When I first wrote my short story collection, I really went into it doing what I knew how to do best. I had been writing for years, since as long as I could remember, so it was a matter of just going through the motions. It was a fortunate thing—not everyone can say they can go through the motions, “another day at the office,” when it comes to writing a novel. For that same reason, we’ll be detailing how to write a novel, from start to finish.
But before we begin, let it be known that this is just one way of going about the writing process. Each writer has their own way to go about writing a book. This such method is just my own, and I can vouch for it. It’s never let me down, but, it might not be your ideal method. Whatever the case, it’s a starting point that you can tweak to suit your needs best.
Chances are you’ve never heard of “Brainstorm Writing,” because if we’re not mistaken, it’s not a coined phrase (it is now). However, it’s a common approach to brainstorming: the act of writing for the sake of brainstorming onto the page. It’s not meant to be serious, or even used material for the book, it’s simply a way to think “out loud” on the page. You may begin with a story that you end up not liking, or you might write a sentence that leads you to an overall outline. It can literally be anything that sparks your interest and gets you excited to write the book.
Things are getting a little more serious now, with the second step. In order to write your book, you need a game plan. Now that you have material that sparks your interest, do some research. For instance, say you wrote a mini fable about a hare and his kingdom. You’ll need to decide if this is a short story collection, or a children’s book, or even a comic book. What about a full-fledged novel based on this fable? What do you want to accomplish?
Once you decide, look up rabbits, and see which type speaks out to you. What about the rabbit do you find the cutest? He’s supposed to be a king of a kingdom, so perhaps look up castles, kingdoms, or even rabbit holes. Maybe the kingdom is in a rabbit hole!
Keep going with your research and use it as fuel for all creative thought. The goal in this step is to brainstorm and develop a game plan: a broad view of your vision.
Create An Outline
This is a very critical step in the book writing process because it’s your blueprint. If you’re writing a novel, it will be one storyline, or at least a main one, and a couple of branching storylines. Your outline should reflect that main story line and then connect to each branching storyline. Each branching story needs its own separate outline.
Meanwhile, if you’re writing a short story collection, you’ll need an outline for each story you plan to incorporate. Furthermore, you’ll need to organize each story in a way that makes the most sense. For instance, when I organized my short story collection, I very much wrote mini stories that reflected a certain emotion, or event, that was significant to me for a specific reason. There’s an arc there, from despair to acceptance, that is reflected in the order of the stories.
And remember, a basic outline is enough. You don’t even need a major thesis for each section of the story, you just need an overall thesis—a moral for the story, a lesson to be learned. Below is a basic example:
II) Hare Kingdom—Conflict Begins
III) A Worthy Opponent
IV) Hare Develops Plan of Attack
V) Hare’s Kingdom Is Set On Fire (Only Partially Burned)
VI) Hare Gets Final Piece of Puzzle Needed to Defeat Opponent
VII) Conflict Is Resolved
*Moral: Even grand, stable things are subject to weakness, and opposition. Nothing in life is untouchable, but with a little effort, you can overcome challenges.
The Dreaded First Draft
Now that you have your outline(s), you can get started on the dreaded first draft. It’s dreaded, because as writers like to comment, it’s usually pretty terrible. Think of it as you telling yourself the story. Whatever you write, it’s going to be edited extensively, so don’t fret. Our best advice here: don’t edit as you go along, just leave everything alone, and focus on the writing. The reason behind this is that whatever you write will be enhanced, modified or deleted anyway, so any effort put into editing now is a waste of time.
If that troubles you, consider setting a timer. Give yourself an hour or two to write a chapter, or a short story. In that time, you need to be done, from start to finish, which leaves you with absolutely no time to do any edits. Do this enough times, and you’ll have yourself a completed first draft, which is an amazing feeling, only comparable to eating a warm chocolate chip cookie with some fancy coffee.
Rereading & Developmental Editing (2nd Draft)
Once you have a first draft, the second half of the book writing process begins, and it’s an annoying one (sorry). Now, it’s time to edit extensively. You could easily have an editor take a look at it, and make it look pretty, but if you’re a writer, you can edit, or at least should be able to. When I write a book, I consider an approach followed in publishing, which we covered in a previous article. Hence, I start with developmental editing: looking for weak plot points, character arcs, connections, transitions, and storylines.
Remember, editing weak points in your story comes first, before the grammar, before the spell-check, before any minor edits. Otherwise, if you start with those, and work your way up to the tedious editing (developmental), you’ll just have to redo all the minor edits again. It will be an altered story, or an entirely different story, by the time you’re done with developmental editing.
Oh, and if you think this step takes a little bit of time, try a conservative 2-4 months, depending on the length of your story.
Rereading & Grammar Checking (3rd Draft)
Once developmental editing is done, you should move onto grammar and spell-checking. This is self-explanatory. Use spell-check on your computer, then go back in manually, because computers should never be entirely trusted. Be meticulous, because any typos still there upon publishing will forever remain there.
Proofreading (Final Draft)
This is the final slice, and the one I love the most. Wait a week before doing this, as you’ll have fresh eyes, and a step back from the whole thing, before reading. Personally, I find a quiet, pretty spot near a pool, the woods, or a coffee shop, and I just read for hours. Through your reading, consider how intrigued you are by your own story and characters, the arcs and the plot lines. Look for typos, grammar mistakes, and whatever else you possibly can. Mark it all, if need be, then do your final edit.
And voilà, you’re done with your novel! Pat yourself on the back, do your happy dance, and throw a party. Invite your closest friends, your family, and do a toast to creativity and the human condition (broken or not, it gives you tons to write about). You’ve completed a novel, and it’s not only organized, it’s edited. Written and edited by none other than you.
That being said, if you want to avoid the editing process altogether, consider publishing with a small press, as they have editors that work with you. Big publishers will edit it, but won’t take as much time, as their goal is to publish as many books as possible in a calendar year. Another option is freelance editors, which is a good alternative, especially if you’re self-publishing.
We wish you the best on your journey. Happy writing!