The Real Start & the Writing Process

Hello friends!

Today I’m going to talk about my writing process. In NaNoWriMo parlance I am known as a plantser. A hybrid of a planner (one who plans everything) and a pantser (Fuck it, we’re doing it live!). That is to say, I start with a vaguely detailed plan, and I then just write what comes to mind.

The first step for me is coming up with the idea for a novel. I let it germinate in the back of my mind, adding bits and bobbins of ideas and improvements until I feel like I have a solid handle on things. This can take anywhere from days to years. At some point, I realize that I am human and need to secure some of these ideas from the perils and pitfalls of memory. I start writing down the worldbuilding information; the history, geography, commerce, and more.

Historically at this point, I wait until NaNoWriMo to do anything else. For me, the solid goal of 50,000 words gives me something to shoot for. The gamification of recording my written words at the end of the day and seeing my progress is a nice carrot. The first thing I write is a very rough outline. I am talking extra coarse. Sixty grit sandpaper rough. I literally write down a list of chapters, and then think through the story in pieces.

Pallas Lost, for example, my initial planning looked like this:

Chapter 1: Scout finds mystery ship.
Chapter 2: Scholar has trouble.
Chapter 3: Scoundrel has trouble.
Chapter 4: Scholar looks up information, decides to travel.

And so on. Pretty rough, right? That really is the actual words I used. Once I have scratched out the outline, I write the entire story. Starting at chapter one, I just write the words as they come to me. I never really know where the story is going to go, but I keep things pretty close to the rough outline. I try to keep each chapter to a certain viewpoint or story beat, no matter how long and short that may be.

I’m trying a different tack for Pallas Found. This time, I wrote a synopsis of sorts, where I wrote a sentence or two for each chapter in a massive paragraph.  It worked fairly well, until about three-quarters of the way through the book. At that point, the story was telling me to go a different direction, and I listened, invalidating a lot of the synopsis and chapter outlines. It’s also a lot longer with more chapters than Pallas Lost.

Once the story is finished, I let it languish for a while as imposter syndrome kicks in. At some point, weeks or years later, I let my wife read it. As she reads, I start reading it with fresh eyes, editing and changing as I go. By the time I’ve finished that, she’s finished doing the same, and I incorporate the changes as I see fit.

Then comes the real nerve-wracking part: Alpha readers. I put a call out to my friends for anyone who has the time and bandwidth, and I send them a copy of the novel with a list of questions to answer. Some of them answered the questions, some ghosted me, and some went through and did their own editing!

When I get all of the copies back, I go through the novel once again with those comments and edits in mind. When that’s done, I get Beta readers involved. This is the same as the Alphas really, I just label them according to which wave they are in. I’ll do a wave of Gamma readers too. By the time that’s done, I’ll have at least 10-12 takes on my novel in addition to my wife’s and mine.

For Pallas Lost, this is when I wrote a query letter and started querying. I likely won’t be doing that with Pallas Found. That’s a story for another day though.

To change course, finally, I am trying to suss out what to blog. I plan to post weekly, but I wonder what you, the audience, would like to hear about. Do you want me to post snippets of stories, tales of my time in the querying trenches, writing widgets and advice, or something else? Please comment on this post and let me know what content you crave.

Thank you!