hybrid. I know my beginning, I know my ending. But that middle? Oi.

Sometimes it helps at this point to go back and type the first half into the computer to see if it's working. And if it is, sometimes that unsticks me. Once I get through that murky middle the ending flows pretty quickly. I usually get a first draft done in about 4 months.

Revisions (2nd and 3rd drafts)
Once the 2nd draft is in the computer, I print it out and read it. I consider what any revisions might do to the story. Are they consistent with the established themes? Will the revisions alter motivations (yes, Cynthia, I’m all about the motivation!) If I'm deleting scenes, or descriptions or other information am I leaving plot holes? If I'm adding scenes, descriptions or other information am I killing the pace? This stage takes about a month.

Once the third draft is done is when I celebrate. It’s a Real Book! Now I can take a break and send it to the CP’s (I like sending the whole thing and not chapters). Then I put it aside so that when I come back to it I do so as a reader – not a writer.

Final Intense Draft
After I get the CP’s feedback I’m ready to tear into it again. It’s the final opportunity to make the story ready to send to my agent. This stage is an in-depth, cohesive examination of all characters, motivations, plots and sub-plots to make sure the whole story works.

The Agent Okay
She will inevitably have another few suggestions that will require more revision but by this point I know my story so well I can handle changes.

There you have it. Ink to paper. Keyboard to screen. Whatever gets those words down. In writing it's not how you manage the journey it's the destination that's important. Ending up with the words all writers love ... The End.

Don’t forget to visit these amazing writers to see how they do it too!

Sean Ferrell
(literary fiction)
Tawna Fenske
(romantic comedy)
Cynthia Reese
(southern romance/inspirational romance)
Linda Grimes
(light paranormal mystery)
Kiersten White
(young adult)


  1. Longhand? Wow. I am seriously impressed. Anymore, my handwriting ceases to be legible after about two paragraphs. Other than that, we're not so very different in our approaches, I think.

    But now the important question: I can haz cheezeburger?

  2. Hey, Linda: You can haz TWO cheezeburger! After finishing a novel you can haz anything you want. :)

  3. I used to write in longhand ... until I learned how to compose at the keyboard. Nevah. Goin'. Back. Nevah.

    But oh, yeah, that Murky Middle. What's really bad is when you've plotted it and you know it probably should stick to your plan and it's boring you outta your mind.

    And when I get through a book, since cheeseburgers and I don't really like each other, I can haz Almond Joys or Pringles? I can haz BOTH???

    Wow. I knew I liked you, Nelsa, but now I LOVES you!

    Off to read Kiersten's! (Please, Lord, let me have spelled her name right!)

  4. Thanks for this! I usually start with longhand, too, though move to the computer after a few chapters.

  5. This was great! I love the idea of writing in longhand, though I can't get into the "zone" in waiting rooms and such. I love to write with a pen in coffee shops, but again, I'm in more of a journaling mood than anything.

    I appreciated that you included timeline for each stage. Of course, these probably change from project to project, but I enjoyed hearing ballpark estimates for how long each draft takes you.

    Thanks for sharing!! Love you blog :)

  6. Wow. Longhand. But what a great point... it helps you resist the urge to self-edit as you go.

    Loving it! Loving this series.

  7. I'm in awe of the whole longhand thing. Wow. Do you get serious hand cramps? :)

    Thanks so much for being a part of this and for sharing your process. It's so fascinating to see how different we all are!


  8. I love hearing about your process! And I love that you do longhand at first so you can write anywhere. Writing on the go is so essential! And I find it interesting that you have a consistent time line on each part of your project. That's wonderful. I'm a pantser, but I stop halfway or so to outline a bit, and make sure I haven't jumped the shark! Thanks for sharing (I followed you over from Verla's)

  9. The first time I heard Nelsa's longhand approach, I said, "SERIOUSLY? Longhand? A whole novel?"

    But when she explained it to me, it made such beautiful sense that it almost convinced me to pick up a pen again.

    And then, yeah, Tawna, I remembered the hand cramps!

    But I'm glad Nelsa does what she does, because otherwise, we wouldn't be gifted with such a great book as Illegally Blonde!

  10. Wow! I've only got Cynthia's left to read, and I've found that I've got something in common with everybody, but not everything in common with nobody. lol.

    Thanks for this.

  11. That is amazing. I could never write the whole thing longhand. But it's nice to scribble down individual scenes on paper.

    Gives you a computer break (and no entertaining blogs can lure you!) :)

  12. Okay, I went and tried some longhand, just for grins. Ouch! Maybe I'm clutching the pen too hard...

  13. Hello! I came by your blog via the lovely Nicole at 'One Significant Moment at a Time'. :)

    Longhand? Wow... I am very impressed! Somewhere along the line I have lost the skills of handwriting - now if I attempt a page of A4 my hand gets tired and my handwriting (never slick at the best of times) falls into a sort of tired scrawl only deciperable by a Dan Brown hero. So my novel-to-be has all come into life on screen - although I do find tricky scenes/paragraphs are easier to write longhand. Maybe there is hope for me after all!

