What do you do when writing feels like slogging through wet cement?
I dig in and keep going. I use the next scene I’m looking forward to as an incentive to finish the one I’m chugging through. I’m always glad when it is done. And surprising enough, I’ve written some of my best scenes when I thought it was nothing but hot garbage.
Persistence is key to completing my novels, not to mention the million other things that go into the creation of whole new worlds. If you’re struggling to complete your project or looking for ways to update a stale process, I humbly submit to you a bird’s-eye view of what I do. And if anything here sparks off questions (or tips that may help me!), please leave a comment below.
The first step may or may not involve a ton of planning. I do my best work sitting in front of a computer writing (writers write!!), but now that I have a pile of completed manuscripts and published several books, I have cobbled together a mix of planning and pantsing that works for me. I know what the most basic plot for the book is and where I want it to go. The more goalposts I set for myself (plot points), the easier it is to keep going. However, flexibility is key. If something comes up in the middle of a scene that changes my plans – cool. I change them.
I use Scrivener. I can’t say enough how much I love that program. Many people find it intimidating but there are plenty of quick tutorials to get started and then learn the more complex features later. I look at my user interface the way I look at my folders and organize them the same way. I have research, character sketches, locations, notes, and my chapters all available in a list on the left of my screen, and the main window for writing. If you can use Word or even notepad, you can use Scrivener. Trust me on this. But all I need to do is click on anything I want to see and it comes up immediately. No waiting around for a program to open or clicking between 15 different windows.
I never go back and edit while I’m writing my first draft. That is a trap for me – for many authors. Some can edit the heck out of their scenes the day after they wrote them before moving on, but I find it destroys my momentum. My recommendation is to write. I try not to make any major typos along the way, but I will fix those. No need to leave misspellings and all those wavy red lines behind. It’s usual for me to correct a misspelled word no matter what I’m doing, anyway. Like when I text or post online (I’ll ignore the whole autocorrect thing for now because we all know it lives to torture us 😉 ).
Before going anywhere, I set for myself a goal for what I want to show in the scene I am about to write, and then I write it. It can be a half-formulated idea about a battle, or maybe I want to have a character start dating another. Or I may think “my readers need to know how lonely her life is” and then set about showing that. As long as I have a sense of what I want to accomplish, I don’t sit in front of my computer frozen and incapable of getting words on a page. Bonus tip – if you can’t think of a good first line, or how to start it, hit enter a few times to leave a space, and move on. Some of my chapters start with a response to an action I haven’t yet written. I go back and add that information after I’m done with the scene. That way the whole how-do-I-even-begin thing doesn’t stop me. (The whole point to is to finish).
Once I am done with my entire first draft, I let it rest a while to clear my head. It can be a few days or a few weeks. If I have the time, I ignore it completely for several weeks. Helps clear out the cached data in my brain. 😀
Then I go back to read the whole manuscript, taking notes along the way. I send it to my kindle app so I can see it in book format and highlight typos, weird dialogue, a sequence that didn’t play out as intended, etc. Anything that comes to mind, I jot down a note. I also highlight words that should be contractions (I can’t figure out why, but I seem to have a ton of “I have” and “do not” phrases floating around as if “I’ve” and “don’t” aren’t a part of my vocabulary). My notes tell me what concepts I missed, what I need to add, and any additional scenes I feel are needed to tell the story I want to tell.
I input all fixes and notes into my project, addressing each typo. This is a simple input where I don’t read my writing. I am only transferring my changes and notes verbatim without thought. I must do so or I’ll end up trying to craft every sentence and that’s for a later stage. Sometimes I put on a rerun of a favorite show and half-watch that as I do this step. My goal is to update with the work I’ve already done on the kindle and get it done as soon as possible so I can move on to the juicy stuff.
If I had plot notes and changes, or want to fiddle with theme, I make a list on notepaper. I then read it before touching my manuscript for rewrites.
At this point, I go back to the beginning in Scrivener and make real edits and rewrites and craft my work as I go, making sure it has the proper flow and voice and makes sense. As I go through each scene, I come across my notes from my kindle reading and add any scenes or events I felt necessary. Those I write in full and then read back over it only once to make sure it is coherent and blends with the rest of the chapter. Then I continue with my edits and rewrites until I am done.
My work is done in drafts. I never go back and do edits and rewrites on my first draft – that is for me to get the story down. I save it and back it up and make a new project in Scrivener before I input any changes. In my second draft, I fiddle until I feel it says what I want it to. Then I read the entire thing again in book format (kindle), taking notes and trying to catch issues. Then I save a 3rd draft and address those notes and changes.
I use ProWritingAid in the third draft, fixing issues and rewriting any passages that stick out as awkward or weird or that I don’t like. Every stage after my first draft includes fixes on the fly. Edits are crucial and a solid editing program is helpful here. I used to use Grammarly, but the subscription was expensive and it didn’t have as many functions as ProWritingAid. I highly recommend it. Can’t stress that enough! Tons of useful features and I paid a one-time fee. On my non-existent salary, I do what I can to get the most bang for my buck. One of my favorite features is PWA can tell you if you have used the same word or phrase multiple times in close proximity. I rephrase to avoid repetitiveness.
Then off it goes to beta readers and I address their feedback in my 4th draft. Sometimes they tell me what they think needs to happen to “fix” something they come across. I either take their suggestion or I address their initial impression/issue and fix it in a way they never thought up. Sometimes what they saw as a problem was really me not writing clearly enough. Often a few minor tweaks will fix it. For instance, my betas had a sense that Armageddon was more sinister than I intended. Valuable feedback since I never intended on them to be creeped out. I reread the chapter and thought it over. Then I realized – when I had Lia awake after passing out during a ceremony, her uncle was sitting -in her bedroom- waiting for her to wake up. So… Gross? I changed it to him knocking on the door and then coming in once she was ready and no other beta thought the book was going in a way different direction than I ever intended!
My editor then gets a copy. I address their corrections and feedback. I may make my own last-minute tweaks along the way. This is my 5th and final draft. I send it to proofreaders. Any typos they catch get updated in my 5th draft.
The key is to use every functional stage to make creative changes. Everything from the moment I write my first word to the final edits is an opportunity to make a better story.
Sometimes looking at a process can feel so overwhelming. I started writing with the intention of learning myself and what worked best for me. Then I integrated the mandatory steps for a good novel (rewrites and edits, for instance) and found a way to make it into a process. Sometimes parts still feel like torture (editing is the bane of my existence), but I keep plodding through the grind knowing the finished product will make every second worth it. Nobody has to write out or formulate a list of steps, but if an author has been writing for a while, they have a process. Even if they don’t realize it! And that’s okay. Having regular steps isn’t betraying your creative self – it’s supporting it. Make “rules” for yourself, even. It’s okay. Pretty much anything that helps you finish and publish is good.
If you are interested in checking out Scrivener or ProWritingAid, you can follow these links (they are affiliate links – you get a discount and I get a handful of pennies yay!).
ProWritingAid (discount code TJKELLY20 for 20% off).
Do you have any questions? Suggestions? Tips? Please comment below and let’s chat!