Each of my books goes through the same general process described below.
- Pre-draft work: Zing’s the goal here. When I have enough zing crackling about my brain focused on the main parts of story (setting, characters, problem, and plot) the story will, of its own accord, open its eyes and look up at me.The zing takes many forms, including summaries, maps, lists, scenes, musings, and outlines. I usually need a sketch of the main characters, setting, magic (if I’m writing fantasy), problem, and plot. Each of these sketches requires me to answer some key questions about its subject. It’s odd, but I usually can’t get out of this stage unless I do some preliminary drafts. For whatever reason, until I write in scene, my characters lack blood and vitamins. Perhaps it’s because only when writing in scene do the characters actually speak and think. Whatever the cause, I need preliminary drafts to give my people a voice and life. Eventually, I’ll get to the point where I can outline the first bit of the story. This is when I move to the next stage.
- Preliminary outline: This states the core problems of the story along with a summary of as many scenes as I can see (usually the first 100 pages or so) and general ideas about other events, including the ending.This outline might change any number of things. But once I feel good about the initial setup and direction described here, it’s time to start to write.
- Draft 1: This is the developmental draft, and it always ends up different from the preliminary outline. Or I should say that the preliminary outline evolves as I draft. I don’t send this draft out to readers; I already know it has issues. What I’m trying to do here is get the story out.
- Draft 2: Draft 1 revised for the edits I know I need to make. This is the draft I send out to readers.
- Draft 3+: Drafts revised for story feedback from first readers and editors.
- Copy Edit: Non-story edits to manuscript.
- Galley: Non-story edits to book in its publication form.
Draft 1 takes me the longest since I’m actually building the story as I go, outlining as much of the story as I can see, writing those events, outlining the next bit of the path I see, writing those events, repeating that process until I reach the end.
However, the outlines always change as I go. As do things about characters, setting, and problem. And sometimes I have to go back and start over. So because I never can see everything from beginning to end when I start, what I hold in my hands at the end of draft 1 is usually different from what I’d expected when I began. And that’s not a problem; it’s just part of following the zing.
Usually by the end of draft 1 I will have finally made enough decisions (always following the zing, even though the current might be weaker in some spots and greater in others) that the story is fairly stable. Drafts 2 and 3, while sometimes featuring big revisions of specific scenes or sequences, are usually not radically different.