I’m often asked when my novel will be published, or why it isn’t published yet. Many people don’t realize that the writing process is a lot more involved than simply sitting at a keyboard and writing.
Before deciding which publishing options to pursue or beginning to search for editors or agents, a writer must first have a high quality product to offer. Many writers overlook the importance of the writing process in their eagerness to get published. Not adhering to the process actually kills a writers chances because, without it, they are unable to produce a salable manuscript.
The writing process involves four phases: prewriting, drafting, revising, and editing. Following these steps will help, but experienced writers know that problems which arise during drafting, revising, or editing, can send them all the way back to step one, where they must develop and expand an idea. As my NaNoWriMo ML is quick to remind me, “You will enjoy the process, God damn it!”
Step One: Prewriting
Prewriting is anything done before writing the first draft. It includes research, note taking, brainstorming, and outlining. Story ideas must be expanded and developed. Some pieces of writing require more planning than others. Science fiction and fantasy requires a considerable amount of time engaged in “world building” before writing can begin. Once ideas are developed, they must be organized into a story arc.
My pre-writing inadvertently started in 2008, when I took an interest in Hallstatt period Celtic culture. Reading about the Continental Celts had been a hobby of mine for years, so when I started writing a novel, drawing inspiration from that period seemed like an obvious choice. But the research didn’t end when I started writing my first draft. Research and fact-checking remained a big part of the process even in the midst of revising and editing.
Step Two: Drafting
Drafting occurs when the outline or plan is put into story form. Be open to new ideas emerging and changing during the drafting process. Don’t try to perfect every sentence as it’s written; the point of drafting is just to “get the story out.” It is not uncommon to go through many drafts before being satisfied with the work.
My first draft took about five weeks to write, but let me be honest; it was crap. At the end of each chapter I’d go back and make corrections before writing the next chapter, and there were still errors I found later.
Step Three: Revising
Revision is the key to a well written document. This is the point when a story becomes reader-centered. Focus on the “big picture” and consider whether information needs added or removed.
Create the supporting background necessary to convince readers to suspend disbelief. Review notes from the prewriting stage, looking for ideas which haven’t been used.
Even a well-planned story may need rearranging. Ensure that the story’s organization flows well and readers have all the information they need to understand plot lines and character actions.
Sometimes, an idea falls flat or fails to develop the plot. These need removed to keep the reader from losing track of the main storyline.
When all else fails, sections may need to be rewritten to fit with the overall storyline.
This step is also the time to refine the prose. If you are not a member of a writers’ group, now is the time to join one in order to obtain feedback from other writers. This will help point out technical errors, point–of-view problems, plotting mistakes, and character inconsistencies, among other things.
For me, the revising process took the longest. After completing my first draft, I went back to self-edit and revise before sending chapters to alpha readers. When I got those chapters back I had to decide how much revision was necessary to make the novel clearer and easier to read. Once the entire book had been through my alpha readers, I hired a proofreader so that I wouldn’t embarrass myself when I sent the book to beta readers and started the critique process. Finding a good writing group was absolutely critical to this process. Extra eyes pointed out things I’d missed and raised questions I hadn’t considered. More information on finding a good writing group can be found in my post Finding the Right Group. All totaled, the revising process took me about a year.
Step Four: Editing
Self-editing is an important part of the writing process. Print a hard copy of the manuscript and edit on paper; mistakes are easier to spot this way. Proof read for SPaG (spelling, punctuation, and grammar) and make sure the book is publisher ready. Do not trust your spell checker and pay particular attention to typos and homonyms.
Evaluate the manuscript line by line, looking for the following items:
- Changes in Tense
- Overly Complex Sentences
- Repetitive Words
- Unnecessary Words
Once all the revisions were done and I had everything the way I liked it, I began a second set of self-edits. Then, knowing how difficult it is to get published from the slush pile, I hired a copy editor to go through my manuscript after I had polished it to the best of my ability. She found errors that needed corrected and made a few structural suggestions which sent me back to the revision process, after which I edited one more time before mailing it to a publisher. In all, editing took about 6 months.
Weak writers should consider hiring a proofreader or copy editor before approaching editors and agents. It is notoriously hard to get published from the slush pile, and having a clean manuscript will help the story stand out. Also, make sure the manuscript is formatted correctly. Avoid strange fonts, odd margin sizes, lots of bold, italic, or underlined text. Check guidelines carefully before submitting. And after all that, the publisher who is currently considering my work, says it still needs some editing.
Once you have a salable manuscript, you are ready to tackle the dreaded cover letter. You can read about that in my post, The Novel is Done, Now What?
Other Writing Process Resources