The authors of We Write Fantasy each have their own process for reaching “The End” in their books. While no method is the one for everyone, it never hurts to look at what someone else is doing to help yourself learn and grow.
My method has changed over the years and what worked for me 7 years ago would not work for me now. Part of that is working around my available hours, and part is knowing where I need to be in the story and what I need to get done.
Step 1: the idea
This is the easy part for me. Inspiration hits and it’s all I can do not to drop everything to chase a Shiny New Idea. My method for dealing with these distractions is a file called Story Ideas where each of them go, neatly categorized by titles like Vampire Cats and Witchy Love Story. Most of them never get used, but on occasion, one idea will keep coming round, building on itself and growing those notes into their own separate document. When I have about 3,000 words of notes on the characters and scenes, I have a pretty good idea that’s a book that will actually get written.
Not there yet? Check out the Where Ideas Come From post for some inspiration.
Step 2: the plot
When I first started writing, my plot idea was one sentence long: Good elf goes bad. I look at that now and–laughing–shake my head, wondering how on earth I ever made it this far. But that was what worked for me then; I dove in, no idea what I was doing, and had nothing but fun. My first book took me three months to write. I have been revising it for the last seven years.
Now, I’ve learned enough to know I need to actually have motivations for my characters. I need to know where they’re headed and where they’ve been. I need to have a well-rounded villain and a fully developed world. I need rules for magic, valid reasons my protagonists can’t get what they want, a vague idea of possible resolutions for the end.
A story needs a plot.
That plot needs to be visible in some decent, accessible way. Which brings us to step 3…
Step 3: the outline
I was a pantster for my first five books. No more than a vague idea of where they might end up, my characters were free to roam their worlds and write their own story. I was baffled by authors with post-its covering their walls, with detailed timelines and inspirational photos tacked above their screen. I could not understand doing the work of a 30-page outline when you could just write the friggin’ book.
I am semi-reformed.
I do still allow my characters to make changes as the story grows and do not outline every detail, but I’ve found Scrivener and use the cork board outline tool to make general plot points quickly viewable as I write. It’s so easy to work with and make shifts to the plot and I’ve found it prevents those pesky days when my brain is just not inspired to write. All I do is refer to the outline, pick a scene, and go for whatever words will come. Whether or not you outline, knowing where you need to start each day is a wonderful way to not get stuck.
Step 4: writing
This is the hard part. It used to be fun, until I realized I needed to write well. Some authors do drafts, some do full re-writes, but I prefer the method below.
Each writing day, I re-read and proof the chapter I’ve written the day before. This does two things: it improves my manuscript to save me revising work later and it gets my head in the right place to continue on to the next scene. By working this way, when I reach the end of the book there are far less typos and plot holes and I’m that much closer to a true The End.
Side note: I’ve always written consecutively, but many authors find success pulling scenes from their outline that they are excited to write. They build not from front to the back, but from their heart to the world. Jumping around only works for me if I move from one POV to another, and those still need to be in consecutive order for my brain to roll with what my fingers are typing.
Step 5: revising
Revising can vary depending on your process as you write. Many authors reach the end and have huge chunks of story to delete or entire chapters to rewrite to fit the way the story has grown. Because I’m constantly revising as I go (and because I usually do a full re-read at midpoint and a chapter or two before the end), my revisions are usually minor: catch typos, enrich details, grow the world with small details here or there.
This is the point a critique partner is super helpful. Mine is lovely and she reads my chapters as I post them to an online document sharing program (Google Docs is perfect for this if you want to give one a try). A good crit partner will point out flaws that missed your too-close-to-the-story heart and typos your eyes were blind to. They’ll also give you their impression of the characters and storyline and help you fill in any holes.
Crit partners are a wonderful asset because sometimes just being able to talk through your plot with an actual writer who gets it, gives you what you need to wade through the soggy middle (the toughest part of the book) and stay inspired to finish your story. And because you’re partners, you’ll have a chance to look at their work and gain experience catching flaws you might not notice in your own.
Step 6: more revising
This time, in the form of beta readers. Send your story out to author friends, professional readers, anyone you trust who also loves books. Don’t try to force a non-reader to give you good advice. Your mom loves you, but she may not know what your story needs. Let your family be your cheerleaders and your betas be your guide. Good betas will catch typos (there are always more typos), give their impressions of the characters, what they loved or didn’t love about the story, and how satisfied they were with the ending. Beta readers may not know *how* to fix your story, but they’ll know when something is wrong.
Step 7: editing
Always use an editor. Always. You do not know what you’re doing wrong if you don’t know that it’s wrong in the first place. A professional editor will help keep you from looking like an idiot by pointing out the difference in words that mean something other than what you assume them to, punctuation that is in the wrong place, annoying words readers literally don’t want to see, and a plethora of other easily-correctable flaws.
Make your story the best it can be.
Step 8: a final pass
By now, you’ve read your story a hundred and sixteen times. Read it again. Find more typos, fix them, and send it back out to new betas.
This book feels like it will never get done. It will, and someday you’ll be glad you put in all the extra work.
Step 9: formatting
Design your book interiors for ereader, print, or whatever other format it will be going out into the world as. I use Vellum for both print and ebook, and have in the past used professional formatters to create my interiors. Always include the required front matter, as well as links in the back to your website, your social sites or newsletter, and a list of each of your other available titles.
Step 10: start again
That’s right, time to start all over. You know you love it, the punishment that is writing a book. Do it again. This time will be easier, I promise. 🤞