How to write a book- from idea to finished rough draft

from Fritz Lang’s seminal 1927 science-fiction classic Metropolis

Gentle reader, this post will start a series on how to write and publish a book.

I know, I know. It’s a big topic. I’ve invited guest bloggers for part of this journey to speak about their areas of expertise.

This first post is about how to get from an idea to a completed rough draft. I will share my process, such as it is, in hopes that it helps someone else in their journey.

How do you start a book? Well, you start with an idea.

How do you transmogrify that idea into a fully-fledged story? That’s the hard part. Avoid the techniques in the picture above! Some people just start writing, no idea of where the story will head- these persons are referred to as pantsers. Plotters start with an outline of places, story arc, characters, and outline everything before they start writing. Lots of writers float between these goalposts.

My personal process is a hybrid version of the plotters and pantsers. I will start with an outline, like for the first three chapters, and I have an idea where I want my story to end- the big climactic scene. Once my world building takes hold, I need to revise and change things a lot, which is why over the years I realized it makes no sense for me to outline anything more that the first bits of story. My outline is a work in progress, and is a combination style sheet and novel scaffolding  than I can use as a basis for a synopsis if needed. For me, the outline serves as a repository of all things plot, world-building, character and setting.

Once my outline is started, my creative juices are flowing and I start writing. I don’t worry too much about anything at this point other than getting the words from my head onto the page. I tend to write sparsely at this stage with just enough detail to define setting, time, place, and character.

The next part is where I hit the rapids.  I typically produce roughly 10,000 words before the creativity starts to wane. Doubts creep in. I question my hypothesis, my choice of character, my choices for anything, and in general believe all that I have written at this point is a pile of garbage. Which is sometimes true.

WHATEVER YOU DO DO NOT HIT DELETE. This is the part where the harder work for me kicks in- here is where I go back to my original outline, my original world-building, my original character sketches, and get everything back on track, reform the characters and plot to conform to my original idea, as I have invariably gone off the trails by this point in the work. This helps me refocus and plow through the next 30000 words or so. Then I write the ending- not because my story ends at 40000 words, but because I need to see the finish line and this propels me forward the rest of the way.

After this scaffolding is complete, then I go back and fill out the rough draft with details, correct POV, fixing plot and character issues, which adds another 10000-15000 words.

Then I take pivotal points in the story, write them out on index cards, and rearrange them into HOW I WANT THE STORY TO BE. Of note- the pivotal points may not be an entire scene- it may be a conversation with a character, or a particular plot point. These go on the index cards as well. I’m not Mozart, so there is a LOT of rearranging and gnashing of teeth to get the pacing right with the story choices made at this juncture.

Then I start the first edit.

Seems like a bit of work just to say I am done with my rough draft, but I cannot slog through the mess of a NANOWRIMO type of verbal regurgitation, and I stall out and just keep going back and editing stuff if I don’t force myself  to plow ahead.

THE key for me, at the end of a rough draft, is to know the motivations and conflicts of my main characters, have the plot arc set, with setting and tone and voice trending in the right directions.

All the rest, I fix with editing. I also have a decent rough draft to work with, so my editing is *faster* than if I just verbally vomited on the page and try to sort it out.

Your mileage may vary.

Next post, I talk about how I keep all these things sorted until I can put them into my final document— organizing your workflow up next!