Thursday, August 11, 2016

Write Now! Series: The Writing Process

Write Now! 

How to Write a Book in Your Spare Time, Even if You're Busy! 

V. The Writing Process:

I know that this seems like an old adage, but it’s so important to know the writing process. In order to make your novel the best it can be, the writing process must be followed. Some writers just write their book and publish it right away … and it shows. Writing your book is just the beginning. Then, the real work starts.

Here are the steps in the writing process and what each step entails:

1. Pre-Write:
This stage is for brainstorming your book. Whether you are a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer, or an in-depth planner, this stage is for igniting your creativity and planning your book. Actually, I’ve written books both ways and they both work. But whether or not I actually write it down, I always have an outline in my mind or on paper.

However, when I write a nonfiction book, I plan, plan, plan and create a mind map with Click Charts prior to writing. It makes the writing process go so much smoother. By using Click Charts, you can brainstorm prior to writing, adding to your mind map when you think of something and planning out your book. If you haven’t used it, it’s a wonderful tool.

But when writing fiction—which this book is dedicated to—I write either a paragraph outline or a points outline. You can also create a Mind Map with Click Charts, too, capturing the main points, or events, that will occur in your book. But don’t worry if you don’t know every little detail that will happen when you first sit down to write. Usually, I know the main points that will happen in my book—say about six. But what makes writing wonderful is the process of connecting the dots when you write, connecting the important points into a cohesive novel.

But if you are an intensive planner, use your pre-write as a guide. Remember that writing should flow and is in no way rigid. Don’t be afraid to deviate from your pre-write or add to it, as long as it keeps you on track while you write. But no matter which method you choose to organize your thoughts, make sure that you know your characters, your setting, the conflict, and that you can see the world that you have created clearly within your mind before you begin to write. But don’t worry. If your characters aren’t fully alive to you when you first sit down to write, you will flesh them out as you write. During the writing process, your characters will reveal themselves to you, coming alive on paper. In college, one of my professors once commented, “Theresa, your characters are real people to you, aren’t they?”

My response? “Yes! Of course they are!”

They will come alive for you, too.

*NOTE:  I have included a character creation guide, a story map, an example of a paragraph outline, an example of a points outline, and an example of a chapter outline at the back of this book under Appendix. I have also included a Mind Map of this book as an example of what you can do with Click Charts.

OUTLINING: Outlining is an important step in the writing process. When writing novels, I find that using a scene-by-scene outline helps me to stay focused, and helps my writing to go much quicker, too. With an outline, you don't have to stare at a blank computer screen, trying to think of what you will write. With an outline, you know what you will write and when. 

But if a brilliant idea hits you while you're writing, don't be afraid to deviate from your outline a bit. Use your outline for what it was intended for: a guide. 

For outlining novels, I use yWriter. It's an absolutely wonderful writing tool that I use for outlining only that helps me to stay focused and organized in my writing. It can help you, too. You can write in yWriter, as well, but I continue to write in Microsoft Word and use yWriter to outline only. It works really well, my writing is focused, and I'm able to write more. 

2. First Draft:
This is when you write the first copy of your book. When you finish, it’s your first draft. And if you’ve followed the steps I’ve outlined so far, it will be great! During this stage, take your time writing your book, but don’t worry about making it perfect. Just get it down on paper during this stage and enjoy the process. Take off your Perfectionist Cap until later. This stage is for writing and creating! Enjoy it!

As you write, make sure to follow your pre-write frame, even if it’s a mental outline. Use it as a guide, but do not be governed by it. When a great idea strikes you while writing, don’t be afraid to deviate from your plan. But, then again, don’t go so far off your plan that you lose your way. When writing, it’s very easy to go off track. Make sure to stay focused on your basic plot, and then connect the dots along the way, which brings me to my next point—connecting the dots.

As I said before, when I start to write a book, I know the main points that will happen at the beginning, middle, and end of the story. But it is in connecting the dots when writing—writing scenes that tie the plot points together—that makes writing wonderful. Make sure the scenes connect together until all of your plot points are connected into a cohesive, well-written novel.