  14. This is awesome. Thanks for sharing your process.

  15. Oh, the land of the longhands. I have left you and joined the Clan of the Keyboard Clickers. I love that you do longhand, however, because I'm thinking that your stuff is probably deep, more lyrical and has a very strong core because the process allows you to slow your thoughts down. Mine come screaming through my head like explosive diarrhea. Maybe I should rethink my mental digestion...

  16. Amazing that you write it longhand. But hear a few writers do that. Especially if you can't always sit at a computer. And it works for your, right? And that's what matters. :)

  17. Oh my! Go to the day job and look what I find when I get home! All these new people to get to know (and some old friends too)! Okay, here I go.

    Cynthia: I loves you too, my friend. And when I'm stuck in the murky middle I'll thinkg - What would Cynthia do? Duh. Plot it out of course!

    Hi Caroline! Glad to hear another semi-long-hander is out there! (I feel very dinosaur-like sometimes!)

    Hey, Nicole! Nice to meet you! I"ve learned to block out most noise in my life to write (with 3 kids - two of them teen girls- ya kind of have to) As long as no one is looking over my shoulder I can just about write anywhere.

    Hi Patty! I definitely resist the urge to self-edit when I'm writing long hand. It looks like a piece of crap so I don't expect it to read like a great work of art. Now, when I'm plugging those crappy written words into the computer for my 2nd draft - watch out. I'm ruthless then.

    Hi Tawna! Thanks to you for starting this blogfest. It's very cool to see the differences. You're in awe of my long-hand? I'm in awe that you just plunge in!

    Hey, Heather: I'm pretty consistent on my timeline when the WIP is progressing - usually 6 months tops. But when a WIP stalls. Oh, boy. Let's not talk about that, 'kay?

    Cynthia and Linda: Seriously, I do not get hand cramps. Gosh, you guys with the carpet tunnel syndrom should talk. Sheesh.

    Hi Claire! Thanks so much for dropping by!

    Hi LR: I do take breaks where I start typing in the long-hand just to see where I'm at word count wise. So I don't completely leave it to the end.

    Hi Jayne: Sometimes just a change of process can get you started if you're stuck. Glad to know you'll try long-hand if it works for you!

    Hi Elizabeth! Thanks so much for dropping by and linking to us on your blog!

    Hey, Misty! HA! Keyboard Clickers. I love it!

    Hi Laura! And that's what it's all about, isn't it? Whatever works for you.

    Thank you all so much for your comments and coming to visit. Now I have to get my girls ready to go see Stars on Ice!

  18. Ha... I thought I related to Tawna Fenske's way the most, but I think this is more relatable. Not really a plotter and not really a panster. I know beginning and end... the middle? O_o

  19. I used to do bits in long hand. And still do on occasion, but I've found ways to trick my brain into thinking I can't edit... Write or Die helps. As does the full screen mode in Scrivener. Turning off the spell checker is essential. I'm not good at doing first draft stuff in Word. (Unless I'm REALLY in the zone.) Seeing Word change a word, or something get a red or green squiggle completely pulls me out of the flow and I end up looking back and then rereading and then editing...

    My "process" inevitably had 2 phases not specifically mentioned by yours. First, the point where I'm sure I don't have enough story/plot to carry me and I spend time thinking of more horrible things to do to my characters. (this is usually well before I hit the midpoint). Then the panic stage when I'm nearing the end and I realize I have WAY too much story to tell and too many balls in the air and I have to go back and simplify and cut out major events and plot points.

    No matter how much I plan... it's never all planned.

    You'd think at some point I'd learn to trust that there will be more story...

  20. Hi Crystal! Thanks for dropping by! I definitely go both ways ... uh, you know what I mean. Sometimes I love plotting out things other times I just wing it. But there's just something about the middle that makes me approach with trepidation that not even heavy duty plotting will help. I just need to feel my way through that part I guess.

    Hey, Maureen: I should try Scrivener just for funsies. Because you're right - those red and green underlines in Word drive me nuts. Especially with my penchant for sentence fragments!

    I think your phase of realizing you don't have enough stuff happening is my mid-point phase where I need a few chapters to get me to the climax and I'm wondering what the heck to do!

    It's so fascinating how every mind works differently in the creation of a book!

  21. Enjoyed your post (yikes--longhand? No thank you!) and can't wait to check out the process of the other authors in your links!
    I too am in between; not a total pantser but also don't like to outline TOO much or I lose my momentum.

  22. Hi Ruth! Definitely check out the other posts - it's fascinating how different we all are. I think we should form a hybrid club (Plantsers?)

  23. I use longhand at times, especially when I'm in need of a different way to think about a story. Interesting, isn't it, that we do develop a process and it does have something of a repeated pattern.

    As you know, I'm going through my own "process" at the moment.

    Thanks for stopping by The Write Game. It's always so nice to meet other writers.

  24. Hi C. Lee! I enjoy The Write Game and I hope your process - whatever it turns into - works out for you. Good luck!