Let's Get Messy: It's All About Process
So, let’s talk honestly and to the point. Writing is a messy habit. It involves a whole lot of process to get it just right. I think it’s safe to say that most writers learn this the hard way which isn’t a bad thing. For every misstep, every rough draft (and I mean rough to the point of being almost indecipherable), every editing session that finally “perfection” appears in reach only to find one more gap, every wrong word or grammatical/usage error, there is a lesson to be learned. A necessary part of the craft that, until this point, alluded you. I use the word habit because that’s exactly what writing must be to take it to the next level. You have to write routinely to make those mistakes, to finetune your work until it is at the point to introduce it to an audience.
I’m going to attempt to streamline this very messy process for you based on my own experiences.
You’ve come up with an amazingly original idea, one burning a flame inside you such that you must write it all down--craft a novel.
Flesh out this idea like you were writing a psychological & behavioral study of the main characters and a geographical study of the world in which they live. Outline the major plot points, noting where the conflicts will be that your main character(s) must overcome.
While you might be a planner or a pantster (a person who writes without a roadmap or an outline), but you still need to know what makes your character(s) tick and what their ultimate goals are. Use this stage to brainstorm as much as you can. Don’t be surprised (or frightened) if it comes out more storm than brain.
This might be the hard part. Write the entire draft forcing yourself NOT to edit. Write it straight through. It will be a mess & that’s okay; this draft is for your eyes only, you’ll pretty it up later. Remember that outline I mentioned? One more noteworthy piece of advice, allow your characters to deviate from it. Once you get in the rhythm of writing a character, they will take on a journey of their own--allow it to happen. Trust me.
When you’ve finished, put your draft away for a month. Don’t look at it. You can think about it, even take notes on your thoughts, but don’t touch the draft.
REVISING & RE-SEEING
Come back to your work with fresh eyes. Read the draft as if it were someone else's. Edit, writer notes/questions/what if statements in the margins: really try to re-see your work from a reader’s perspective. Note your favorite scenes or when you find yourself losing interest or getting confused. Highlight your best lines.
Then, go back again to make sure you are hitting your marks in terms of the story arc, conflict, tension, goals, etc. Clear up inconsistencies in characterization.
Now, you’re ready to revise. Don’t be afraid to re-order, take out entire scenes, or add new ones to make the story flow.
This is all big picture stuff (don’t worry about editing and proofreading at this point).
Once you are happy with your story (and this could take months-years), you need to test it with an audience. While reaching out to a friend or family member, an avid reader, is a good idea; ultimately, you’ll need to run it through some beta readers/critique partners.
This is where the connection part comes. Find your tribe in whatever way makes you comfortable whether it be a local/ in-person writing group, or casting out your net on social media to find like-minded writers who are in approximately the same place as you with their writing.
You might want to make a list of questions for your beta/critique partner to answer. These could include areas you struggled with or see as a weakness. Ask as many questions as you can to glean what you need from the responses to steer your next draft. At the very least, ask the Basic 3:
1) What did you like?
2) What did you not like?
3) Where is there need for improvement?
Hashtags on Twitter
“50 Places to Find a Critique Circle to Improve Your Writing,” Reedsy links:
Facebook Writing Groups
You can search “Writing” in the search bar, but here a few tried and true from my perspective
Writers Helping Writers
WFWA Critique Forum
Beta Readers and Critique Partners
Alessandra Torre Inkers
Send your baby off to a few betas or critique partners and wait. While you're waiting, start another project, read, or begin the research process for the next steps.
TOOlING & RETOOLING
What to do with all of the feedback? Read it. Set it aside. No, REALLY., set it aside for a few weeks. Think about the comments, let them resonate, take notes about the ones that stood out and ignore those that didn’t. Just because someone else thought it, doesn’t make it true. BUT, the more critiques you get, comments will begin to overlap. Those are the comments you pay attention to because if more than one reader had nearly the same response, you can accept it as valid.
You know your book better than anyone. Take the suggestions that make sense, and begin the revising process again.
I began by stating that writing is messy. The steps above don’t necessarily occur in a linear fashion. You may have to circle back to one or all of the steps over and over again until it’s just right. You’ll know it in your gut when it is.
You may have written this book for yourself or your family, but you may want to put it out into the world. The next steps are a whole other process (that I’ll address in a later post), but for now you have big decisions to make: to publish traditionally (through an agent and trade publisher), publish with a small/boutique press, or self/indie publishing. All BIG questions to ask yourself. Take your time. You’ve invested your heart and soul into this book. Big decisions shouldn’t be rushed.