Jerry Jenkins is the first person I heard say that if you want to be a writer, you just have to put your butt in the seat and stay there. It’s so easy to get caught up in all of the other facets of being a writer that you never actually sit and write. In this post, I’m going to share what I do when I finally get my booty planted in said seat.
Writing is a significant part of the fabric of my being. I often say I don’t know how I feel about something until I write about it. I am intensely private person in “real life” but I can pour my heart out here in written words. I can’t imagine not writing, and if I never get published, I will still keep writing all my life. If no one ever read this blog, I would keep on writing it, because I’ve been writing some form since I could hold a pencil. If I didn’t write, I might not be sane. It’s just who I am.
My Book Writing Schedule
I don’t really have set working hours right now. I tend to work my writing in when my daughter has something else going on. I couldn’t possibly tell you how many hours a week I write, because each week is vastly different.
When I’m writing a novel, I always have great plans to write for two hours a day, which for me would be about 1200-2000 words. But my life and my mind don’t always work that way.
Instead, I end up sneaking in an hour or two here or there, until I find a handful of hours when no one is home and I’ll write a few thousand words. Or, I’ll get really into the story and write for three days straight before coming up for air and pizza.
My family is just used to it. The rest of my entire life revolves around them, so they don’t mind when I am in book-land for a few days, because it only happens two or three times a year at most. I also think it helps that my husband uses that time to take the kids to go see action movies and eat junk food.
My Fiction Writing Process
I am going to share about my fiction writing process, but keep in mind that I’ve only finished two novels. So this process will likely change and grow over time. I’ll also probably change things up once I am published and work through a book with an editor because I’m sure that process will teach me a lot and change how I write my first draft. But for now, this is how it goes…
At this time, I feel like I always have a novel in progress. I take about three months to write the first draft, but the entire process seems to take about 6-8 months right now.
This 6-8 month process includes procrastinating, planning, day dreaming about my characters and setting, researching, writing, letting the book rest, and editing and rewriting, and generally obsessing over it all until no one in my house can stand to hear the words “my book” one more time.
So then I start talking to myself and saying things about my characters like, “Oh, that is so Jane,” and I laugh to myself. And my family pretends they don’t hear.
No one ever said it was easy to live with a writer.
For me, every book starts with a character and an idea that will be the start of a story. Once I come up with a solid idea, I tend to procrastinate a little, sometimes for a few weeks, sometimes for a few years. I think that my brain does that on purpose so I have time to let the ideas melt into my subconscious.
Though I’m currently writing a book I thought of a few weeks ago, I have an idea brewing in my mind that I thought up five years ago. I have lots of ongoing notes for that old idea, and someday I’ll write it. But for now, it’s just brewing.
Once I know what I kind of want to do, I’ll come up with a 2-3 paragraph description and send it to my agent, Janet. She’ll get back to me, usually with suggestions, and we’ll email back and forth and flesh the idea out a bit. I LOVE getting her input. She is very intentional about creating a brand for me as a novelist, so she keeps that in mind and guides me as I craft stories. Her advice is always insightful and I feel blessed to have an agent that is so hands on.
Once I’m ready to start, I plan out how long it will take me to write and rewrite and edit, and I’ll give her a date that I’ll have the finished book to her by. I do this for my own good, because I need a deadline or I. Will. Never. Finish.
For the first few days of working on a new book, I’ll free write about the characters, their backstory, the setting, the story, anything that comes to mind. I use a Word document for this part of the writing. I use Scrivener to write my novels in, but for free writing, I prefer the open spaces of a plain Word doc. You can read more about Scrivener here: Scrivener for Mac or Scrivener for Windows
I’ve tried using character charts, but my brain doesn’t think in little boxes. It’s better for me to just start writing. It’s messy and all over the place and jumps from person to person and back again, and is a huge pain to sort it all out later. But after a few days of this, I know exactly who these people are. And that’s what matters.
Then, once I have a good feel for things, I’ll create a sheet for each character, using the template in Scrivener. I honestly don’t usually refer to these when I’m writing. It’s just a good exercise to cement in my brain who these people are.
I find a few pictures of people that look like I picture my characters looking and I’ll use that a lot in the first few days as I am developing those people. But once I get writing, I usually end up a different, vague picture in my head of the characters, kind of like I do when I’m reading any book.
Once I have the idea and characters down, I’ll do a little outlining. I’ll figure out about how many words my story needs to be and then figure out how many chapters. I’ll figure out how long the story should span and get a blank calendar to fill in as I write. I learned to keep a story calendar from Deborah Raney’s fiction class at Mount Hermon. It is so helpful.
One of my books takes place over the course of a year, another is 12 weeks. I’m working on a story right now that spans 19 years. I keep track of dates and seasons as I write so that it makes sense in the story. I do all of this by hand, because I need to visually plan it out, and then enter it into Scrivener and set up the chapters.
I’ve been experimenting with outlining even more of the story, and I’m starting to do that more. I used to feel like outlining the story would take away my freedom as a writer to come up with things on the go. Writing is a very spiritual process for me and the story working itself out is one of my favorite parts. I didn’t want to try to box it in at all.
However, I outlined a project recently and as I was outlining, I was surprised to feel that same rush of creativity as I do when I write, and there was plenty of room for spontaneous characters and storylines to be woven in when they came up. So I am opening up to the idea of outlining and I think I like it.
For everything up to this point, I can work on it pretty much anywhere. It doesn’t matter if it’s noisy or quiet, or I’m in a room full of people. Once I start writing the story, though, I really need peace and quiet. It is a different kind of focus for me and in a quiet room alone is the best place for me to be able to create fiction.
I absolutely abhor working in public, but if I have to I will. But it usually isn’t very productive for me, because I am so uncomfortable. I’m must be a weirdo, because it seems every writer I know loves writing in coffee shops.
Once I start writing the book, I just write. I don’t edit, or worry about anything. It is a thrilling process for me, and I don’t like to interrupt the free flow of story by trying to fix anything.
Since I can’t drink coffee anymore, I like to eat sour patch kids during long writing sessions. I have to be careful, though, or I’ll go up a size every time I write a book! So I save the candy for long, marathon days.
I realize that’s the kind of detail you don’t really need in a post like this, and a good editor would cut it, but Sour Patch Kids are very important to me. So you should probably get used to hearing about them.
Oftentimes I set the timer for an hour at a time and write nonstop, then take a break and do another hour. This works really well for me, because I have a highly distractible mind.
For some reason, setting that timer helps me choose to put everything else aside (bye-bye, Facebook) and just dive in. Michael K Reynolds suggested this idea in our agency’s Facebook group and it works really well for me. So in that case, being distracted by Facebook worked out for me!
When I finish the first draft, I put it aside for a week or two. Then, I print the whole thing out, sit down and read it from cover to cover, making notes as I read. I’ll note typos, continuity problems, and just plain bad writing.
Then, I’ll go about fixing the issues in the Scrivener file, and as I do, I read each chapter again, editing and rewriting. It’s a terrible waste of paper, but I usually end up printing the whole thing at least three times. I just edit better on paper with a pen in my hand than I do on a screen.
Once I feel the book is finished, I’ll read it one more time for errors. Hopefully, I laugh and cry a couple times and have lots of warm fuzzies. Then, I’ll get to work on The Proposal and send it off to Janet.
After I send it off, I celebrate in some very small way and start scheming for the next book.
Though that process takes 6-8 months, with everything else I have going on, my overall pace is at one book per year right now. I write pretty quickly, so I think once my youngest is grown, I’ll probably be able to write more than one book a year. That is, once I stop sobbing about my babies growing up.
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