May 1, 2012

How to Turn Your Brain into Mush/Write a Book in 8 Simple Steps

Any time my book comes up in everyday conversation, this inevitable question comes up:  "So HOW do you go about writing a book?" (Sometimes it's phrased as: "I don't even know how to start writing a book.")

I'm not sure if they're just being polite, or if people genuinely want to know. So for all you just-polite people, you're about to get yours. Here's how I go about writing a book. Step-by-step.

1) The Idea
I don't know how I get my ideas for books. It's different every time. Sometimes it's sparked by a weird dream (that I have to flesh out and trim down and flesh out again).

Sometimes I have to think really hard with pen in hand until the idea comes.

But most of the time, my ideas come to me when I'm trying to fall asleep at night. They just pop into my head. And usually it's on a day when I didn't write.

2) Planning
I like to do a bit of planning. Sometimes it's as simple as writing a summary of how I imagine the story. Sometimes I go in-depth and plan scene-by-scene the first 1/3 of the story. (I don't like to go any further than that if I'm going into great detail because it kind of sucks the life out of the story.)

Whatever I plan, it's just a guideline. I don't have to stick to it. If I get a better idea as I'm writing, I go for it.

2b) Knowing the Story
This is part of the planning, but it doesn't go into the actual book.

I like to get to know my main characters.

  • I do this in different ways, including: filling out a questionnaire about hopes, dreams, fears, and priorities
  • having a "conversation" with the character using a blank word document
  • or imagining my character in really random situations (Like: how would Ivy Thorn react if she were in The Hunger Games?)

And then I spend a little time building my world.

  • For Fairy Tale Trap, I just read a bunch of versions of Beauty and the Beast. 
  • For Cinderella and Zombies, I researched castles and gunpowder. 
  • For other books, that have not/will not ever hit the shelves, I've done research on: small towns in Virginia, the Civil War, fluke worms, alcoholic drinks and customs, and different views on the afterlife.
As I research, my brain pulls out the elements I want to use in my book and eventually the setting(s) build themselves in my mind.

3) First Draft
I open up a document, imagine my opening scene, latch on to my character's voice, and I write.

This draft is always really crappy. Always. But it doesn't matter what goes on the page, because I'm probably not going to keep it anyway.

What I do get from the first draft is a sense of story, setting, character and character interactions, I get a few cool plot twists and I have a possible ending to my story.

What I don't have is an awesome, logical plot full of tension on every page. That comes during the...

4) Second Draft
This takes more time than all the other stages combined. It's a major overhaul, where I add new scenes and dramatically change the few scenes that I keep.

I make sure the main characters' goals, feelings, and motivations are clear; build setting that matters; and put in as much conflict as I possibly can.

After I build each scene on a notecard, I write: "And things get so much worse when..." These usually make great cliffhanger chapter-endings.

Oh, and the part that takes the most time... once the scenes are completely planned-out, I write the story. By hand.

I do this because the writing is so much stronger when I do it by hand. The voice stays with me, the descriptions are richer, the settings are more complete. I think I save myself from doing another draft by doing it by hand.

5) Critique
I send draft 2, one or two chapters at a time, to my critique group. They're wonderful and catch gaps in logic, unclear writing, typos, and thoughts on the overall story. I love my critique group.

6) Third Draft
I print out draft two and make line-by-line changes with a pen. Then I type up the changes.

7) Final Countdown
This is my final draft, where I read the book like I'm reading it for the first time. (Sometimes I read it out loud.) I do this to make sure the language flows, and I want to catch last-minute typos.

I also like to have a fresh reader go over the book at the same time.

(Note: Because Cinderella and Zombies is so short, I've combined steps 6 and 7.)

8) Prep for Publication
This entails getting my book cover ready, formatting, and putting the book up on Amazon and Smashwords.

Right now, I mostly do my own book covers. I have a friend who pretty much taught me how to make them. He's really good at getting clean, professional-looking images and I turn to him when I need help.

I use the Smashwords formatting guide, then make the necessary changes to put it up on Amazon.

To put it up for sale, I just follow the instructions on the site. They're very thorough.

So yeah... writing a's a process. A regular, novel-length book can take anywhere from 5-9 months.

Any questions?


Kimshme Shivaun said...

I have to constantly remind myself that the first draft are not important, they can as crappy as they want to be as long as you keep writing. You made some great points here, I will try some an see how they work for me.

Amanda Fanger said...

I'm floundering around in my third draft right now - I That's the one that is similar to your step 4 here in this post. I usually add one more draft to the line-up before sending it out for critique. And you're right, the second (and third) draft is the hardest part of the whole thing!

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