The writing process is different for every author. There is no right or wrong way. No, that’s not entirely correct. The right way is whatever works for you.
There’s one school of thought that says the first draft of your book should be pounded out just as fast as you can get the thoughts from your brain onto paper . . . or into your computer. Don’t worry about mistakes, typos and clunky sentences. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to make changes and corrections later—-you know, second draft, third draft, ad infinitum. The key is to capture your ideas before they flee into the ether.
Doesn’t work for me.
I’m a bit of a neat-freak. I abhor clutter. My desk is always shipshape, my home rarely in disarray. So it is with my writing. I can’t stand a sloppy first draft. It needs to be at least semi-polished—-neat and in-order. Yes, that certainly slows the velocity of getting an initial version out. I would argue, however, it speeds up the “make-it-better” phases that follow.
On some days, I’m actually pretty swift with the first go-round. I seem to get in a groove and fly through page after page. On other days, the capability of computers to allow me to “play” with words and sentences really wraps me around the axle.
On such days I spend an inordinate amount of time experimenting with different words and sentence structures. The net result is usually better qualitatively, but not quantitatively. I might end up with only a page or two written by the end of the day. Many authors would save this fix-it-up stuff for the second draft.
Doesn’t work for me.
Here’s a summary of how I work. Again, it’s not the right way or the wrong way. It’s just my way.
I’ll write several chapters of a first draft, with a rule of thumb (mine, nobody else’s) to make each chapter about ten pages (on average, I figure about 250 words per page, but it varies widely). More importantly, I’ll endeavor to make sure I have a hook at the end of each chapter—-something to make the reader want to turn the page.
After I complete a handful of chapters, let’s say three or four, I’ll go back and re-read them and make corrections and edits as needed. I may also take a few pages to my critique group each month.
I’ll repeat that process until I have a finished first draft. Semi-polished. At that point, if I have the luxury of time, I’ll stuff the manuscript into a metaphorical drawer and let it sit for awhile. Maybe for a month or two, maybe just for a week or two.
After the “trial separation,” I’ll pull my baby out of hibernation and try to read it fresh and objectively. That’s impossible, of course, but I like to believe I can do it. (It helps, especially as a novelist, if you’re just a little bit delusional.)
This so-called objective read-through is where I really find the clunkers. “Oh my God. I didn’t actually write that, did I?” “I wonder what the hell I meant here?” “Crap. That was Dick speaking, not Jane.” “I don’t understand this; somebody’s changed my manuscript . . . damn those Chinese hackers.”
So that’s rewrite number one.
Any number of additional rewrites may follow, based on comments from my “trusted readers,” my agent and finally, my editor(s).
Editors. That’s where the going gets tough and my workload increases exponentially. Based on their input, dialogue may get axed or added; old scenes may disappear or new ones appear; and chapters may get shifted around like pieces on a chess board.
Editors, however, make my stories better. I don’t always agree with their suggested changes, but the vast majority of them I accept. I’ve been lucky to have really good editors at BelleBooks, my publisher. They are ladies who’ve written more than I have and won more awards. It’s not hard for me to defer to them.
So, that’s how I do it. Might not work for you. Does for me.