Writing Corner: Finding Your Process

Questions that I see asked frequently are things like… How do you write a novel? Where do you start? How do you plan your books? The simple answer is that there is no one answer of how to write a novel. There are no rules. The only thing you have to do is sit down and write. But of course we know it’s more complicated that just sitting at a desk and bashing out thousands of words then sitting back, satisfied, having completed a novel.

One of the simple ways that types of writing process are defined is planners vs. pantsers.

Planners – Plan their novels extensively before starting to write their novel.

Pantsers – Don’t plan at all, or with loose outlines, and let the story go where it takes them.

Being a pantser doesn’t mean you don’t plan at all, and neither does being a planner mean your novel can’t change direction as you write.

But how do you know which method you use? And which is right for you? When it comes to the process of writing a novel, you have to find what approach works best for you.

When I started writing, I was a pantser. I’d write down vague notes about my ideas but pretty much dived straight into the writing. The problem was I never finished anything. I’d get part way through and not know where to go next, or go off on a complete tangent and not know how to get the novel back on track. So after years of writing this way and getting fed up of never finishing anything, I decided to start planning more. I planned out a novella chapter by chapter before I started writing. I wrote it in a few months. It was the first project I’d actually finished. So I decided to apply this method to a full length novel. I spent quite a while planning and researching before I started writing. And again, I managed to finish it in a few months. I’d found a process that worked for me and having spent years never finishing anything, I’ve now written five novels.

My process goes something like this. I usually have a random spark of inspiration, usually when I’m doing something everyday like having a shower or brushing my teeth. I get those ideas down on paper. Then I wait for further inspiration to strike. As more and more pieces fall into place, the ideas begin to come together in my mind. I have enough of a concept to start actively working on it. I plan out the plot, characters and world building. Often there will be some research involved before I start. For example, the fantasy novel I’m working on now is inspired by Ancient Greece and Rome, so I did some research around that to give me ideas for my own world. Once I’ve built a picture of my story, I make a chapter plan. Some chapters are planned out more than others, but I have an idea of roughly what will happen in each chapter and where I want the book to start and end. Then I begin writing.

Even though I’m a planner, there is room for spontaneity and sometimes as I write my ideas change. There’s room to flesh out characters and world building as I write, as new situations arise for the characters. But if I have an outline down on paper, it helps keep me on track.

This is the process that works for me. But every writer is different. There is no one process to writing a novel. You have to find what works for you. If your process isn’t working for you, experiment with it. Try different methods and tactics until you find a rhythm.

What does your writing process look like? Are you a planner or a pantser? I’d love to hear how other writers approach their writing, so let me know in the comments!

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