Also, let the characters lead the way, but to a point. Sometimes, characters can get bossy and want to take over your story. Let their actions lead the story, but to a point. The writer must stay in control of the story.

But be open to creativity! If a great idea strikes you while writing your book, then include it. You can always take the scene out or move it around later to ensure that it moves the plot forward. The most important thing to do when writing your book is to enjoy writing! Give yourself over to your creativity at this stage of the writing process. After all, this is why we write, right?

It’s important to note that there should be an equal amount of dialogue and action in your book, too. Make sure that the story is revealed through dialogue and action. Do not tell your story, show it. As the old adage says, “Show, Don’t Tell”. When taking a writing course, an instructor told me that when the writer tells the reader the action, it’s as if the writer pulled the curtain across the stage, blocking the reader from “seeing” for themselves what is happening within the story. Pull back the curtain and allow the reader to experience the book by writing compelling dialogue and action that grabs the reader and won’t let go until the satisfying end.

Also when writing dialogue, action can be used instead of the attribution—in essence, who says what. Use action to tell who is about to speak, and then write the dialogue. It’s much more effective than filling up your manuscript with a lot of “he said”, “she said”. Here’s an example:

Sam walked into the room and moved the blinds aside before turning to the platinum blonde woman sitting at the table. “What are you doing here?”

Use action to set up the scene, making it clear who is speaking. Then, an attribution isn’t needed. However, that’s not to say that an attribution is never needed. But a good mix makes the writing flow better and the manuscript becomes less bogged down.

3. Revise, Rewrite, Rearrange, Delete:
Yes, as the title of this section states, this is the revision stage. But this stage is much more than just revising.

Okay, now it’s time to take off your Creativity Cap and put on your Revision Cap. Now, it’s time to look at your first draft with a critical eye. Reread your manuscript to make sure that the story flows, complete with transitions that lead the story from one scene to another while moving the plot forward.

Which brings me to my next point—deleting. Oftentimes, new writers fall so completely in love with his or her writing that they don’t want to let go of their own words. But it’s actually quite liberating to delete a scene that isn’t working. But if it’s the most spectacular scene ever written to mankind, then save it for later. Who knows? Maybe you can add it back to a place within your book where it will move the story forward. While you are wearing your Revision Cap, if a scene doesn’t move the story forward, it goes. Look at your story with a critical eye as if you were the reader seeing it for the first time. Put your ego aside and take yourself out of it. This is about the story and making it the best that it can be.

As writers, we give birth to our books and want what is best for them as they grow. Just as you wouldn’t stand in the way of your child developing and growing, do not stand in the way of your manuscript. Allow it to grow and become the best that it can be. It’s your baby, after all.

Also, rearrange scenes when needed. Again, during this stage, read your manuscript with a critical eye. If a scene would work better in another place to better tell the story and to move the story forward, then rearrange it. Don’t be afraid to place the scene in another place in the manuscript for better effect. Again, take yourself out of it; your manuscript is not a part of you … well, technically, although our manuscripts definitely become a part of us and our characters live within us. But, for now, put that aside. During this stage, be ruthless: cut what needs to be cut, rearrange what needs to be moved, and rewrite scenes that need to be rewritten. Does a scene need more dialogue? More action? Then rewrite it.

Conversely, if more is needed to flesh out the story, then add it. Don’t be afraid to add or flesh out a scene when needed, but don’t add fluff. Again, stick to the adage that if a scene doesn’t move the story forward, then it goes. The same is true when adding scenes: if it doesn’t contribute to the story, move it forward, or work to develop a character, then don’t add it.

However, if when you are reading a scene, if it seems flat, then flesh it out. Fleshing out a scene is adding action and dialogue to a scene to make it more rounded, more real. Just as characters can be flat, scenes can be flat, as well. Make sure that your story is just as rich and full as your vision for it.

IV. Edit:
This is one of the most important aspects of writing—editing. I’ve seen it too many times that a writer finishes his or her work and then sends it straight off to the publisher. Yikes! When you finish writing and revising your work, go over it once more with your Editor Cap on this time. Of course, these are not your final edits. That will be discussed in a later section. In fact, the final edits are so important that it warrants a section of its own.

