When people discover I’m an author, a common question I get asked is, “What is your process?” Purged, my third book, just got published this week. So in honor of this milestone, why not share my writing process? If you’re thinking about writing a book yourself, maybe this will be beneficial.
The beautiful thing about someone’s writing process is that it’s unique to them. You can read a dozen books from different bestselling writers and they would all present different methods in which they approach their work. And the best part? None of them are wrong. You just find what works with you and stick with it.
Step 1. Inception
“Resilient, highly contagious… once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate it.” -Inception, 2010
This is just the idea. The concept. Have you ever been watching a movie or TV show and thought to yourself, “Wouldn’t it be cool if someone made a TV show or movie that was like this or did that?” Boom. There’s your idea. That idea can continue to blossom and grow over weeks or months or years. Characters, settings, plot points, and other things will come from it until you have a skeleton of a story. That leads to the next phase.
Step 2. Outlining
I always build a fairly robust outline before I begin the first draft. Usually, this looks like a bulleted list of events. I’ll put together a Word doc and just list everything that happens in the book step by step. Since it’s on a Word doc, I can feel free to edit things or rearrange them. Usually, this outline ends up being a couple of pages of single-spaced, 12-point font content.
It serves as a guideline, but I don’t hold to it strictly. Sometimes as you get writing, you’ll feel like you need to take things a slightly different direction that goes against what you put in your outline. That’s okay. As long as you have the goal in mind of enthralling and delighting your readers, you’re in the right direction. Don’t be afraid to be flexible and leave something behind for something better.
Step 3. First draft
This is the toughest part. The nitty gritty. The day-to-day aspect. I try to write one page of single-space, 12-point font content. It usually comes out to about 700-800 words. Writing at this pace 5-6 days a week, I can usually knock out a first draft in about 6 months.
When I was writing Purged, we were at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, so I was home all day and I didn’t have a job. That allowed me to treat writing like my full-time job. I committed to writing at least 1,600 words a day (the same as James Scott Bell‘s quota), but sometimes I would get on a roll and write upwards of 3,000 words.
If you’re feeling inspiration and it’s just flowing out of you, keep that energy going! If you’re having a day where nothing is coming and you’re frustrated with every word you’re writing, get that quota done anyway. You can always go back and edit what you wrote before. And frankly, your “bad day words” probably aren’t even as bad as you think.
Step 4. Beta reading and revisions
Beta readers are so important. And it’s even more important to have good ones. The best beta readers are voracious readers. These are the people who can pound through a novel in less than a week–the ones who have read tons of stories and know what a good book looks like. They’ll finish your book quickly and have excellent feedback. Some of my beta readers have pointed out important story issues that I never would have caught otherwise. They give me the ammunition I need for revisions.
Each book I write goes through at least three revisions. This is going through and cutting out unnecessary words, embellishing on moments that need more gravity, looking for misspelled words, etc. It’s not so much building the cabinet as it is sanding down the edges and applying a smooth lacquer. This is where you make it look nice. These revisions usually take a few months.
Step 5. Creative
By creative, I mean visual design stuff. I self-publish, so I have to hire other people to design book covers for me. It’s nice because I personally get to work with some very talented people, and I get to communicate my vision of what the cover should look like. Shelbi Tietjen did the designs for Foreordained and Purged and Tyler Carpenter did the design for My Name is Hammerfist. They both knocked the ball out the park. Their work looks fantastic.
Step 6. Editing
Confession: I’ve only hired an editor once, but it was worth it. My friend, Adam Anderson, has a degree in English and editing and he gave me a good deal when I approached him about editing Purged.
The editing process usually takes a few weeks, so I take this time to relax and brainstorm concepts for my next book. Do some outlining. Let ideas coagulate. When the edits are done, I need to go through and check every single one and either approve or reject them. This usually takes a couple weeks and I set a quota for number of pages I want to get through daily.
Step 7. Formatting
This is definitely the most tedious part of the process. It’s just formatting the manuscript to look nice when people crack open the cover and read it.
For ebooks this is super easy because Amazon takes the .docx file and formats it to their Kindle ebooks. But with paperbacks, you have to adjust the font size, type face, create headers and footers, fix indentations, mirror the margins, blah blah blah… it’s not incredibly time consuming, but it’s easily my least favorite part of the process. I like to put on a TV show in the background while I do this stuff.
Step 8. Publishing and Marketing
Once all the creative is done and everything is formatting is done, it’s time to get it uploaded and published!! Woo!! The most exciting part, hands down. At least a month before publishing, I do what I can to gather book reviews and increase visibility on my book, whether it’s through this website, social media, or news outlets. I’m not great at it, but I do what I can.
But yeah, that’s my entire process! If you’re thinking about writing a book, I hope this has been helpful. But most of all, I want you to find a method that works for you and hop to it. Honestly, anyone can write a book. It’s a lot of work and it takes a while, but I totally believe that you can make it happen.