The Process – How I Write My Novels, Part 1

Hi everyone!

I’ve been asked more than a few times about how to write a novel, but when it comes to answering that question with advice, all I can say is that every writer should find a process that works for them.

I’ve known (or recently met via blogging :) ) some writers who write their novels out of order: they write the first chapter first, the last chapter second, the big things that happen in between, and then finally they fill in the gaps.  Other writers write from start to finish.  Some writers write the end first and then work up to that ending.

But that only covers the actual writing part.  For most writers, there is an entire process that starts before you even begin a chapter of your novel (which I have touched on before, I call it pre-writing) and ends with countless proofreads and peer reviews.

Image Source - http://www.superwriterssc.com/
Image Source – http://www.superwriterssc.com/

There are of course legends of writers so creative and talented that they don’t need to go through this entire process, and I say kudos to those who are able to :)  But for the rest of us, it is a development process that makes the novel a part of our lives, sometimes for years!

Tonight I’m going to cover the process I have developed that has worked very well for me with two novels, and is the process I am following for my new modern fantasy novel.  Thank you to my friend Christine for inspiring me to start writing this article tonight!

This article turned out way longer than I expected, so I am dividing it into two or three parts.  That way you all don’t have to read a novel about how to write a novel ;)

The Journal

Once I have an idea for a story, specifically for a novel, one of the first things I do is I buy a journal that I will use for that story.  For every novel I have written and am planning to write, I have a journal dedicated to it!

The Sword of Dragons - Journal 1
The Sword of Dragons – Journal 1

I didn’t start out doing this intentionally.  Many many years ago, when I first started developing the plot for what would become The Sword of Dragons, I grabbed the nearest notebook I had (I was in college at the time, so I had a lot of them) and started writing thoughts and ideas down.

Before I even started actually writing book 1, I liked the idea so much that when I found a really cool notebook with a dragon on the front, I bought it with the intent to use it for The Sword of Dragons book 2!  Since then, I started buying actual journals, all of them so far from Barnes and Noble.  However, this year I intend on going to a leather-binding shop at the Colorado Renaissance Festival to buy a hand-crafted leather journal :)

The Sword of Dragons "Story Bible"
The Sword of Dragons “Story Bible”

I also bought a journal that I use for the specific purpose of writing down the hows and whys of everything in the Sword of Dragons universe.  This includes how magic works, the major cultures, the history of Halarite, and character histories and ideas.  I’ve heard the term “story bible” used for these sorts of things, and even though I’ve had this for probably 8 months now, I’ve barely scratched the surface.

Pre-Writing and Plot Progression

Everything leading up to writing the first chapter or prologue of a novel is written in its journal.  It usually starts out with random ideas for key plot elements, characters, settings, and as time goes on the ideas become more focused.

The entire time I am doing this, which often takes days, weeks, perhaps even months, I am formulating in my head the most basic plot progression, and I work that into my ideas in the journal.  Some ideas come together really really quickly, others not so much.  For instance, I started writing down ideas in book 2’s journal in April 2011, which was while I was still working on book 1.  I didn’t actually start writing book 2 until 2013!  My new modern fantasy is coming along a lot faster than that, thank goodness :)

Once I have the basic plot in my head, coupled with the specific ideas I’ve written down in my journal, I begin writing a very basic plot overview.  This is a pretty cool stage for me, because I am blending what’s on paper with what’s in my head and making a coherent story out of it.

For the most part, this is just plot and the most important character development moments, but I usually don’t come up with the little stuff at this point.  That comes much later.

All of my writing journals so far.  From top left: TSOD book 1, TSOD book 2, TSOD book 3.  From bottom left, TSOD Bible, Modern Fantasy.
All of my writing journals so far. The top row is for The Sword of Dragons books 1 through 3. The bottom left is the Sword of Dragons “Story Bible”. The bottom right is for the new modern fantasy story.

Finally once I am satisfied with the general plot progression, I begin the last pre-writing step: I write down the plot of each chapter.  Sometimes these are just vague notes about what I want to happen in the chapter and take a couple of lines, other times it can take up several pages!

When all is said and done, I read over every chapter plot one more time to make sure I’m happy with it, and while I do that, I also transcribe it into electronic format.  Then I begin the best part, actually writing the novel!

To Be Continued

That’s all for tonight, I hope everyone found this interesting.  Click here for part 2!

-Jon

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12 thoughts on “The Process – How I Write My Novels, Part 1”

  1. All great advice!

    How do you stay motivated? My problem is I’ll start writing, then I’ll start thinking, “Well, the odds of this getting published are a million to 1, maybe I’ll just go watch some TV instead” and then no writing ever gets done.

    Enjoy your blog, I’m new to blogging myself, feel free to check me out at:

    http://www.bookshelfbattle.com

    1. Hiya, thanks for stopping by!

      How to stay motivated, well that’s a very good question lol. Honestly in the nearly 20 years I’ve been writing, I’ve never doubted that I would get something published eventually, but I knew I had to work towards that goal long-term. And there have been set-backs along the way, some small, some really big.

      But its the fact that I love writing so much that keeps me going. Even if I never get anything professionally published, I’ll keep writing until the day I die. Never-the-less, publication is what I really want, and I have started to pursue that like I have any job I’ve ever applied for or worked at: with fierce determination and absolute stubbornness!!

  2. Wow! That’s some huge dedication there. I used to write everything in journals, though I wasn’t so organized, more like this is my journal to write every random idea that pops into my head :) My very first novel I wrote longhand in a spiral though! Now I mostly use OneNote on my laptop. I certainly don’t prewrite like you do, I like to dive into the story and see where it takes me first, and figure out the details as I go. That does mean more work in revisions, but I think that works better for me. Everyone is different! Also, I love your journals! Very LoTR, I’d love to have some of those :)

    1. Hi Victoria!

      Sounds like your journal was pretty handy and full of cool stuff! I agree, everyone is different, and it sounds like your process works really well for you :) My proofreads generally don’t require massive changes to my manuscripts, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of things to fix. My latest hard copy for The Sword of Dragons book 2 has a lot of red ink on it right now lol.

      I never expected to find journals like those bottom two in Barnes and Noble, but they work out pretty good. Most of the journals I find there are wide-rule, which I don’t like writing in, but those two are college-rule so I can fit more on a page and my handwriting doesn’t look quite as bad, lol.

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