Writing & Revising: A Step by Step Process

There are a number of stages that we go through as writers to prepare a manuscript for publication. This differs slightly from writer to writer, though I imagine many of the pieces are similar. The process that Sam and I go through is as follows.

Step 1: Brainstorming

Step 2: Composition

Step 3: Self Revision

Step 4: Editor read-thru

Step 5: Revision

Step 6: Beta readers

Step 7: Revision

Step 8: Editing

Step 9: Revision

Step 10: Copy editing & Proof reading

For those of you who are curious, with Buk Tu we are currently in Step 5, on the verge of Step 6. We are on track to have the book out to our beta readers by June 1.

Now for some explication:

Step 1: Brainstorming

I use the term “brainstorming” loosely, because this step incorporates all of the foundational work that Sam and I do before starting a novel. This is the world-building, plot construction, character formation, and much more. This is a very fun time, particularly I think for Sam. Of course, he’s doing this sort of thing in his head on a near-constant basis. But it takes a balance. Some aspiring writers, especially the strong world-builders, never leave this step. Bent on perfection, they mull over the details eternally, convinced that they are never ready enough to start writing. Do not get caught in this trap. Foundation is important, but the key is to get writing.

Step 2: Composition

When you write the thing.

There is so much variance in this. Some writers take years, some take weeks. Some write at the same desk every time, some prefer to write outside, or others write in cafes. Some write longhand, others have their varying word processors. Some listen to music, the same playlist each time or different music each time, while others require quiet. Each writer’s habits are different.

For me and Sam, I would say it takes an average of 4-5 months to finish a full-length manuscript. Sometimes the actual span is longer, because we take breaks in the middle to rejuvenate. It depends. I write all over the place, but my most productive time is actually when I’m around other people. I have a restaurant near my home that I like, both for the food and the atmosphere, which helps me to focus. When I write at home, I always play music, but the music depends on the type of scene I am writing. I put together a playlist specifically for writing battle sequences, which is all instrumental and particularly intense. And of course, I have my deep love of Scrivener.

Step 3: Self Revision (repeat as necessary)

Following the completion of the first draft, this is an opportunity to go through and tighten things that you as a writer have identified while going through. Particularly as I am a Discovery writer, I often will forge ahead, determined to see the thing through, with the intent to go back and fix things later. But even Worldbuilders will need a chance to fine-tune the manuscript before handing it over to readers of any sort. To truly be a professional writer, you have to be able to check yourself, be a valuable critic of your own work, and kill those little beauties that you love but that ultimately hurt your story.

Step 4: Editor (or Alpha reader) read-thru

Now that we are published and working with our editor, this has become the point where he gets his first look-over. But in the past, we took the same step with our “Alpha reader(s)” which is simply the first person or people to whom you entrust your manuscript. Whether this is a professional or a friend, make sure that this read-thru gives you quality feedback on your work. This should not result in a proofread–one, because you haven’t refined the prose yet, and two, because you’re going to make so many changes that a proofread is superfluous. Wait for nitpicks until later in the process. At this point, you should be getting substantive feedback on story, characters, plot development, and whether the book works as a whole.

Step 5: Revision

Your chance to work on the things suggested during Step 4. Depending on the breadth of the suggestions, this may be a period of a few weeks, to months. While working on The Tale of Telsharu, this took about six months. Fortunately, Buk Tu is in much stronger shape at this same point in the process, and we’ll spend about two and a half weeks in this stage.

Step 6: Beta readers

This is a critical step. It can be fairly nerve-racking, even for experienced writers, to hand their unpolished, still-in-progress work over to readers. But it is very important to get feedback at this point in the process. Beta readers will find all the plot holes, all the cardboard characters, all the little darlings that you couldn’t bring yourself to axe in earlier revisions. But make sure your beta readers will: A) give you actual feedback, not just pat you on the back, and B) Give you helpful feedback. Keep in mind that you get to take your beta readers’ suggestions with a grain of salt. Always do what you feel is best for your story.

Step 7: Revision

Take all that great feedback from your beta readers, and work it through your novel. Repeat these two steps as many times as needed.

Step 8: Editing

When your draft is finally at the point where you feel like it’s ready (though of course it’s not), your editor gets to really take a whack at it. This stage can be particularly intense. If you thought revisions were an adventure before, wait until your professional editor gets his or her hands on it. There are a couple of different levels that an editor may go through, everything from conceptual edits to line edits. For The Tale of Telsharu, this stage (including Step 9) took about four months.

Step 9: Revision

Wherein we do as advised by the editor during Step 8. You may go through these two steps several times.

Step 10: Copy editing & Proof reading

This is a magical stage that catches all the errors that exist in the manuscript. And I promise, they exist. The number of errors in Telsharu made me want to tear out my hair. And, I’m sad to say, no proofread is perfect. Alas. But far better to have that professional proofread, at least to catch the majority.

Next up: Awesomeness.

Be aware that these are simply the steps of composition. There are many other things that happen surrounding the publication of a book. What is important to note here is that writing a book–of any kind–is an involved process. It is a remarkable achievement to complete a draft, but that is only Step 2 in the process. In order to achieve your very best, it is critical to continue refining and strengthening your manuscript. Truth be told, I don’t believe a story is ever “finished.” There simply comes a point–long, long into the process–where it’s futile to keep hacking away at it. That said, I look forward to continuing our progression with Buk Tu, so that soon we will be sharing the next Tale of the Seventh Empire with you.

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About vmech
Writer, Taekwondo instructor, and adoption advocate. Author of THE TALE OF TELSHARU and THE SCOURGE OF NARAK.

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