Recently, I finished the last of my edits and shipped the manuscript for book #3 off to my editor. What started as a few ideas scribbled in my notebook over a year ago, has turned into 95,880 words and a key piece of the Power of Four story. I thought that it might be interesting for others to see what my books go through from idea to print, especially since I am fascinated with how other authors approach their writing process. In no way am I saying this is the only way to do things, it is merely the process that works best for me.
The sequence I go through can be narrowed down into five categories: Outline Draft, Rough Draft, Critiqued Draft, Read-through Draft, Final Draft. Of course, this is just getting it into the editor's hands, and once it comes back to me I will have to rinse and repeat until I am happy with the end result and it passes through the beta readers without any major snags.
Step #1 - Outline Draft - So,this draft can be completed any number of ways for me. Scribbles in my notebook, a few sentences for each chapter in a Word doc, even scrawls on a napkin. I've even used my phone (notes) to dictate ideas and then email it to myself later so the thoughts can be easily cut and paste. Bottom line, this step is me getting it out of my head and onto paper, so it doesn't need to be pretty. Trust me, it usually isn't! For my first book, I had an overall plot and the idea that each element would be a separate romance, but beyond that didn't outline much. What I found out when writing book 2, was that it was much easier for me to have a general idea of what would be happening written down. While the story can always go in a different direction (I am a pantser after all), I at least have an idea of which way to travel to support the overall story. This process generally takes a few weeks to a month since a lot of the outlining actually occurs in my head long before I mold my thoughts into the bones of an idea.
Step #2 - Rough Draft - After piecing the bones together and finishing my skeleton, I start to add some muscle a chapter at a time. Typically, I finish a chapter one day, then go back through it and tweak things the next, preparing it for my Critique Partners. I send the tweaked chapter to the ladies I meet with every 2 weeks, who provide comments on what they liked, what they didn't, and whether or not they like the direction the story is going in. The Muse Crew ladies are amazing and gifted writers, and their focus is from that aspect. They all write in different genres so tend to focus on different parts of the story, which I believe helps me complete a well-rounded manuscript. This process takes anywhere from a few months to a year to get through the entire book.
Step #3 - Critiqued Draft - After I receive comments back, I add them to my muscled draft. This is where I finalize the shape of the characters and settings, using the Muse Crew edits as a roadmap to the problem areas. Sometimes the fix is easy, sometimes it requires an entire reworking of the chapter. In the case of the opening chapter of Playing with Fire, I drafted and submitted no less than three versions. The ladies wanted to start in the action, they wanted to keep up the tension, and I ended up with a chapter that gave them what they were looking for, and that provided me with a tone for the entire book. I know it would have been an entirely different book had they allowed the first few drafts to go through. Thank you Muse Crew! You were so right, and Playing with Fire is all the better for it! This process runs anywhere from a few weeks to a month.
Step #4 - Read-Through Draft - So, if we continue with my body analogy, this is the step where I add skin (creepy I know, but have I mentioned I've always loved Stephen King)? At this point, I have already tweaked each of the chapters as I went along, and included input from Critique Partners. In essence, I have what I think of as a solid second draft. At this stage I have formatted it with chapter headings, table of contents and some of the back matter. I have the entire manuscript printed and bound, then pull out my red pen! I find that a paper copy is easier for me to find errors on, and it also gives my eyes and fingers a break from the computer (which I am literally on 16 hours a day). It also allows me to take my manuscript with me to appointments, libraries, etc. without having to drag my laptop around. This generally takes me a month, but only because I don't take a single look at my project for at least a week or two.
Step #5 - Final Draft - So, remember that body we built? Well, it has been pretty slashed up at this point and I have made my final tweaks. At this point, I am pretty damn tired of reading the story, so when I edit I only focus on the areas that I have marked in red. I figure if there is anything that doesn't flow right after I make changes, either my editor or beta readers will catch it on their read through. I make the changes (this last time took me a total of 12 hours), and then save it as a new file and submit it to my editor. At this stage, I have done all I can do to get my story in the best shape for her critique, and now I will wait for comments from a fresh set of eyes.
After it comes back from my editor, I do steps 3-5 again, although the process is generally quicker since I only focus on the areas of concern. I always have my editor look at it a second time after the tweaks, which helps me know if I have taken care of her concerns in a way that makes sense. Once she signs off and I have a final, final version, it is ready for the Beta Readers! I ship it out to two or three readers at this stage, and they let me know what they like or don't like about the story. If they were entertained and they want to read the next book, I know my work is done.
For anyone interested in the difference between Critique Partners and Beta Readers, you can check out my article: Getting the most out of working with a Critique Partner. For more on my editing process check out: Rewrites...a necessary evil.
This process is something that I would do, whether I chose to self-publish or query an agent/publishing house. Either way you decide to go, I feel you want to put your best foot forward and send out the cleanest manuscript possible for their review. It can be costly, but any investment you make in yourself is money well spent!
Happy writing! - DH
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