Through years of trial and error, I have developed a very specific writing process that allows me to keep all of my ideas in place and know exactly where I want to go with my stories. Every person's writing process will be a bit different, but it is important to find what works for you. Here are some steps for how I create a finished novel.
Phase 1: Inspiration- Inspiration for a story may come from a variety of places. I find inspiration by reading books, talking to new people, learning about history, meditating (often while driving or taking showers), or recording my own dreams at night. When an inspiring thought hits me, I take advantage of the idea by writing it down immediately. I can promise you, no matter how sure you are that you won't forget, you WILL forget the idea if you do not put it in writing. For me, I keep my inspiration in the notes section of my cell phone. For safe keeping of the especially good ideas, I send screenshots of my inspiration to my email address.
Phase 2: Creating a conflict- No matter how interesting the main idea of the story may be, it will be dull without a solid and meaningful conflict. There may be several small conflicts throughout the course of the story, but the main conflict must be something that will drive the story forward and give the characters purpose.
Phase 3: Creating characters- I will do another post that goes into more depth about creating solid and believable characters. For now, just know that creating characters is a crucial part of the writing process. Write down specifics about who they are and review these characteristics often. You as the writer must know your character inside and out. This will allow you to create believable dialogue and decisions for the characters.
Phase 4: General plot layout- Many writers make the mistake of thinking that they can sit down at a computer with a great idea and just "wing it." While this may be true for some, writing this way will almost always end badly. Be patient. When you are struck with a good idea, your first impulse might be to start whipping out chapter 1 at lightning speed. What some may fail to fully grasp is that writing a book takes a very, very long time. By the time you are finished with chapter 3, the initial fire and excitement about writing your book may have fizzled out. Instead of losing your fire this way, use that excitement and drive to create your whole plotline. This process will be much faster and it will be twice as satisfying as diving into chapter 1. Come up with a solid beginning, middle, and end. Write down the larger conflicts that will add excitement and twists to the story. Use charts, timelines, or even just free writing. Free writing is what works best for me. During free writing, I am not worried about spelling, grammar, or punctuation. I simply "vomit" my words onto the page, letting my imagination run free. Then I go back and tweak the details until my plot line is shiny and smooth.
Phase 5: Rest- Letting your ideas "rest" and "simmer" is a great way to see your story in another light. Come back to your plot ideas after a few hours or days and read them again. This will give you a chance to catch discrepancies or elements of the plot that need to be clarified or adjusted. Repeating this phase 2-3 times is very helpful.
Phase 6: Chapter layouts- After I have created a solid plotline, I move on to chapter layouts. Like the plot layout, the chapter layouts do not need to be well-written. The main goal is to get your ideas onto paper. While creating a chapter layout, I create a play-by-play description of the action, but I do it in the most simple and concise manner possible. Creating chapter layouts will give you a perfect skeleton of your story.
Phase 7: Writing- This is where you want to really take your time and put forth your best effort. Using the skeleton that you created with you chapter layouts, write the story in more depth and detail, using proper grammar, spelling, punctuation, details, and dialogue. Stay motivated and dedicated, and before you know it, you will have a finished novel that you can really be proud of!