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My Fiction Writing Strategy

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My writing strategy has changed so many times. I’d love to say that I have one way to write and explain it, but I’ve learned so much over the last few years. I’m proud to say my approach to writing has changed, and I’ve incorporated flexibility as my greatest asset.

After my bachelor’s in English Lit, I attempted to write my first project, and it failed. I would spend so much time writing a chapter, revising it, and then moving on only to realize that the chapters might need further revision based on how the story played out. I remember refining so many chapters only to have to change them, and I became so disheartened that I abandoned the project.

I never returned to project one, and I determined never to experience that heart breaking exercise again. So I turned to project two with exhaustive world-building. I spent almost a full year trying to perfect a world so I wouldn’t have to stop writing just to make up a religion, language, or even food choice. There are so many memes on social media about those who just world-build but never write. Eventually, when I forced myself to write, the story was a bland hero’s journey that my subconscious wanted to reproduce as a weak amalgamation of wonderful stories I had internalized.

That one failed, too, and I abandoned it.

It wasn’t until thirteen years later, after marriage, kids, a new profession, and embracing my faith, that I found the maturity to start over with my third project. (Third time’s a charm, right?) Having learned from my previous writing failures, I focused on a story I wanted to tell, and I specifically focused on an inspiring grand finale. Then, I worked my way backwards and only spent five to six months on world-building for the series. Using Microsoft OneNote, I had a blast developing a world with the experience to understand that I couldn’t include every little detail and the foreknowledge that some ideas, characters, and tenets of the world would change as I wrote. “It’s okay,” I would tell myself. The scope of the series is grand for a debut at 11 books, and I initially focused on the main trilogy, books 7, 8, 9. These three were to be the focus of the entire saga, and I wanted to start here to get an idea of what the core would be like.

I completed roughly half of book 7 when I hit a wall. I had amazing characters, but they weren’t as deep as I wanted and the plot was predictable. The character backstories took a life of their own, and I knew there were more stories I wanted to write. Moreover, I wanted to practice writing and failing with those earlier stories before I hit the main trilogy.

After much consideration, I decided to write everything from the beginning. I had a rough sketch of each novel and the general arc of the characters involved. Rolling up my sleeves, I developed an outline for book 1 and wrote it in a few months.

I didn’t stop to edit. I didn’t stop to flesh out a small piece of world-building that would be cool or neat. I just plowed through and wrote the book until I completed it.

I revised the first draft once and found several mistakes, but I also realized that I had no basis to self edit beyond some excellent self-edit resources I had found. I gave to the book to four alpha readers. Two of them utterly rejected the book and said they couldn’t read it even knowing it was my debut rough draft. The other two provided excellent feedback and gave me the courage to continue. I completed the first draft of book two and then returned to editing book one, going back and forth between the two manuscripts. I learned that two revisions were necessary for the alpha readers and then an additional revision before my developmental edit.

(Will write a post on the editing process).

To detail the introductory process a little more, I create chapter outlines for each book with a paragraph for each chapter. The paragraph is simple but provides enough direction if my brain goes on tangents. I try to do this the day before I’m going to write the chapter and let my subconscious grapple with it. When I sit down to write, most of the time I stay true to the outline, but sometimes I realize something else needs to happen and I follow my instincts. (This is where an evil laugh emerges from deep inside as I deviate from my plan.) Sometimes my instincts result in a deleted chapter, but I have fun and that’s what matters to me.

So I would consider myself a hybrid pantser/outliner. As I write, I update my chapter outline and augment the world-bible as ideas come to me.

Since beginning this third project, I’m thrilled with my decision to start from the beginning. Everything comes naturally and I don’t have to make things “fit.” I’m developing characters who have taken on their own personalities and I’ll bring everything together for the trilogy.

I will discuss my need for multiple revisions in another post where other authors may only do two before they publish, but for now thanks for reading and I hope your writing or reading journey goes well!

MSR
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