By Megs Payne
What exactly is the novel-writing process?
First, let us address what it is not.
The process of writing a novel is not the unfolding of your story. Setting, character, plot, premise—none of these have any bearing on the writing process.
It is not how you choose to write your story either.
Theme, structure, mood, tone are all irrelevant to process. It is not filling out note cards, outlining or engaging in mood-setting rituals. Tools are not the process itself.
The process of writing a novel is the process of bringing a story out of
the void and onto the page in a form the writer is satisfied with.
Or mostly satisfied with anyway.
There are seven main functions of the writing process: conception,
building, immersion, drafting, rest, revision and editing.
These are functions, not steps, because steps must be done in a particular order, and the unfolding of the writing process is as unique as the writer who uses it. Each novelist’s expression of these seven functions may be different and, indeed, may even vary for the same novelist from book-to-book.
Drafting is at the heart of the novel-writing process. It is the most necessary component, for it is the goal.
Drafting has two components that are inextricably interwoven: The first component is deciding the words of your story; the second is fixing those words in writing or on the computer.
The two components can be done in two separate steps, if preferred.
In my very first draft of my first novel, I actually played out words in my head while in bed, edited them, memorized them, then wrote the scenes in the morning. Drafting can be done as a single act, the words only coming as they are written. My first completed draft of a novel was written in this fashion.
Building is similar to drafting, but instead of deciding words, it decides the elements of your story. This too can be done mentally or on paper, inside or outside of the process of drafting. Outlines, characters and character profiles, languages and scenes you plan to write are all examples of building.
Just as there are writers who begin their novel-writing process by drafting, there are those who begin by building. Tolkien said once that his stories were created to expound the histories of his languages and the races who spoke them.
My own stories have always sprung from a premise. My current novel-writing project could not be conceived until I conceived a world and a set of rules for it to happen within.
You can build before drafting, while drafting but separately, in the draft as part of the act or after drafting with an eye to revise.
Many writers use all of the above.
Those who have never written often believe that all novels begin at conception. Conception is a unique part of the process that can come from any other part. Conception is the defining moment that turns the writing process from being just the process of writing to being the process of writing a particular story.
This is frequently the same as deciding the idea of your novel, but may also be deciding the theme, topic, feel, character, beginning, ending or climax. This defining moment can be difficult to pin down, but most writers can remember the exact moment they entered their novel’s world.
Immersion into the novel and writing process can be tricky and may have little to do with actual writing at all.
Writers have often listed rituals such as lighting candles, securing feline companionship or using a favored pen or typewriter as integral to their writing process.
The mind reinforces memory based on their concurrence with other memories, so writers can reinforce the mind’s connection to their story by always doing certain things while writing it.
Some writers choose a more literal form of immersion by reading through previously written material. This can smooth the gears to write what comes next or serve as a necessary medium for editing and revision. It is possible to immerse mentally by playing the story forward and back like a movie before writing and even to revise the course of the story in their mind.
As vital as the need for immersion is the need for withdrawal and rest from your story. Rest gives space for the subconscious mind to work through snags in your writing or blank spaces you have yet to fill in.
It allows the conscious mind to forget the written words and see it with fresh eyes when necessary. It lends perspective and enough distance to prepare you to part with your beloved words in the act of revision.
Revision is a time of re-envisioning your novel. It can be stopping and remembering your initial vision, altering that vision before, during or after drafting, or the generally understood process of envisioning how to get from the mess you have to the book you want.
Editing, though generally lumped in as the same part of the process, is another beast entirely.
Editing is the function of refining and polishing the words of your story until they have the sound and shades of meaning you want. It is fact-checking and grammar tweaking and pulling out your dictionary when the spelling is off.
Where revising is about the content of your novel and the elements of your story, editing is about the words themselves.
And when those words finally match the dream that came to you out of the void, then your novel is done.
Or mostly anyway.
About the Author: Megs Payne writes poetry, flash fiction and science fiction fantasy from her home on the Web. She is still a recovering procrastinating writer.