According to my third grade teacher, the writing process goes something like this: prewrite, draft, revise, and publish. In the prewriting phase, you must use a worksheet with connected bubbles to brainstorm. There is simply no other way. Then, you must organize these ideas and develop an outline. Next, write a rough draft. After the rough draft, you switch papers with some other people in your third grade classroom and they offer suggestions. Now comes the rewrite based on feedback from other third graders. Finally, you simply publish your book!
I’m here to tell you that your third grade teacher might be wrong. There is no one right way to write! Every writer has a different process. For most of us, the process includes shaking and crying, moaning about being a hack, and periods of black depression.
This is what my process looks like:
~ Get hit with an idea. This might happen while driving or doing dishes, which are all very romantic endeavors. Pull the car over or abandon the dishes (don’t worry, people married to or living with writers are used to abandoned chores) and start furiously making notes on the first available surface. If your child has used the wall as a canvas like mine has, feel free to use the wall. You are going to have to repaint anyway.
~ Brainstorm. Most of this happens in my head. There are also little post-its all over house and notes in my phone. They wouldn’t make sense to anyone except for me. Sometimes your spouse might wander through with a furrowed brow and say “what are all these little pieces of paper everywhere? Can I throw them out?” Unleash holy hell. Your spouse will not make this mistake again.
~ Research. If your nosy spouse or significant other interferes again, they might be concerned about why you are researching death by poison or hiding a body. Be mysterious. You want your partner to always be a little nervous. If you don’t have a spouse or a significant other, you can skip several of these steps.
~ Plot. Or Pants. One can either spend weeks organizing a thoughtful outline that is 20 pages long…or one can just start writing with abandon. Either way, your family will feel ignored and sad but they will be fine. Studies have shown that this step in the writing process will likely not leave your family with permanent emotional damage (there are many other ways to achieve emotional damage).
~ Lose all confidence in work. Put the work aside with great hysteria. Something might not be working so expect to go around sighing a lot and getting irritated when someone asks you what the problem is.
~ A solution! Start writing again. Get it all out.
~ Ah, now you have written a rough draft. You are almost done, right? WRONG. Start editing. This will take nine times longer than writing the book. Sometimes you will be completely impressed with your work and get totally smug. Five minutes later, tears will drip down your sad little writer’s face and onto your keyboard. Edit until you hate yourself and your book.
~ Now you are ready for beta readers! Expect to hear “you are the greatest genius of our time.” Actually hear “this needs work, that needs work, this doesn’t make sense, what?, etc.”
~ Continue to edit. Agonize a great deal.
~ Send your work to your editor and wait with great anticipation. Once again, you will expect to hear “you are the greatest genius of our time.” You will actually hear, “the following needs work: a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z, and a few more letters.”
~ Edit some more.
~ Send back to the editor. Rinse, repeat.
~ Finally, your book baby is all done!! How will you publish? If you self-publish, don’t even ask me how it works because I don’t even know.
~ Write, rewrite and rewrite query letter. Research the perfect agent for you. Send four million query letters.
~ Wait for agents’ replies. They will get back to you quickly! Some will only take 75 weeks to reject you and some won’t contact you at all. Agonize over whether or not to nudge those who don’t respond.
~ Try not to take up drinking and/or emotional eating while the rejection letters stream into your inbox. The first rejections will hurt. Eventually, you will just get used to it. If ever you get a personalized rejection, you will be excited because that kind of rejection is pretty rare.
~ Rewrite query letter and do another edit.
~ Start all over with query process.
~ This could go on for a year. You might give up. You might change your whole strategy. Don’t give up. One night you could be emailing your mother-in-law and notice you have a new message. You assume it is one of your daily newsletters about green DIY projects for your home. You have never done one of the projects but it makes you feel “greener” to get the newsletter.
~ Jump up screaming and shouting to the alarm of your family because the email says “Dear genius author, we want to publish your book!!!”
~ Sign contract. Edit more. Edit yet more. Wait and wait some more. Approximately one thousand years after you started this process, your book baby will be born.
~ Final step: Accumulate extreme wealth and fame. Hire a butler and a driver and move into Hearst Castle.
Wasn’t that easy and simple? I don’t know why everyone doesn’t write books!