My Writing Process

23 Apr

Another bjournal post inspired by a Kindleboards topic. The question was, “How do you write a novel?”

Here’s my answer:

Step One: The Idea. Sometimes it’s a character, sometimes it’s a concept, sometimes it’s watching or reading something and thinking “Okay, but what if …”. Wherever it comes from, I usually think about it for a few hours. If it doesn’t go away, I start a new text file and write down whatever I’ve been thinking about, expanding if necessary. If I’m still excited about the idea, and if I think it’ll work as a story, I move on to step two.

Step Two: Notes. Lots and lots and lots of notes. For my latest I’ve got twelve seperate text files, varying in length from a thousand words up to around ten thousand. I also do research in this step, and light outlining–if a scene comes to me clearly, I’ll sometimes partly write it out. This is also the step in which I figure out what the story is, and how best to tell it. Also technical things like POV and tense. Also also characters. Lots of notes on characters.

Step Three: Outlining. I start at the beginning of the story and I start writing what happens. I think of this as the ‘telling’ part of my process. In this part, I’ll write things like, “Charlotte is really angry here, she’s frustrated that she can’t do anything and even more frustrated that she’s being prevented from doing it. She realises this doesn’t make any sense, and this frustrates her still further–or wait, no, maybe C2 points out that this doesn’t make sense” etc. If I get stuck, I’ll go to my ‘scratch’ text file and try to figure out the problem there, rather than clutter the actual outline too much. My scratch notes tend to have headings like “The Force’s Shields”, “Why Doesn’t Chass Just Take The Drugs?”, “Getting To Powerstone” and so on. Once I’ve figured out the problem I return to the outline and continue from there–quite often what I’ve written in the scratch file works as an outline, so I copy and paste. My outlines tend to be about a third of the size of the finished manuscript, and could be considered an extremely rough first draft. During this step I also tend to stop a lot to do research, to make sure the things I’m talking about are at least remotely feasible.

Step Four: Writing. Once I have the outline finished, I hammer out a proper first draft as fast as I can. I have two rules in this step: “Don’t read back” and “Don’t spend more than a minute on a single sentence”. Most of what I write in this step is going to be rewritten anyway, or it might turn out that parts need to be re-tooled to make room for the brilliant new idea I have halfway through, or sometimes I decide something isn’t necessary and so whole sections get taken out. There’s no point in ‘polishing’ at this point. Reading back is also just wasted time, unless I need to check something–better to be moving forward, writing, and getting the first draft done. Also, I often make deviations from the outline, especially with characters. Sometimes I reach a point and think, “No, she just wouldn’t do that” and so some alterations are necessary. Generally, though, I stick to the outline, at least at a high level.

Step Five: Editing & Editing & Editing. Once my first draft is finished, I go back and edit it. And edit it. And edit it. Three passes seems to work well for me. The first pass is mostly for pace and structure. The second pass is more for characterisation and high-level story stuff. The third pass is a ‘tightening’ run, getting all those sentences cleaned up, and making sure everything flows smoothly. During these passes I often have ideas for things I could add–just little details that add to the story and the colour of the book, usually nothing major.

Step Six: Proofing & Proofing. I’m comfortable with two proofing runs after three editing passes, but it depends on how many errors I find. If on the second proofing run I find more than one error/25,000 words, I’ll do another run. I use Text-To-Speech on both of these proofing runs, to pick up errors. In my opinion, a proof utilising TTS is worth at least three proofs with eyes alone.

Step Seven: Conversion & Formatting & Finalising. Usually takes around half a day, but it depends on how much ‘extra’ stuff the book needs. I love this step, after all that fiddly editing and proofing it’s brilliant to do something technical and solid.

I’ll also have put a cover together sometime during the other steps, sometimes before I’ve even started, but generally about halfway through the process. Also, I hardly ever go straight from step one through to step seven on a single book, I break it up with other projects.

I’ve used this process for the last three books I’ve written, and it works really well for me.


Posted by on April 23, 2011 in Of Writing


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5 responses to “My Writing Process

  1. Mo

    April 23, 2011 at 15:42

    Interesting stuff Ben, thanks for sharing! I’m thinking I’ll probably change my writing methodology for my next piece, and I may adopt some of your techniques.

    • Ben White

      April 23, 2011 at 15:56

      I arrived at this process after, oh … a dozen books? Started off not outlining at all and I have three unfinished manuscripts lying around doing nothing because of that, and a further couple that are finished but not worth publishing. Miya Black was the first book I properly outlined, and the difference between that and everything I’d written before is huge (although I feel it’s got probably the weakest plot/story of any of the books I’ve published–I was definitely still learning at that point!). So, for me at least, outlining is absolutely vital if I’m going to write a decent book. Then after Miya Black I refined and expanded my process with every book I wrote, until the point I’m at now where I’m pretty much completely comfortable with things.

      But I think that part of every writer’s journey is figuring out what works for you–part of the reason I do so much note-taking and outlining isn’t because I have a tidy mind, but exactly the opposite, my thoughts are scattered and my memory is terrible. I have trouble even thinking about plots unless I’m actually writing them down–difficult to think except ‘out loud’, as I write my notes. So this is what works for me–but I’m happy for anyone to pinch any part of it, if they think it’ll work for them, too 🙂

      • Mo

        April 23, 2011 at 16:03

        Yes, you’re right of course, everyone is different! I may adopt some of your techniques, I’ll probably try out different things and see what works for me as I cobble together some kind of process. That’s one thing I like about writing, all the constant learning one does.

  2. Buddy Gott

    April 23, 2011 at 17:26

    Thanks for sharing your process, Ben! I’ve recently come to the conclusion that I need to outline more than I do. Like yourself, I’ve got stories sitting around that I wasn’t able to finish because I had no idea where to go with them. Kind of frustrating, isn’t it? 😀

    • Ben White

      April 23, 2011 at 17:33

      But it’s always nice when you think, “Oh! I can salvage that idea from this thing I’ve already written!” 🙂 I think outlining is good because it does save you from writing yourself into a corner–I find it easier to figure out plot holes when outlining too, since it’s more ‘high level’. And to be honest, a lot of my earlier stuff was just pointless–no story at all, I was just writing for the sake of writing.


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