My writing process begins with ideas. Usually I ask a what if question. If the story takes place in the same setting as another story, I may explore some other part of that setting, the characters, or how something in that world works. Always there is an underlying idea at work, something that ties it all together.
Then I fill the sandbox. I throw everything I can think of at the moment into that story. I hope it makes sense as I write it, but I can fix, add, or subtract from it after the sandbox is full. All I have to concentrate on in this stage is putting what’s in my mind on the page. It won’t all stick, and that’s alright too.
Whatever my word count is for the story, that’s my objective. I may fall short of that goal and have a story. That’s ok too. There are plenty of ways to embellish ideas, rearrange scenes, or whole chapters. The important thing about a rough draft is for me to tell myself the story. The next stage will sort the rest of it out.
Stage three is where I evaluate what I put on the page. Not every part belongs in every story. I’m still looking at story elements at this point. Does what happens on page one make sense when I reach “The End”? If not I tackle those things first. Once the plot and sequence of events is fleshed out, I have to look at descriptions, dialogue, and characters.
I can still cut, add, or change things. In fact, some of my best ideas for the story don’t find their way onto the page until I’m here. Details I missed before or that need to change as I edit are on the chopping block again. Word count still matters, so somethings that go are replaced, while others are gone forever. I don’t always delete these though. I have an errata file with deleted sections of whatever I’m working on at the time.
The final and longest stage comes next, actual editing. By this point I’m pretty close to my word count target. At this stage I’m focused on how I wrote each section. This is challenging whether I’ve written a short story or a novel. Every word counts in a short story, there is no room for extraneous ideas, or long paragraphs when a short sentence will do. In a novel there is a lot more room for extra words, but as Strunk & White try to remind me, “Vigorous writing is concise.”
Editing takes multiple passes, I’ve rewritten the debut manuscript for Fantastic America at least six times since my developmental edit. The story starts and ends the same way, but the chapters in between have all changed several times. Rewriting is writing, and sometimes it’s the only way to get from mediocre writing to exceptional storytelling. Don’t skimp on the editing, but don’t think you have to rewrite every sentence either.
Once I’ve done what I can, without driving myself insane over the details of the story, I let it sit for a while. Think of this stage as four and a half. Giving myself time to let it go before I give it a last look takes some willpower, but it’s an important part of the process. Authors are too close to their work when it’s fresh on the page. Depending on the deadline I’m facing, I take some time to relax and keep my mind off the pages waiting for me.
I find plenty of things I didn’t notice when I come back, but I try not to be too drastic with any last minute changes. This is the same writing process for all my fiction, whether it’s a short story, novella, or full length novel. Everyone is different, but this is what’s worked for me so far. I expect my process will evolve over time, but for now, this is it!