Hey there, writers, readers, and friends. Today, I want to describe how I write and publish novels. I’ve been working toward my publishing goals since middle school, so sometimes I forget most of this is very obvious to me but it may be totally new to someone just diving into writing.
So without further ado, here’s a look at my writing process and how I complete my projects. This is just what works for me; every writer has a different way of getting to the same goal, so if this sounds unreasonable to you, know that there is no one golden way to success. Hooray! Let’s do this.
A novel idea usually bugs me and stays with me until I make some notes. I actually have really vivid dreams, so a lot of my story ideas come from weird or interesting dreams I’ve had. For example, I recently had a dream that was a cross between Your Name and The Incredibles and it’s unlike anything I’ve written before.
Usually, I write down snippets of ideas on a Word doc and keep it in a folder of book ideas; I further develop a plot idea when it sounds the most exciting. Some writers can juggle multiple manuscripts at once; I’ve tried that before and it didn’t work.
I also find inspiration by reading. I see what an author pulls off and then I consider what I could add to the genre. My interests and these nuggets of inspiration will somehow manifest in my writing.
Finally, I draw my characters. You don’t have to be amazing at this hobby for it to work; I just like drawing out the faces of my characters so their features are consistent as I write. I also feel like I learn a lot about a character by how they would present themselves, so this helps me brainstorm some personality quirks.
Record/Hoard Research Information
Once I get a tiny idea, I collect as much inspiration as I can about the world, the main character, and the plot. I don’t get crazy into details such as appearance, names, or even the ending. When I wrote the Destiny Seeker series, I initially imagined a scene where two lovers are talking and one turns into a wolf (I loved The 10th Kingdom, okay?) From there, I answered questions to help me figure out how they got to that place.
I’m always close to my phone, so I tend to keep a list of brief notes to bottle up my inspiration. I then transfer these notes to Word or Scrivener. I’ve used Word for most of my life but have recently switched to Scrivener because it’s easy to organize the manuscript and notes all in one master file.
I tend to go bananas until I write down wild thoughts, so this helps me feel like I haven’t forgotten these ideas. You won’t necessarily keep every idea you have, and that’s okay. At this point for me, anything goes and I record every idea I have because I never know which ones will stay.
Outline (or Not?)
Honestly, outlines are helpful; I just seem to outline much later in the process than I should. A lot of plotters won’t start writing until they know what they’ll cover in each chapter. Me (a pantser), I just dive right in. It means the editing process is longer but I like the kinds of stuff I come up with when I just go with the flow.
I would recommend outlines overall, but each writer has different opinions on how detailed they should be. I didn’t have an outline that described the arc of each chapter. For a while, I had a vague idea of the ending and was figuring out how the characters got there. Bear in mind, I didn’t have the internet/social media or other writing friends to tell me this would make editing much harder for me, but I still made it to the end of the process with a simple outline.
Write the “Zero” Draft
So at this point, I’m just writing to see what sticks. I learn more about my characters and how they deal with their setbacks by fleshing out the zero draft. Writers often call it a zero draft because it’s so rough that it’s not “finished” enough to be considered a first draft. I don’t go back to edit until it’s done. It’s not meant to be pretty; it’s just meant to help you get the story down on paper.
When I’m in this stage, I make a goal of writing daily or weekly. Again, life is crazy and I often don’t want to write after a long day (I’m a night writer). I know, it’s confusing but every writer has some kind of love-hate relationship with some part of the process. It’s mainly because I’m really excited about some plot points and bored by others.
I sometimes set deadlines or goal dates. I also take advantage of NaNoWriMo to help me feel extra motivated to meet drafting goals. But setting hardcore word count goals does not help me enjoy writing or get the project done, so I mostly avoid them. Make goals that make sense for you.
And thus the raw draft goes. It’s really hard to sit and concentrate on writing for long stretches, so I tend to just write what comes to me, let conversations flow, and trim what I come up with.
Write & Edit Two More Drafts
Two drafts might not still be enough, but the point is that I edit and fix the complete manuscript multiple times before considering the manuscript “done.” Self-editing is a beast because you might have some blindspots. But before I ask anyone else to edit my manuscript, I try to go through it multiple times to make sure I’m satisfied before I pass it on.
At this stage, I’ve got a solid idea of each character arc, the organization makes sense, and I’ve resolved any notes I left for myself.
When I’m in editor mode, I tend to start with big picture/developmental edits. I may proofread ridiculous stuff as I see them, but I’m focusing on the story itself to make it logical and interesting.
I edit chapter by chapter to keep focused. When I work in Word or Scrivener, I’ll do a basic read through and mark problematic sentences red and leave the stuff I like in black font. Then I go through it again and fix the red sentences.
The next pass would be more nitty-gritty with proofreading and typos. By this point, I’m likely super done with my manuscript and just plain sick of it. That’s when I know it’s really time for someone else to take a look at it and give me feedback. I’m usually excited for feedback because I feel a surge of motivation to keep polishing this story.
Celebrate (Still Working on This)
It’s a big deal when you finish a draft, and it feels really good when you finish a polished manuscript. Like, you did the thing! It should feel good.
For a while, I was pretty mum about my accomplishments; I once thought writers only celebrate once they reached the finish line. I’ve learned over the years that celebrating should happen more frequently. After all, even if the story never sees the light of day, we’ve put in hours upon hours of concentration, skill, and determination into this project. Even if you’re the only reader, you still became an author. It’s worth a slice of cake.
Even when I published my first book, I obsessed over the next steps to finish my duology. I celebrated my newly minted book for like, a moment, and then it was over. My close friends essentially said the same thing to me: “I don’t think you’ve realized that you’ve finally reached your lifelong goal. You’re not done celebrating.”
So I continue to work on taking compliments, looking on the bright side, giving myself this win, and basking in my own glow. Even though I’m the sole author here, I still keep family and friends in the loop so they can support me and cheer me on. I used to keep my stuff private (my parents still don’t know what my book is about) and moving forward, I want to be more transparent about my books because I care about them and they’ve shaped who I am as a person.
Keep Going and Keep Perspective
Being a writer can be lonely. Our brains can tell us that our ideas are stupid and we’ll never measure up to the classics we’ve put up on a pedestal.
But being a writer also means taking leadership and control over your projects. If you want to publish, then do it. If you want to write your book and keep it for yourself, then do it. I am primarily motivated to finish my books (and keep going) because I established my expectations as my own. Honestly, I don’t (or try not to) compare my timeline with someone else to keep going. I have a lot of talented author friends; if I stopped because I couldn’t measure up to them, well, I wouldn’t even have this blog.
Take it from someone who took nearly two decades to finish a novel: every path to “finishing” looks different based on your life circumstances, your project, and YOU. Some people write every day like it’s their lifeblood, while others treat it as a once-in-a-while hobby. If you ever want to finish something, you must start by being true to who you are and what you really want out of the process.
Here’s how I set sustaining writing goals. I set goals on a weekly basis and leave my weekends alone and only write if I want to. Also, I avoid word count goals; I tend to write scenes or chapters at a time, so maybe my goal will be working on 1–3 chapters a week. Depending on how many chapters I have, I can predict when I’ll finish. But my goal here isn’t to be fast or “win”—my goal is just to finish.
So that’s quite a bit of information! Let me know if you have any questions—I’d love to answer them and help you feel more supported. Stay tuned for another post where I talk about how I self-publish novels: what I do once the manuscript is complete and 90% publish-ready.