The process

This week I started writing a new book, and I've set myself a goal of writing 1500 words per day. I do it first thing, and when I've hit 1500 words, I stop. (I go over a bit sometimes, but usually I stick to 1500.) I've learned through experience that if I write much more than that, I get really drained and can't write as much the next day. This got me thinking about how my process of writing has evolved over the past couple of years, when I've been writing fiction full-time. I've learned that there are a few distinct phases I go through in writing a novel, and I have to structure those phases differently. For instance, in the rough drafting phase, which I'm in now, I really have to just push forward every day. Giving myself a word count goal helps me to move the story forward.

I only allow myself to do a little bit of editing, and pretty much only on the stuff I wrote the day before. In other words: On Monday I'll write 1500 words, but I will not edit them. On Tuesday I start out by reading the stuff I wrote on Monday, and I'll let myself revise a little bit, but not too much. Then I write 1500 new words. Wednesday, I read Tuesday's words, then write Wednesday's chunk. Etc.

The point in this phase is getting the story out. It's messy and there are a lot of mistakes in it — plot mistakes, character problems, chunks where I have things in brackets like [Look this up]. But if I stopped to deal with those things as they arose, I would never move forward, and getting a whole draft down on paper is the goal.

The second phase begins after I receive my editor's first editorial letter. I say "first" because so far, there have always been more than one! This is OK, though, because this is where the real work begins.

Rough drafting is rough going at the beginning for me, because I'm still trying to figure out what the style of the novel is, or what my voice should be for this book. But as I get deeper into the novel, it usually picks up speed until I'm just having a lot of fun. Revision does not usually have this same joy! But at the same time, I think I actually enjoy revising better than rough drafting, because it's at this stage that the book really begins to take shape. It's also at this stage where I begin working on it for most of the day.

During rough drafting, I can often get 1500 words written in three hours. The rest of the day is taken up with other business stuff — and believe me, there's plenty to occupy my time. But during revision, I sometimes spend an hour staring at one sentence, so I like to take most of the day to revise. That's when all that other business stuff starts to get oppressive, because it's taking time away from revision.

Phase 2, revision, can go on for months and months and months. There can be phase 2.1, phase 2.2, etc. — all the way until I get to a finished draft that goes to copyediting. With each successive phase, I get deeper and deeper into the novel. This means that I'm increasingly focused, in each round of revisions, on sharpening action, character, dialogue, etc.

By the time I get to copyediting, which I'll call phase 3, I'm totally worn out by the book. But luckily, copyediting can be less intensive. This is where you dot your I's and cross your T's. In this stage, I try to get through 50 pages of the manuscript per day. Sometimes I make it, sometimes I don't, but it's good to have a target. I've added entire scenes during copyediting, but even though they may be significant moments in the story, it doesn't feel as intensive as deep revision.

I'm not sure if this information is interesting to anyone but me, but for some reason I feel like documenting it. This week I started writing a new book. I'm excited about it. Today I actually wrote 2000 words. It took me about an hour and a half to get through the first 300 words, but the last 500 came in only 20 minutes.

How do you write? Do you have any questions about the process? I'm feeling processy. :)