This is your preliminary editing. During this bout of editing, go through your manuscript with a critical eye. This is not the same as revising. When editing, look for grammatical errors, misspellings … technical errors. Don’t worry; no one catches all of their own mistakes. In fact, no one should do the final edits of one’s own work, but looking at your manuscript with a critical eye and doing the primary edits is a must. In fact, many publishers will get annoyed if there are too many simple errors, will close the manuscript right away, and will send you a rejection notice. Also, books that have not been edited correctly are oftentimes hard to get through and the story can become lost.

As for grammar, when in doubt, go to the Internet. There have been many times when I have logged in two phrases with “or” between them and a question mark at the end, and my question is immediately answered. Here’s an example: shutter or shudder? When you log this in on the Internet, the correct definition of each is given. So, when in doubt, log your question into the Internet and an immediate answer will be provided.

Here are a few other good books that I use frequently when I have questions. The first is Harbrace College Handbook. If you don’t buy any other book for yourself, buy this one. I assure you that any and all grammatical questions you have will be answered in the pages of this wonderful reference book. Two more that are great and that I use frequently are The Copyeditor’s Handbook, and The Associated Press Stylebook (AP Stylebook).

It’s important to note that the AP Stylebook is a book primarily used by journalists, but when you have a grammatical question, the answer will be provided within this book. Keep in mind that the rules of journalism and novel writing differ in subtle ways. But when in doubt, you can’t go wrong with the AP Stylebook.

After you have edited your book, then send it to your Kindle app and look for more mistakes. An author friend of mine does this all the time and now I do, too. You would be surprised at the amount of mistakes that you will find. There is something about seeing it on the Kindle app that makes the mistakes stand out. Then, you can make the corrections on the computer as you go. By the way, you can download the free Kindle app to your phone or computer.

Downloading to the Kindle app is very easy. First, go to Amazon and click on Your Account. Then, click on Manage Your Content and Devices. Next, go to Settings. Scroll down to Approved Personal Document E-mail List and add your personal e-mail to it. Next, scroll up to Send-to-Kindle E-Mail Settings. The e-mail address there is your Kindle device e-mail address. It will end in
When you e-mail your book to your Kindle app from your personal e-mail account, type convert in the subject line and it will automatically format it to the EPUB format for use on your Kindle app.

V. Final Draft:
After you have completed the edits and revisions of your manuscript and have buffed and polished, then it’s time to write our final manuscript. However, if you have written and made changes to your manuscript on your computer, your final manuscript will be completed once you have made your last edit.

However, there is a professional way to format your manuscript which will make you look professional to a publisher. In today’s highly-competitive world, you want to put your best foot forward when sending your manuscript to a publisher or an editor. In the writing world, take every edge that you can to get your manuscript read.

The first page of your manuscript should include your contact information, approximate word count, the genre of your book, the audience for whom your manuscript is intended, and the name of your book in all caps and bolded in the center of the page. Begin the first chapter of your manuscript on the next page, with a page count in the top left hand corner. Also, your manuscript should be double spaced with a .3 paragraph indent.

A good rule is to check the submission requirements of the publisher that you intend to send your work to prior to sending it. Publishers always have their submission requirements posted on their Web sites. Check this and format it as they ask. If your book is not formatted properly, then the publisher will think that you just didn’t want to bother with checking their requirements. This won’t make a good first impression.

An example of the way your book should be formatted is at the end of this book under Appendix.
After your final draft is complete, then look over it one more time to check for errors. The more you go over it prior to sending it off, the better. Again, no one can do the final edits of their own book, but you want to put your best foot forward and try to catch as many as you can prior to sending it off to the editor.

There is a New York Times bestselling author that I know. I love her books, but her book is not professionally formatted and have not been professionally edited, which takes away from the book. I guess she thought that since her undergrad degree was in Journalism that she could edit her own work … but she was wrong. Do not fall into the pit of thinking that you are such a great writer that there is no need to send your book off to an editor. In fact, even Stephen King has had the same fabulous editor for years. There will be more about publishing and professional editors later, but I can’t stress enough how important it is for your book to be edit free before sending it to your publisher.

Join me tomorrow as the Write Now! Series continues! 

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