What are the stages of writing from start to finish? I know what my English teacher taught me but is that how real authors do this?
First brainstorm. Then outline if you do that kind of thing.
Writing the Rough Draft
I’ve started numbering my drafts with 1.0, 2.0 and etc. This way I have multiple copies saved and I can see what stage the draft is in. If I’m about to make a major change in the rough draft that I’m not sure if I’ll like it, then I’ll label it 1.01. Depending on the writing tool you use there are other more computer-y ways to do this but I have some trust issues. It is strange because I usually trust computers pretty well normally. *shrugs shoulders*
Delight in creating, dreaming, imagining, playing with characters and plot. So. Much. Fun.
Maybe it is garbage. That is fine! Do not stress over this! Jodi Picoult once said (or many times said probably) “You can’t edit a blank page.” And it’s true. If this is a problem that you struggle with, I suggest you read a book called Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott. (Warning for my young readers, there is some mild language in the book.) It is a very encouraging read.
I was listening to the Writers of the Future podcast this week and one of the winners of the contest said the most important thing you can do is finish what you start. If you get the shiny idea syndrome (you abandon one story because you have a new, better idea) then you will get really good at writing story beginnings and terrible at writing endings.
Let it rest… a day, week, month, whatever is needed. For me it was a month while I learned more about professional researching and Marc records in grad school.
Read through, fix, and tweak things. Cut words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs as needed. Add scenes to fill gaps and plot holes.
Read and keep tweaking it about 5 billion times until I think my eyes will bleed if I look at it again. It has to be perfect by now. Right?
Version 2.0- Alpha Readers
I’ll do a whole post on Alpha Readers and Beta Readers sometime soon. Basically Alpha Readers are the first people who see your rawest draft. Sometimes this might be your husband or wife or friend, but ideally this should be a group of writers that are at a similar skill level as you. For more information about types of writing groups take a look at this post.
Give the draft to writing group friends (your Alpha Readers) for editing. They say:
Check for passive voice and you switched tenses repeatedly. You need a comma here. No you don’t.
Passive voice! How did I not check for that already, Duh!
I know. I get it. Sorry.
Once they give you their feedback, decide what you are going to do with the feedback. I highly recommend you listen carefully and take their advice on the majority of what they say.
Version 3.0- Beta Readers
After you’ve made revisions based on your writing group feedback, your story is looking pretty good! Surely it is ready for submission now!?
Now give it to some friends who consistently read the type of story you’ve written. Ask for their feedback. This can get a bit tricky. I usually loan them a copy of the story with a letter attached. I don’t usually give the story electronically unless they understand that it cannot under any circumstances be shared with anyone due to copyright risk.
Beta readers are not usually professionals, so I usually give them this letter with the document. This helps them know what kind of feedback is helpful.
Quite often, I’ll do several rounds of this with various different readers.
Once you evaluate that feedback and make the appropriate revisions, it is ready for the next stage.
Version 4.0- submission
NOW, it is time to submit! It is the beginning of a whole new journey fraught with sorrows and joys. …and sometime hair pulling…and tears…self doubt. Oh, but the JOY makes it all worth it! I can’t tell you the feeling to see a subject line that reads “Story Acceptance” in your email feed!
I’ve had great success getting useful feedback thanks to this letter.