Saturday, August 19, 2017

My Writing Process (2017)


My Writing Process

Every author and writer has a different process for drafting and editing. They go through a different number of drafts or stages before getting to the book you see on the shelf. This is my process:

1. Rough Draft

Usually I use NaNoWriMo to get this draft down, though in grade school I used a notebook for the same effect. For the rough draft, you are not allowed to stop and edit. You have to churn out a certain number of words a day, and it's not going to be pretty. It's a mess that you cringe to think of anybody ever looking at. It might even include passages like these (from a yet untitled novel about griffins):

 Tyra rolled her eyes. “What about the other women in the vale?”
“Aren’t any. White Leader’s a top hunter. He gets first pick of humans, and until Runa he always went for males.”
#It seems like all this explanation should be earlier. Or maybe not.

His other two picks were both men, tall and strong. Both were fishermen. Name1 had a wife and two youngsters at the village. Name2 was older, with his four children all grown. None of them spoke to each other. 

The chain that had been attached to her collar lay in a corner.
Edit: she’s still wearing it.
Tyra examined it. 

A girl screamed again. Tyra was getting tired of the screaming, though her heart had sped up again without her permission. (I counted the word 'scream' ten times in this section).

Since I am not allowed to edit, I sometimes go back and add a line explaining the changes that I'd like to make. Occasionally I include several paragraphs brainstorming how this section ought to go, or outlining what I think should come in the next couple sections. The rough draft has no chapters, but I do have heading titles to help me find the sections quickly.

Again, the rough draft is for nobody's eyes but mine. If you're working on NaNoWriMo, congratulations! You've got a start! But please please please do not assume that you have a full publishable story on your hands. Yes, amazon will publish it for nothing, but it gives indie authors a bad name.

Ahem, coming off the soapbox...

2. First Draft

This draft takes the longest, often several months. I start by listing out every scene in the novel with a few key words. For example, here's the first chapter of The Spectra Uprooted:

Part 1: Introduction 
Chapter: Harvest Festival 
Wrestling match 
First raid: numbers scare off raiders, Bract worries they will be back
Zuri is brought in/Keita’s identity revealed 
“captured” by grasslanders

I move these clips around into chapters and add in a few lines for scenes that I think ought to be added.  My goal is to have the story build to a climax in each chapter, with all of the scenes in that chapter adding up to it.  Once I've got this guideline, I fill out the scenes that I've described that still need added. Also, because I'm slightly OCD about page numbers, I keep track of chapter length on an excel sheet, which I've already described. I also make the changes that I noted during the rough draft. 

When I'm almost done with the first draft, I go back to the beginning and read each character's voice as if I were doing an audiobook. This helps me make the characters' dialogue distinct from each other.

By the time I am finished with the first draft, I have a decent story that I am willing to share with beta-readers. The plot and characters are in place and in order. Going over each scene allows me to rewrite most of it, so some of the more awkward prose gets corrected.

3. Prose Draft

The prose draft mostly involves cutting extra words to make the story flow better. Red flags of words to change include could and 've had to, -ly adverbs, passive voice, etc I like to use prowritingaid for a free analysis of my first few pages, looking for problems that I'm likely to find in the rest of the work. After working on the computer, I request a physical copy from Staples, where the extra words are more obvious. Here's a page from The Spectra Uprooted:

This copy can also be shared with beta-readers. I can leave it with friends to add comments.

After I make the changes I've marked on my physical copy, I format to the correct page size and add the maps, acknowledgments, and other material. Once this is done I start working on the cover, which means that I can't make any more major changes without risking a change to the cover's spine width. My beta reader and I go over it one more time and then I request the proof copy.

4. Proof copy

There's nothing so exciting as getting the proof copy in the mail! At last, it looks like a real book!

Now I get to read the whole thing, pretending I'm a reader. I also circle small changes and especially typos that need fixed. I might have to add a label to the map or make sure all the fonts match. And, if I'm designing my own cover, I check to make sure that's working (if not, I have to order a proof all over again, which is not fun).


From start to finish, this process takes about a year to complete. I choose my own due date when I first start writing, usually my angel baby's birthday (September 5th). That gives me time to work on marketing and side projects and preparation before NaNo comes around again. 

So, there's my writing process. What's yours?

