I recently filled out an author interview at Smashwords, and one of the questions had to do with my approach to the writing process. I’m posting the answer to that question here on the blog, since there was some interest in the question after my commentary on the release of Draft Beta. I answer this and nine other questions in the full interview, so check it out!
What is your writing process?
Red Soil Through Our Fingers is my first novel-length story, so the scale of it is something new for me. The process has really made me reflect on my approach to writing.
I usually start by free-writing about an interesting premise or idea that has been bouncing around in my head for awhile. If the free-write leads to some characters in an intriguing conflict, then I’ll see where it goes. At some point I’ll be able to see enough of the vision for the story that I can stop and lay out the basic skeletal structure of it.
The next step is usually to write a Draft Zero (first complete draft with story structure) from beginning to end, modifying the story skeleton as I go if better ideas come up along the way. Draft Zero is a draft in the loosest sense. It has a complete story, but the character arcs probably don’t make any sense, the ending details of things and people don’t match what I started with, the events don’t necessarily happen in a logical order, and large swaths of it read like stream-of-consciousness. Think of Draft Zero as a novel-length memo to myself about what want to write about. At this stage I find it easiest to draft in a minimalist editor, such as FocusWriter.
Draft Alpha is basically a complete re-write of Draft Zero, but this time telling the story as it should be told. I do character sheets, import the story into Scrivener and make scene cards, do the research to flesh out the details of the setting and technology, etc. I’m paying much more attention to structure, character arcs, pacing, etc. Draft Alpha is clunky, but at least it mostly resembles an actual novel. I then iterate on Draft Alpha to get Drafts Alpha 1, Alpha 2, etc.
I send Draft Alpha out to alpha readers, which mostly means the writer group I meet with physically here in Boston. People I trust to see the story in a very raw form, see what I’m going for despite glaring problems, and make recommendations for major revisions. For me, just because of my initial idea-centered and plot-driven approach, this usually means a of character work, which is the aspect of writing that I find most challenging.
Once the work is done going through significant changes in the “big things”: characters, story structure, major plot points, etc, then I will label it Draft Beta. Iterations of Draft Beta go out to a wider circle of beta readers, and is a sort of “taste test” for what remaining revisions and polishing needs to be done. I try to include not only my close writing circle, but subject matter experts in the technology or settings involved, avid readers of science fiction, readers who do NOT normally read science fiction, and people who are not necessarily passionate about the issues involved in the story.
The major difference between Alpha and Beta drafts is in the scope and type of feedback that I am seeking. For Alpha Drafts I am looking for writing feedback from writers, and making significant changes including even complete rewrites. For Beta Drafts, I am looking for story feedback from readers, and generally making smaller changes around a core story and characters that are mostly set.
After final revisions, a copy-edit, and some polishing, then I submit the final manuscript.