The process isn’t easy. But it’s not hard either.
Some people look at the first draft (getting the idea down) as the hardest part. Honestly you should spend the most time during revision and edits. Formatting is tough when you’re new to the task. It depends on a person what they’re favorite part is.
What’s mine? Formatting. I love to format. It’s fun and comforting.
Back to task. I made up a quick graphic, because graphics make everything better. (No, they don’t. But if you struggle with giving speeches or whatnot to a large group, a graphic draws the eyes off you until you realize, no one cared in the first place.)
I made a post on fb about this:
I’m one of those annoying people that can turn out a decent first draft. I’ve made first drafts that compare to books on market. I’ve made first drafts a typical reader would still give 5 stars to.
That doesn’t mean I don’t go through the stages of revising (making the plot work properly and keeping the characters themselves), editing (getting grammar marks as close to perfection as possible; using the right word in sentences; etc), and formatting (making this story match up to the standards of print or eprint).
If you skip predrafting as a step, that will fall into drafting. Your first draft will need more work if you spend less time planning and plotting. Some of my stories have what would be called a “zeroth draft”.
The reason I’m so good isn’t natural innate talent. I have some level of talent. But really, that talent is the willingness to write no matter the outcome. No one comes out of the womb capable of writing.
I’m good at this because I’ve written. I keep writing. I don’t care what anyone is going to tell me or says. My stories are my stories. I don’t publish for me. That was never my goal (although income is a bonus). I publish for you. If I needed these stories, someone else does too.
Humans need stories. We need to see ourselves in print beating the dragon. The lower the happiness in a country, the more stories are desired. The more they’re needed.
If you need some assistance getting to the final stages of the process, speak up.
This probably covers it all. But we can continue in a more carefully constructed method.
(Or I’ll get distracted by shinys. That’s likely too.)
The Writing Process has several parts: Predrafting, Drafting, Revising, Editing, Formatting, and Publish! (Not publishing. All the ones I saw for middle schoolers and elementary schoolers and high schoolers had publishing as an option. No. Just no.)
For one, we’re not going to truly publish any kid’s work without clearly stating this was a kid’s work. It’s not the same type of publish. Posting on this blog would counts as the school’s version of publish. This isn’t comparable to what real publishing is like.
But let’s start at the beginning. Predrafting. Even I as a pantser and in some cases a true pantser, never go in completely blind. There is something. I have something to help me start the story. Perhaps I don’t know every characters (I never know every character in first drafts), or I don’t know the setting exactly (that’s also rare), or maybe the ending is completely open and unknown (pretty much unknown most of the time). But I go into the story with something. An idea or concept or main character or plot point.
Several of my stories were started with a phrase like “I want to fly” or “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” I’m dead serious. I didn’t have a character. I didn’t have a name. I didn’t know the world or setting. I had literally nothing. But I started into drafting with my nothing and it could work. Because it wasn’t truly nothing.
The problem with my lack of planning and plotting, it means I’m going to need a rewrite. Someone at my level of skill writing wouldn’t need a fully fledged rewrite if they properly predrafted. Most writers need a rewrite. And when most writers do the pantsing thing I did, they’ll need two rewrites. One to get the idea properly in order and another to make sure everything is in line.
I’m talking about rewrites. How rude of me not to explain that properly. Revision is organizing the entire story as a whole. It’s about finding major plot holes and fixing them. It’s about making sure the characters are the same across the story with appropriate advancements. It’s about making sure your story line makes sense. It’s about staying true to the story, the characters, and the plot. It’s harder than it sounds. Revision is best done as a rewrite. There are always so many things that need fixing. The best way to fix them and keep the story intact and orderly is to rewrite the entire thing in order start to finish.
Okay, I know lots of writers (including old me) and finds this task bothersome and annoying. As if they really want to go through what is basically a first draft again. It’s not a first draft. You have all the pieces now. You collected all the ingredients. Now you have to make sure they are placed in the proper spots for ease of use and flow. When I was told to rewrite a decade ago, I refuse. And I could get away with it too. Because if you didn’t see my first draft, you didn’t realize I didn’t do such a revision. The general public looks at my first draft as if further along.
But here’s the kicker: I tried a rewrite. I actually did it. And it was so much faster for a revision. It was so much more streamline in the end. It was overall easier to handle both revising and editing through the rewrite. In some cases I have to come up with new ideas, but mostly I’m just rewriting the old ideas in a better way. This is why I say someone of my level of skill plus a well plotted story wouldn’t need a rewrite.
I spent less time in revision with a rewrite than without it. Try it, you’ll be surprised how much easier revision becomes by rewriting.
Wait, I skipped the main part: Drafting. Do I really need to go over this? Drafting is literally getting the first draft on paper. It’s what a new writer thinks is the most important part. I’m not saying it’s not important. Without the first draft, you have nothing. But this isn’t where you should spend the time. Get the sucker out ASAP and move on to the next steps.
My only note: DO NOT PUBLISH A FIRST DRAFT.
