Some thoughts on the messy process of writing

On the blog of the always interesting Jane Friedman, author Stuart Horwitz has a good post about the drafting process of writing a book. Stuart suggests writing a draft in three stages—basically a rough draft, a draft in revision, and a polished or “edited” draft. This is just the process that has evolved for me after writing more than a dozen published books.

However, it’s not as easy as 1, 2, 3. It’s more like cooking dinner. Sure, that can be broken down into three steps: prepare the ingredients, cook, eat. But somewhere in there you have to shop for the ingredients and try not to overcook the fish. And set the table. Open the wine. Writing is a lot like that—a process with myriad mini-steps to get things just right.

For anyone interested in how writers write, the thriller author Steve Berry has some good videos on YouTube about his own writing process. He states that he goes through the manuscript about 60 times … that sounds about right to me. That’s not actually reading the book from start to finish each time, but focusing on different areas of the draft, taking it from a mess to something that readers will enjoy.

Berry also talks about how much thinking goes into a book. First, I agree that it helps to have a rough idea of the whole story in your head. Before writing, it is useful to think through each scene, often by brainstorming on paper. Even better is to do this the day before so that you spend your precious writing time actually writing.

And let’s not forget research! For writers of historical fiction, that will involve lots of reading and maybe some travel, studying period photographs, or handling actual artifacts when possible to get the details just right. You will also need a good pen to get writing.

The process of writing a book is probably interesting only to other writers, and not so much to readers. Suffice it to say that writing is a messy and fascinating process that gets the story in your head down on the page. It’s as easy, and as hard, as that 1, 2, 3!


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