The Chaos of my Writing Process

Hey guys, I received inspiration for this blog post from Julie Sato’s post, “On Step 4 of a Stairway to Heaven…Or Space.” She has a great blog and I find her writing to be incredibly motivational in getting me to get to work on my own projects. Anyways, back on topic, I want share my writing process for you guys and give a bit of description for each step.

Idea Generation- I start my stories from an idea. Sometimes an idea comes to me, and I write it down in the notebook I carry in my back pocket, sometimes I have a deliberate brainstorm session, and sometimes I brainstorm using the ideas written in my notebook. Regardless, I will not start writing a story unless I have a primary conflict, protagonist/antagonist, and a setting in my head.

Outline- The outline serves as my map for the story, but I do not use it to plan my route, only to plan my destination. I try to take the major elements that I brainstormed and find a situation that puts them all against each other. In other words, I plan the climax of the story before I begin writing. I will mark down some rough plot points to lead me there and then press my fingers to the keyboard.

Rough Draft- This is pure creative output. I write almost every word that comes to mind about the story. I don’t care about typos or grammar. (I hate seeing the red squiggly line for spelling errors, so I will fix those as they come up.) My goal is to get the story onto paper, and it doesn’t matter how awful it is. This stage is not about quality it is about completion.

2nd Draft- After writing the rough draft, I realize I created a tornado that has ripped my manuscript into barely legible pile of rubble. The 2nd draft is geared toward cutting out major sections that do not push the plot forward, rewriting for continuity, and fix any typos/grammar errors that I can see while reading through.

Alpha Readers- Once the manuscript is relatively one complete story, I give it to a group of alpha readers one chapter at a time. I try to get at least 10 different people reading it. Each alpha reader will evaluate the work differently, so by having a large pool I can get a clearer picture of what is going on. I’ve had some readers only focus on typos and ignore everything else, others really focus on characters but ignore pacing/plot/setting, and there are readers who try to rewrite every sentence to make them sound better. This list can go on for days. In the alpha reading stage, the only feedback I actually use are the tidbits that deal with: character, clarity, pacing, description, plot-holes, and emotional impact.

3rd Draft- This is where my stories start to take on a form that doesn’t look like a complete pile of fecal matter. I use the feedback from the alpha reading stage and try to fix everything that I can. I will rewrite every single chapter until I feel excitement from what they contain. This is my most loved/hated part of the whole process.

Developmental Editing- This is where I will get feedback on pretty much all of the exact same elements I was looking for in the alpha reading stage, except it is from an editor. I know this sounds harsh, but this does not include the, “Editors,” who are really just other writers. Editing requires a completely different mindset than what is required from a writer.

I am not saying that writers cannot be editors or vice-versa, but I will only use an editor who: has a lot of experience doing freelance editing or has a fulltime job as an editor, previous work that I can inspect, a degree that is related to writing, and be willing to complete a sample edit. I try to find editors in my genre, though I do know one guy who worked primarily in nonfiction and did a wonderful job with my short story that ended up getting published. I understand that there are wonderful editors that do not have a college degree, experience, etc. but I am not willing to risk it. Anyone can call themselves an editor, but that does not mean that I am willing to trust them with my manuscript.

4th Draft- Once I have the editor’s feedback, I revise the story just like I did in the 3rd draft. After this stage, my characters, plot and setting are pretty much set in stone.

Beta Readers- Just like the alpha reading stage, I try to get at least ten beta readers for many of the same reasons, though they should all be different than the alpha readers. I give my beta readers different instructions, and I want them to come to the story fresh. The first difference is that beta readers receive the entire manuscript, not just one chapter at a time. I tell them to read it, as if they were reading a completed book. While they are reading, I want them to be on the lookout for two sets of things: errors related to typos and grammar, and areas that they are confused about something. At certain points through the manuscript, I will insert a place that asks the readers a short list of questions about how they feel about the novel so far.

5th Draft- Using the feedback from my beta readers, I will fix the typos and the areas with clarity/ interest problems. Then I will read through all of the questions that I asked, if something common keeps popping up, I’ll fix it. If I feel that the complaints are more dealing with personal taste, I will ignore them. Once I believe that the story, not the writing, is as polished as I can make it I will end the 5th draft.

Line Editing- This also goes to an editor. He/she will read through the story and give me feedback in regards to polishing the sentences.

6th Draft- This is pretty obvious, but I polish my sentences.

Read Aloud- Again, this is obvious. I read aloud and fix any areas that sound funky or fix any typos I uncover.

Proofread- I have three readers go through the story and mark any errors that they find.

Once I have completed the proofreads, my manuscript is finished and it is time for the submission process, rejection, and hopefully acceptance. As most of you know, I am currently at training for the military, so I am unable to comment back. Once I return, I will spend a couple of days trying to catch up on anything that you guys say.

8 thoughts on “The Chaos of my Writing Process

  1. I’m glad I read this and I’m glad I was reminded that the first draft does not have to be filled with fancy words and perfect everything. In many attempts where I scrapped the project, I was obsessed with getting it right that first time. Hopefully I will be better now.

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    1. Thank you so much, and I know how you feel. There are several points during a project that I feel insecure about it. I am just know finishing up the fourth draft of my second novel, and I feel like it isn’t good enough. I still push through the revision process, because that is the only way it will get better. I hope you are having a wonderful day, and I look forward to seeing your posts.

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  2. This is fantastic! I’ve completed a first draft of my novel, been through one round of edits (mostly so it doesn’t burn my eyes when I read) and am now going through my next round of edits. I’m effectively re-writing the whole thing as I go, chapter by chapter. From your descriptions, it feels like it’s the 3rd draft. But although I’m fixing plot holes and correcting the “story,” I can’t help but do a copy edit as well, and I’ve slowed up to the point I’m hardly working on it at all. I think I need to realise I can’t do ALL the edits in one go. But I don’t want to give the draft to an alpha reader knowing the writing itself could be much better… I want it to be the best I can get it before I even let an alpha reader take a look. Do you have any reservations about this? Giving a draft to someone knowing full well it still needs polishing?

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    1. Thank you so much for reading, I think that alpha readers will tend to focus in on the most obvious problems. Sometimes you already know what they are (for me it is usually character problems) but sometimes they can give you insight into something you didn’t think of. I think it is fine to give a manuscript to an alpha reader before its complete, but if you still feel like you can make it much better on your own, then you might want to go ahead and fix those areas first. Your alpha readers might notice the same things you already know, and not have the insight to find the problems that you didn’t notice.

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  3. Hi, I just discovered your blog. I’m bookmarking this blog entry so I can reread it later. This may help me on many levels. Steven, my questions are: (1) Are you giving compensation to your alpha and beta readers for their time? (2) Are you hiring freelance development and line editors? Also, would you have the same editor be both your development and line editor for the same piece of work? (3) How easier or hard has it been to find willing readers and editors for different drafts as you’ve been using your system? Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for reading, you have no idea how much it means to me. In regards to your questions, I do not give compensation to my alpha and beta readers. I look for them on a volunteer basis, but I do acknowledge within the work that they helped with. I do recommend hiring an editor and I use the same for both, but I could see how you could get added benefit from having a separate person for each. I find it fairly easy to find readers, generally I will trade a chapter with another writer friend online so we can both get feedback. Editors are trickier to find, because anyone can call themselves an editor. My editor is a grad student at my local university. She works for the University and as part of a work study, so they pay her to help other students edit their work.

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