An Inside Look At My Story Creation Process

I spend a lot of time talking about how to write stories. I share the processes that I use and teach. But I wanted to go a step further, and give you an inside look at my specific processes and timelines for finishing my debut novel (ETA: May 2015).

I’m not gonna share all the specifics about the story right now (I’ll be sharing that info really soon), but to give you a snippet, this is the basic storyline: An employee and her manager engage in a secret relationship, but things take a turn for the worse when she breaks it off with him.

Stage One: Planning and Development (Eight Months)

The original idea seed I started with was inspired by a book I read called, Why Work Sucks (And How To Fix It), as well as my experiences working in Corporate America.

I wanted to tell the story of a woman with a tragedy in her past who is trying to make a new life for herself through her career as a music promoter, but she’s so out of practice at love that she doesn’t know how to handle it when the real thing shows up. And interspersed in this story I wanted to share my experiences in the workplace, and tie them into the Why Work Sucks book.

Except that wasn’t enough to make a story. I had a Concept, but no Premise

What I initially worked out was that the Protagonist’s boss would be out to get her, and that’s why her work was being sabotaged. But it just didn’t feel strong enough to me. She needed a much better journey to go on in the story (and a much more compelling reason for the reader to root for her).

That’s when I reached out to my mentor and colleague, Larry Brooks, to analyze what I had so far, and tell me which direction I should go in. Larry gave me some great feedback, as well as a kick-ass twist on how to make the story more conflicted and awesome.

I took everything I had figured out during my initial development of the story, combined it with the feedback I got from Larry, and I started planning out the specific scenes I needed in my story, to make it unfold in a compelling way.

I spent months working through the scene plan. I must have written up at least three different beat sheets and created index cards for every scene, twice. And then when I was so close to being finished, I found an even better way to amp up the story.

So I changed a good portion of it. Re-did my scene cards and took the story in a new direction.

This entire process took me about eight months. The planning and development process can be done a lot faster when you have someone to help you and keep you accountable.

Stage Two: The (Not So) Shitty First Draft (Two Months)

Since I did so much planning and development of my story ahead of time, I was able to bang out my first draft in two months, flat (and my goal was three months).

I had an accountability partner who I checked in with formally once a week via email, and also sent text updates about my progress throughout the week.

Having accountability on top of my story roadmap is what helped me get this draft finished so quickly. 

And because of all my planning this draft was decent. I knew right away I’d have to make changes, but I also knew I could use about 65 to 70 percent of what I already had. Which is pretty amazing, given it was the first draft.

Stage Three: Let It Sit (Three Months)

I usually recommend letting your first draft sit for a minimum of six weeks before you go back and try to revise it. You need enough distance to give yourself fresh eyes.

For me, that distance was about three months, because I had many other projects going on. So my eyes were really, really fresh when I finally went back to it.

Stage Four: Revision (Four Months)

I follow a very specific process for doing revisions on my storiesThis process includes multiple readings of the draft I have, three beat sheets and creating the final index cards I’ll work from when I piece together my new draft.

After I have all the revisions in place and on my revision roadmap, I start rewriting the draft. Since I was able to use 65 to 70 percent of what I already had, I basically spend a lot of my rewriting time copying and pasting from my first draft into the new draft, and then editing for clarity and connecting or changing information to match the rest of the story.

Once my revised draft is complete, I actually go through one final revision. At this point my story is in place and solid. The bones, muscles and joints are all there.

The final revision I do before sending it off to my editor and Beta Readers is on each scene. I go through each scene, one-by-one, and make sure it’s the best I can make it.

I focus on adding more descriptions (I tend to write bare-bones, it’s the journalist in me), fixing up characterization and making sure everything flows and fits together cohesively.

Stage Five: Off to My Editor and Beta Readers (Two to Three Months)

Now I let the draft I send off to my editor and Beta Readers sit for the time being. Instead, I’ll focus on building up my author platform and getting things ready for publishing the novel. I may even work on the early planning and development for my next story.

When the edits and feedback come back from my editor and Betas, then I can get back to work on the story.

Stage Six: Cleaning Things Up (One Month)

This time around it’s all about cleaning up the new draft by making the edits from my editor and Beta Readers. This is the polishing stage for me.

I’m not working on anything major, like structure, characterization, plot, etc. Those things have already been dealt with in Stage Four.

When all this is complete, there’s one stage left.

Stage Seven: Publish (TBD)

Right now I’m at Stage Four with my debut novel. I am more than a quarter of the way through the rewrites, and have a goal of getting the draft to my editor and Beta Readers by mid-March, latest. This is setting me up for a May publish date.

Since I haven’t gone through this stage with my novel yet, I won’t go into too much detail. But I will write another post telling you all about it as I get further along in the process.

I’ve gone several novels in different stages of this process, but so far I haven’t been inspired to take any of them all the way. Until this story.

This story, I’m publishing. (More on that soon.)

Three Things That Made the Biggest Difference For Me

So to wrap things up, here are the three things I did that made the biggest difference for me when it came to getting this story figured out, written and then revised:

1. I Got Really Clear On My Story–before I wasted any time writing a single word of this story, I spent a lot of time (eight months in this case) getting clear on everything.

Who is my Antagonist? What does he want? What does my Protagonist want? What’s her character arc? What’s my story structure? What happens in Part One, Part Two, Part Three and Part Four? How does it end?

These are (just some of) the questions I knew the answers to, before I started writing.

2. I Got Feedback From A Pro Story Coach–I know it’s cliche, but you really can’t see the forest from the trees. Being so close to my story, I needed to get an outside perspective to help me make sense of things.

I would never take a story into Stage Two of this process unless I had my plan analyzed by a story coach.

3. I Made Writing A Habit–when I decided to bring this story to life, I knew I was committing a lot of time to it. And I knew how badly I wanted it.

So I found a way to spend a minimum of 30 minutes a day working on my story (regardless of which stage I’m in). Most days I found more time.

Having a daily habit of working on your story will help you stick with it and move through all seven stages.

My process for this story, from initial “idea seed” to final draft, has taken me about two years.

But it doesn’t have to take you that long.

Working with me, you can go from story idea to completed first draft in 90 days. (Or, if you already have a first draft, I can take you through the revision process in 90 days.) And then you’ll be thismuch closer to publishing your story.

My work as a story coach is all about:

  • Efficiency–we get down to business and get shit done. You won’t spend eight months planning (like I did)
  • Saving time–you won’t waste time writing a single word until your story plan is intact and you’re feeling good about it

Ready to explore what working with a professional story coach can do for your story? 

>> Join me for a free Strategy Call

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