Swoon Author Jenny Elliott: Inspiration + Perspiration = My Writing Process
Hello fellow Swoon readers and writers! It seems like just yesterday I found out Swoon Reads selected my novel, Save Me, for publication. I’m thrilled to finally get to talk to you all here on the Swoon Reads website!
In this post, I’m going to share my writing process with you. Don’t let the scope of it scare you. I might overdo it, and that works for me. But every writer’s process is different. There’s enough here that I’m confident you’ll be able to find a tip or two that will also work for you…
First, I need a great story idea, as well as more specific ideas regarding characters, plot, scenes, etc. To ensure my muse cooperates, I turn to author Holly Lisle’s lessons in her online How To Think Sideways course. This can be a lengthy process, especially if my pesky muse doesn’t want to cooperate.
I give my subconscious questions or requests for ideas and then try to forget about them. More often than not, my muse wakes me up in the early morning, when it’s still dark outside and I’m in that lucid, half awake/half asleep state. I grab my phone and tap out what I hope will be golden nuggets for the story I’m working on.
When I’m ready to mold those golden nuggets into story form, I begin with author (and fellow Washingtonian) Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method, which calls for a one-sentence story description that I then expand into a descriptive paragraph, a back-of-book blurb, and finally to detailed scenes. This leaves me with a thorough outline. But again, this is an involved process.
I still do the sentence/log line and the back-of-book blurb, but write like a pantser (against my nature) when it comes to scenes.
3. Structuring the Story
Now it’s time to make sure my story isn’t missing any structural elements—that it won’t fall apart when I start writing it. The closest thing I’ve found to what I’d call my “writing bible” is Larry Brooks’ book, Story Engineering. In it, he details key story structure elements to help make a novel both saleable and enjoyable for readers. Once I have all these elements planned, I’m confident that I’m on my way toward making my story the best it can be.
I highly recommend pinning down basic story structure elements and not taking any shortcuts here. But if you (or I) must, at least come up with a solid beginning, middle, and end for a novel.
4. Test Strength of Story Idea, Characters, Plot, Planned Scenes, etc.
Before I begin any actual writing, I like to turn to both trusted beta readers and Donald Maass’s book, Writing The Breakout Novel. It’s always a good idea to remind ourselves of suggestions that could help us to improve our stories and to write the breakout book we’re all shooting for.
If I’m pressed for time, I at least pitch a story’s main points to a few writer friends and make sure to get honest opinions on perceived strengths and weaknesses.
I always try to make time to speed read Stephen King’s book, On Writing, before I actually dive into writing. His advice is short and sweet, and he makes storytelling seem so easy that I’m instilled with more confidence before I begin.
I dive into writing the scenes I have planned and shoot for the 2K words a day/about 10 pages King suggests. But usually I quit whenever inspiration fails, regardless of my daily word count.
I’m a happy writer when I’ve completed a draft and it’s ready for revision. I take time to celebrate, but I don’t fool myself. There’s a LOT more work to be done. I delve into the lessons I took in my mentor, Barbara Rogan’s Revising Fiction course, and also go through the grueling process outlined in Holly Lisle’s online How To Revise Your Novel course. These arduous tasks often take longer than writing the first draft. But the payoff is a much stronger, near-publishable manuscript.
I strongly caution against shortcuts here—if you hope to get your novel published. You don’t need to follow any specific revision guidelines, but you do need to find a revision novel or course that will help you attain that more polished second draft. At the bare minimum, I might begin by giving the story to beta readers to check for strengths and weaknesses, as well as double-checking to make sure I hit all the points in Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering guidelines.
I’m a firm believer in enlisting/hiring a professional editor to complete a “Readers Report” (a basic edit to point out strengths and weaknesses in both writing and my storytelling). Then it’s back to step 6 until any problems have been resolved.
I can usually find a writer friend to swap stories with for critiques/edits. We writers can often spot strengths and weaknesses in other writer’s work better than we can in our own.
In the end, perspiration has outshined inspiration, no contest. And a new novel is ready to greet the world. This is a great time to submit to Swoon Reads! I’ll be forever grateful that a writer friend made that suggestion to me. If you dream and sweat enough, it could happen to you, too!
Hope to talk with you in the comments section. Good luck with your novel writing, no matter what process(es) you choose. And good luck with NaNoWriMo to those of you joining us Swoon Reads authors in the trenches!