When I tell people I have a book coming out, one of the first questions they ask is, “How long did it take you to write the book?” There’s not a simple way to answer that question because I’m never sure if they mean the first draft, or the whole process from start to finish, which is a lot more complicated, since there were multiple edits involved…and then, do they mean actual total hours logged or the amount of time between the day I first put pen to paper and the day I release the book… The real answer is: it’s a process. My process may be very different from another writer’s; in fact, no two are alike. Here is what mine looked like:
I like to begin my day with exercise; it clears the cobwebs and gets my blood moving. I usually spend the rest of the morning writing. I began writing WISH many years ago, in between working on a bunch of other freelance projects. I’m a very visual person so I always create a vision board. I cut out pictures of characters and settings from magazines and put them together in a giant collage. The vision boards hang right next to my desk so I can refer to them. I also write character sketches for all of my characters. It’s important to understand your characters’ motivations, likes and dislikes before you put them in action.
Through writing WISH I’ve become a big believer in outlines. Creating a good, solid outline before you start writing makes it much easier to look at things from a big picture perspective. For instance, you can tell beforehand if the transition between the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next flows well. I think outlines save a lot of time and headache, but they’re not for everyone. Other writers I know prefer to wing it a bit more.
Ballet and other forms of dance have been a huge part of my life since forever so it felt very natural to weave ballet into my story. I knew it was something that would interest readers because almost every little girl (and many adults too!) dreams of becoming a ballerina and for those who never experience it firsthand it’s an absolutely fascinating world.
The first draft took me a little over a year to write because I wrote in very short bursts, about 30 minutes at a time. But first drafts are usually nowhere close to polished (although I’ve heard that John Irving gets pretty close with his first drafts). I spent the next several months editing and patching up holes in the plot. I put it away for awhile after that. When I looked at it again months later It was actually kind of painful to read at that point—all I could think was oh my God! This is terrible! I have to fix it!
I knew I needed other peoples’ input so I found a critique group through SCBWI. It was fun to meet with other writers around a big table, share yummy treats and give and receive feedback about how we could improve our work. My critique partners asked a lot of questions, often about things that I hadn’t thought about.
Eventually my critique group read my whole novel but it still wasn’t finished, even after the work I’d done revising and implementing some of their suggestions. That was a little hard to sit with but I wanted the book to be as good as it could possibly be. I tinkered some more, focusing on the beginning because it still wasn’t quite there. I read a lot online about what makes a good beginning; I found a lot of helpful tips from agents and editors.
I gave the entire book a final pass by reading it out loud, word by word. Errors or clumsy language in your writing are much more obvious when you hear it aloud. This made a huge difference – not only did I trim thousands of words, everything read more smoothly.
Of course, finishing a novel is just the beginning; there’s still a lot of work to do! I’m now busy writing HOPE, the next book in the Indigo Dreams series. You can find me there most days (after I walk the dog).