Nancy's Notes From Florida

Author Nancy J. Cohen discusses the writing process and life as a Florida resident.

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Three Stages of Writing

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 15, 2012

Story writing essentially has three stages: Discovery, Writing, and Revision.

Discovery is the process by which you discover your story. The bits and pieces of character and plot swirl around in your subconscious before you put words to paper. Consider it creative energy at play rather than feeling guilty that you’re not being productive. This can be the break you need before starting the next novel. It’s time well spent to refill your creative pool and to gather ideas. Doing a collage, watching movies, listening to music, working on a hobby, walking outdoors, or reading for pleasure are some of the ways you can stimulate your creativity. Cut out photos from magazines of celebrities who look like your characters and fill out your character development charts. Search for relevant articles to your storyline and sift through them. Thus begins your research. Often this prep time can take weeks, or it can take a month or two. If you’re a seasoned writer, you’ll know how long you need. Be sure to factor this in when you determine your target goal of completion for your project.

When these ideas begin to coalesce in your head and your characters begin to talk to you, you’re ready to begin writing. This is when I sit down and write an entire synopsis. The synopsis acts as my writing guideline, so I always know where I’m going even if I don’t quite know how to get there. This still allows for the element of surprise. The plot may change as the story develops.

At this stage, I’ll set myself a minimum writing goal of 5 pages a day or 25 pages a week. It’s okay if I exceed that amount as long as I meet my quota. Beginning a book is the hardest stage for me. It might take me the first third of the book to get to know my characters, especially if it’s a new series. I’ll collect my critique partners’ comments but I keep forging ahead. It’s important to give yourself permission to write crap during this storytelling phase. Once the book is written, you can fix it. Just get those words down on paper and move forward until the draft is done.

When you finish the first round of storytelling, it’s a good idea to put your book aside so as to gain some distance from it. You’ll be better prepared for revisions with a fresh viewpoint. Use the time to plan your promo campaign, to jot down blog topic ideas, or to write reader discussion questions. When you find yourself eager to tackle the story again, move on to the next stage.

Now come the heavy revisions. First I’ll do critique group corrections. Then I begin my own line editing. This can get intense, because you need to keep a sense of the whole story in your head. You can’t stop, or you’ll lose your train of thought. I might work off and on for 12 hours a day, inching through revisions one word at a time. Ideally, I get the chance for another read-through for more polishing and to double check for continuity. You can’t rush this process if you want to produce what editors call a “clean” copy. When you set deadlines, be sure to allow a month or so for revisions, especially if you forge ahead like I do to write your first draft.

I guarantee that you’ll always find things to correct, but at some point you’ll be too close to the material to see straight or too sick of the project to work on it any more. Then the book is ready to submit. But don’t worry, likely you’ll have a chance to fix things again when you get your copy edits.

Send it off, clean up your desk, file away your mounds of papers. By now you’re thinking about the next book and are getting ready to start the process anew. Force yourself away from the office and take some time off. You’ll return with fresh ideas and renewed energy.


Leave a comment during my blog tour in January and enter to win a set of Paua shell jewelry and a signed copy of Shear Murder. This blog counts, too!

Monday, January 16, 2012
Author Expressions
Topic: Guest Interview

Wednesday, January 18, 2012
The Kill Zone
Topic: Release Day!

Friday, January 20, 2012
Jungle Red Writers
Topic: Conferences, Cocktails, and Coffee

Sunday, January 22, 2012
Buried Under Books
Topic: Setting as Inspiration

Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Escape with Dollycas Into a Good Book
Topic: Weddings and Murder

Monday, January 30, 2012
Savvy Authors
Topic: Concluding a Series


4 Responses to “Three Stages of Writing”

  1. Mary Preston said

    A fascinating insight to your writing process thank you!!

  2. Thank you, Mary, for stopping by!

  3. Very interesting, Nancy. My time spent revising–getting reads from trustys, then my agent, and now my editor–has taken far longer than that blissful, heated first draft stage. Do you find this, too, or does it change as one actually reaches publication territory?

  4. As your writing improves, the time gets less. I still need that month or two to do my own revisions, but then the book goes out pretty “clean” without needing much more except some requested tweaks by the editor.

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