Seriously, it’s not ready. I have decent first drafts. I won’t lie. But they aren’t ready for print. No amount of formatting will make them ready. They need work. And if you’re spending less energy and time on revision and edits than on first drafting, then you are either counting weirdly or you aren’t giving the story the proper treatment it needs.
I’ll agree with those who say put the first draft in a drawer for a while too. You’ll see more mistakes in a few weeks.
So that is predrafting, drafting, and revision. That’s not everything. And don’t think it is. By now you have a decent story. But you can’t hit publish with decent.
Editing is something everyone talks about. This is the easy parts to point out when given someone else’s essay/report/story to edit/review. It’s hard to talk about a story you don’t know, but it’s easy to say you’re using the wrong “your”. Grammar is important. Just like sentence structure is important. Using “shout” versus “yell” can matter. It gives a level of context you wouldn’t get otherwise. You aren’t looking for overall story fixes now. It’s the individual words, sentences, and paragraphs. You want a story to suit the audience, something they can read without issue. Is this for the general adult population, children, or the scientific literate (or another group)? When I worked on technical papers, I made sure to use words a college level person would get. I didn’t have to fear whether this word would go over someone’s head. I could make jokes that a normal person would go “huh?” to. I also had to make sure every chemical spelling was correct. That was a pain, but people would throw insults if I messed up the spelling of phosphorus.
With editing, you will never hit perfection. There will always be mistakes in the final draft. I know I’m going through final edits when I have a formatted copy and can go several pages without noticing an error. Read out loud once more as a double check. Because reading forces you to slow down. If you get lost in the story, you won’t notice anything.
Alpha readers and beta readers are huge benefits. Alpha readers read your first draft and predrafting. They aren’t helping with editing. That’s useless at that level. They’ll help explain how to rewrite a section or note where major flaws or plot holes are. They’ll tell you if the story can be saved or if you should just start a new first draft centering something completely different. Some characters do not match the plot. That’s okay. That’s part of learning how stories work. Alpha readers aren’t there for edits. They’re there to help you revise or support you when you want to give up or give you ideas to keep moving during first draft. They are more partners in the writing journey than critique buddies. That doesn’t mean they can’t also be beta readers.
Beta readers are there specifically to hit on revision and editing issues. Beta readers come in a variety of types. An author needs to realize readers are going to read from their viewpoint and perspective. Is this a sensitivity read? Is it a plot hole finder? Is it a grammar/mechanical fixer? Is it a look at organization and structure? They are looking for something. And if you don’t know, that won’t be helpful. Ask for a specific type of read or find out what they pick up on most. Some people cannot be trusted for grammar mistakes. Some people will never notice plot holes. Some people cannot be used for sensitivity readings. Decide what you need help with and then find someone who can help.
What if you don’t know what you need help with?
That’s a normal feeling. You can get a bunch of beta readers. Some are capable of noticing a bunch of different things. If you don’t know what’s wrong, they may be able to tell you. Keep asking for help. If things really seem bad, ask for an alpha reader. Ask for someone to be a partner in writing. Ask for someone to read different drafts of the same work.
That sounds expensive and time consuming. You can find plenty of beta readers for free if you look, but when we’re talking this level of request, there should be payment of some kind. Many authors would accept repayment of beta reading or alpha reading on their own work. Many of us like to offer free assistance. We mentor because others have mentored us. We mentor because we want the world to have better books being published. There are so many books that make it to market that have the same quality as my first drafts and it hurts me as an author.
So, I really wouldn’t suggest this answer. It’s an answer, but probably not the best one.
The best answer is put the story aside. You aren’t at the skill level as a writer to make it top of the top, so put it aside and write something else. Read more books. Edit other people’s works. Look for articles about random topics. Read newspapers (remember they are quick turnarounds, so they articles rarely have time for edits/reviews). Check out blogs.
Find writing everywhere. How does the small paragraph of labeling work on your shampoo body? What about the entry to a playbill? Do you read the author profiles at the back of the book? Read more. Read that history textbook realizing it’s closer to fiction than fact. Read that chemistry textbook figuring out what they’re talking about. Read poetry and songs and every little thing you can get your hands on. It helps. Every piece of writing teaches you something. Don’t assume the best form of learning comes from your genre or even from prose writing.
I learned the most from writing up technical reports for college. It taught me a way of writing that isn’t found in fiction.
Read more things.
Write more things.
Edit more things.
Then come back to your story. It will look completely different and you’ll go “Oh, that’s what’s missing.” And if you don’t, try a rewrite then.
The final details are really done and handled after everything else. Don’t worry about formatting or publishing until the story is done (or nearly done. My final edits take place after I do my first level of formatting, but that’s the final edits, the final read out loud).
Considering the length of this so far, I think I’ll make up another post about formatting and publishing.
Any questions, please ask. I wrote this quickly after having a short conversation with another writer about the process.
Writing is hard. Having someone there makes it worth it. Let me be there for you. All you gotta do is speak up.