Everyone writes a novel differently. This is my process and it is by no means the right way to do it. It’s just what I’ve found works for me.
Step 1) I get an idea. Or a character starts talking to me. Or I think of a title.
Step 2) I scratch down whatever comes to mind. This scratching begins an ongoing documentation as I capture the elements of this particular story as it emerges. This includes character’s names, locations, unique aspects, plot twists, random bits of dialogue, what the main character wants, any themes I want to dig into, etc. (This can go on for months or years.)
Step 3) Once enough has emerged and I begin to feel like I’ve got something worth working with, I take a legal pad and brainstorm everything possible that I think might happen in this story. Per one of my writing mentors, Susan Meissner’s advice, I try to have 40 things.
Step 4) I walk away from that list and see what happens—what my subconscious does with those items.
Step 5) I write down whatever from that list has made the cut—and anything else that has come up in the interim—on index cards. I like index cards because they can be moved around. This becomes my scene list and will be what I work with from now on.
Step 6) I start writing. I write in order, start to finish. There has been only one time I got out of order and that was when I was really sad one day and didn’t feel like writing anything happy. So I flipped ahead til I found a sad scene and wrote that. Ideally, I write 1000 words per day for 90 days and at the end of that time, I’ve got a rough draft.
Step 7) I read over this rough draft and make many, many corrections and changes. This goes on for as long as I have until the manuscript is due.
Step 8) When I’ve looked at the document so much I can no longer see it anymore, I press send and, through the miracle of the internet, send my manuscript winging its way to the office of my editor. I try to be happy, take a break from writing, and not immediately jump into another project, though by then several other ideas are usually begging for my attention.
About Marybeth Whalen
Marybeth Whalen is the co-founder of She Reads, mother of six, and life-long reader. She is also the author of two novels with a third out in July: The Mailbox, She Makes It Look Easy, and The Guest Book.