My Writing Process Explained!

For me, writing is all agony, start to finish. I love having written, but I absolutely hate writing. It destroys me, just completely slays me.

But my process goes something like this. And, interestingly, while it’s never “easy,” it goes from most to least difficult the closer I am to finishing.

First, whether it’s a screenplay, play, or book, I outline. This is just me writing a bunch of notes. But here’s where I figure out if there’s even a story here worth telling. I never stick to my outlines, but I always write some kind of one, and I think it saves me months of time. I’m much less likely to write myself into a corner, and I don’t need to write unnecessary stuff so I can “discover” my story. I think, in general, it also makes the whole thing much tighter and move faster.

But God, it’s hard. I mean, you’re literally creating something out of nothing. There! Is! Nothing! Harder! In! The! World!

Then I write a first draft. I sort of go manic for this, trying to finish it as quickly as possible — two months, tops. This is really hard too, because even though you have a story, you don’t have any of the character details or the world-building or the voice. Insanely difficult for me. Once again, you’re creating something out of nothing.

Once I’m done with the first draft, I revise and refine for weeks, until I’m finally satisfied that it is a “story” of some kind — that it deserves to be told. Then I let my partner read it, and I hate him for a while for not thinking it’s brilliant and I shouldn’t change a word. Then, of course, I rewrite it based on his feedback. This is all difficult, but it’s getting a little easier, because now at least I know the voice, the general story, the theme.

He reads it again, I rewrite it again. At this point, I’ll give it to my early readers as well. When they don’t love every precious word, I hate them for a few days too. Then I rewrite yet again based on their notes.

Finally, if it’s a book, I send the book to my editor (if it’s under contract, which it hopefully is). At this point, the book is usually in pretty good shape. But it’s never “perfect.” I think every book I’ve ever written has had at least one major flaw that no one until now was able to see. But fortunately, my editor was. So I rewrite it again for him or her.

Sometimes I might do a second major rewrite for an editor, but this is pretty rare. In fact, I can’t ever remembering doing it, but it must have happened at least once. And, in fairness, I have had a number of books lose their first editor at some point in the publishing process. That usually means the new editor comes in and has another round of notes — and sometimes those notes are the opposite of the first editor’s notes. That’s enough to make you feel a little insane, and start to suspect the way a person reacts to a book, even a very good editor, is all completely subjective and random. But it’s usually best not to dwell on that too long, because down that road lies madness. No, truly, I’m not kidding.

After that comes tinkering, polishing, copy-editing, tweaking, stuff like that, until the book is more or less ready to meet the world.

Weirdly, even after the book has been type-set and bound into ARCs (advance reading copies), I always find lines and sentences where I think, “What?! That’s horrible! How did I not see earlier how bad that sentence is?!?!” There’s literally something about seeing a book type-set that lets you appreciate it with new eyes.

If the project is a play or a screenplay — not a book — the process is a little different in that there are many, many more people you have to please: producers, directors, the office receptionist who all have notes. The final process here is usually a series of readings, where you hear the work being read out loud by actors. But it’s a lot like the ARC stage in books.

As I said, none of this is ever “easy.” But eventually the project does get done.

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2 Responses to “My Writing Process Explained!”

  1. Sierra 12 April 2013 at 12:17 am #

    Hahahahahaha. Nice. Sounds like an emotionally-restrained excerpt from my journal. Do you write consistantly, or do you write depending on when your characters are willing to work with you? =)

    • Brent Hartinger 12 April 2013 at 2:57 am #

      If I waited until I was in the "mood" to write, I would never write. So when I'm in writing mode, I keep a very tight, very strict schedule.

      But when I not in writing mode, I'm sooooo not writing. I might make a note or two, but mostly I don't think about writing at all.

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