The only thing more unique to each writer than voice is their personal writing process. Some of us can sit down and blast out a draft in a month. Others spend that same month doing extensive prewriting. Some writers can work in noisy places like coffee shops or public parks. Others squirrel away in quiet rooms where they hopefully won’t be distracted. About the only thing that stays the same is the parts of the writing process—and even that varies from writer to writer.
Depending on how you write best, you’ll either start with prewriting or with drafting. As the name implies, prewriting is done before ever putting pen to paper. It can include outlines, character studies, research, and even creating mood boards or playlists. Frequently writers who plan out the story before writing are referred to as plotters or architect types.
Drafting on the other hand, is a form of writing. Typically this is discussed in terms of first or rough drafts. This is typically the roughest form of a manuscript but in most cases it looks like any other manuscript and includes fully-written scenes, lines of dialogue. All in all, these early forms look like a story—just in need of some thorough polishing. Most writers who start in the drafting stage are called pantsers or discovery writers.
There is one more place to start that blends both prewriting and drafting often called a zero draft. Zero drafts split into two sorts of group: collections of scenes that belong together but lack cohesion or long outlines with some written scenes and interspersed notes. That’s by no means a hard and fast definition and there are plenty of ways to get this type of draft done. Good news if you’re a writer who uses a mix of prewriting and drafting: you may be a planter writer.
The writing process doesn’t end with the completion of your initial draft. Once you have your draft, pat yourself on the back and get ready to enter the next phase of the process: editing.
Editing includes developmental and structural editing; and line and proof reading. There’s not always a clear line between each type of edit especially in the midst of editing. While working on a scene (structural editing) you may realize you’ve missed some punctuation marks and add them in (proofing). Because the editing process often results in going over your manuscript multiple times it may help to focus each pass over one type of editing.
Because of the nature of your initial draft, the largest problems may be weak storyline or scene order. Rearranging, adding and rewriting scenes is a large component of completing structural edits. These are the largest changes your manuscript will go through. You’re quite literally developing the underlying structure of the story: hence why they’re called structural or developmental edits.
Moving into line edits and proof reading moves into the nitty-gritty of a manuscript. Line edits will focus on things like word choice, fluency and all the picky parts of style versus convention. By contrast, proof reading makes sure that your conventions are consistent by finding missing punctuations and misspelling. These types of edits are minute and detailed.
If at all possible, have a trusted and skilled friend go over your story once or twice. This is largely because as the writer, you’re very close and sometimes it can be hard to objectively see what’s wrong with a story. Having an outside source of feedback gives you insight into what is and isn’t really working. This may be called alpha reading or beta reading. The difference is largely who sees your work first and at what stage. Typically alpha readers come in after you’ve done the major structural edits and are geared towards finding holes you might have missed. In this case, it’s often helpful to have someone who’s also a writer so they can spot technical aspects a reader might not notice. Beta readers on the other hand, are your first readers and are often most useful once you’ve done at least one round of line and copy edits. A beta reader’s goal is to give you insight into what your future readers might be thinking while reading—so if you have a target demographic, it’s a good idea to get someone from that demographic as a beta reader.
Both beta and alpha readers can give you valuable feedback which might make it necessary to tweak your manuscript once more so after making any changes always take time to reproof your manuscript. Once you’ve finished making changes and are done seeking feedback you’re at the finish line!
At this point in the writing process the only thing left to do is decide how and if you’d like to publish your works. If you’re only writing something for your friends or family, there are many low-cost options to get physical copies printed. This includes printing and binding at a copy center, or using a print-on-demand service. Some research can help you determine which option will suit your needs and budget better.
If however, you’d like to share your work with a larger audience you have the choice between self-publishing and the more traditional route. There are pros and cons to both however, so it’s important to do your research and weigh your options.
Self-publishing is easy to do in our modern world. It can be as easy as setting it up a digital only copy on Amazon the way I did for Crimson and Gold or it can be as involved as getting physical copies printed and distributed to book stores. From the cover design to the distribution process, you as the author get to choose which options you like best and reap all the rewards from those choices. There are multiple options, some of which can be done and have your story up in less than a week.
While the ease and accessibility of self-publishing makes it seem like a no brainer approach to making something from your writing, keep in mind that same ease and accessibility means everyone can do it. Don’t expect to make money overnight from self-publishing. Remember that while you get to make all the choices, you also have to put in all the work and that means also taking on any losses. This can mean more than lost time: several options require substantial amounts of money.
By no means does this make traditional publishing easier. In fact, traditional publishing often takes longer and can be just as heartbreaking. The usual path of traditional publishing involves querying agents and then getting a publishing house to pick up your work—which can be one in a sea of literally thousands in a month. With so many people who all have the same dream of getting their books to readers agents and editors alike have no choice but to reject the large majority. It’s not about being mean or even critical: they simply have too many people asking to say yes to everyone.
If and when you do get to that ‘yes’ of traditional publishing, congratulations. You may get an advance, and if your sales do well enough you may continue making royalties for a while off of one book. It’s a good idea to continue marketing your book, but the risks are largely off your shoulders.
Regardless of which method of publishing you choose, neither are guaranteed. Publishing trends change wildly and sometimes unpredictably. Whether traditionally published or self-published, the final stage of the writing process has a limited chances of success.
The only thing you can do to guarantee success with the fully writing process is to keep at it. And when you reach the finish line:
Pick up your pen and start all over on a new story.
Where are you on your writing process? Let me know in the comments below!