2021 Note: The books I used as samples are now published. Mira's Griffin changed quite a bit since those snippets! Keita's Wings (the new title for my first series, of which The Spectra Uprooted is third) is now complete. I've written a new blogpost with more information about my writing process, along with changes I've made in the past four years.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Excel for Writers

 One afternoon my college roommate, an accounting major, found me pouring over an excel sheet. “You use excel?” she asked incredulously. 

“Yes,” I answered. “It’s useful for writing.”

She still stared at me. She didn't seem to believe that a wildlife conservation major with a perchance for fiction would be using the same program she used in her classes.

Excel can be a useful tool for the writer. In fact, I was using it as early as middle school for keeping track of my characters (and their Pok√©mon—this was 2000).

Here are some of the ways I use excel for writing fiction. Some of these are influenced by genre. I write fantasy and create my own world, so I need to keep track of more information than, say, a romance writer might. Others are useful no matter the genre.


“How do you name your characters?” comes up frequently in writing circles. I am something of a name enthusiast. I read name dictionaries and online lists for fun, and when I come up with one that fits my story, I add it to my name excel sheet. In The Spectra series, I go for names with meanings that tie in to that character’s clan. For instance, characters from the Cole clan have names meaning fire or red. The columns go across the top and then I fill in the information about each name. I include a column for “bearer” so I know if I’ve already used the name.

This way I can sort the names by gender and/or clan to help me narrow down the perfect name for my character. For instance, if a new male Sprite character appears, I can scroll down the alphabet to ‘S’…
And I’ve got a whole list of possibilities.


I also use excel to keep track of the history of my fantasy world. At the top, I have a column per year (around 300 years). This way I have a quick reference for births, deaths and marriages; important events in both kingdoms and characters’ lives; and the reigns of kings. I broke them up by clan to spread things out. It may be chaotic for someone who doesn’t know the world, but I can find what I need and that’s what’s important.


Have you ever read a series where one of the characters switches middle names between books? What about eyes that change color? Annoying, right? A character sheet on excel can be a great way to keep all those little details straight, especially for minor characters. You can add whatever details are most important to you. Here’s an example of mine (by the way, I hid the columns for spouse and children—too many spoilers!). I can sort by book in the series or parents/birth order if I’m looking at a whole family.

Chapter Length

This is a tool I use to help with pacing. I keep track of the name and number of each chapter, and then copy down the page numbers from my table of contents. This calculates the length of each chapter for me, so I can determine if parts are too long or two short, and compare one book in the series to another. Yes, all of the Keita’s Wings books have the same number of chapters—I find it a useful tool for book length, but if this is unappealing to you please don’t. I can be OCD about some of these things. The different colors on the chapter names are groupings I find useful, based off of characters and setting.

Agents and Reviews

I’ve also used excel to keep track of agents and reviewers that I’ve contacted about my books. For reviewers, I listed their name, website, when I submitted to them, and what response I received (information has been removed for privacy). I colored the rejections red and the accepted invitations green:

I did the same thing for agents before I decided to Indie publish, which also included columns for hints I’d dug up about the sort of books they were looking for.


Now here’s the sheet that my accounting roommate would approve of! Where is money going and where is it coming from? It’s important to keep track! At the end of the year I move the total costs, total profits, and year total to another table so that I can compare years and look for patterns… and do taxes (shudder).
What, you don’t think I doctored the profits, do you?

Word Count

I must admit, I had to get my husband’s help to set this up. I participate in NaNoWriMo each year, and one of the most motivating parts is entering your wordcount into their tables and graphs. So we put together a table that can give that same motivation throughout the year, with adjustable goals (let me know if you want a copy and I can email it).

Not Excel, But Still Useful 

Here are a few other useful files I keep for my books that are not on excel:


I chose to use ‘Word’ for the calendar, but excel would work just as well. This helps me keep track of the dates in my story. I have to make sure that events are realistically spread out, especially when my characters are traveling!

Oh look, I left out a few death dates...
Family Trees

Main character Keita meets her cousins and other relatives in several of the Spectra books, so keeping track of them all is important. This information is on my excel timeline as well, but it’s handy to see them grouped by family in a linear, visual way. I have one of these for most of the major characters (including Keita’s mother’s side of the family on a separate sheet).


I have a ‘master map’ which shows the entire Spectra continent and all important places. This helps me get traveling dates straight (see calendar) and lets me visualize where the characters are and what directions they are facing. When I publish a book, I take the relevant section of my master map and turn it into an insert for the front of the book. Here’s the map that was included in book 3, The Spectra Uprooted: a map of the kingdom of Spritelands, and a small inset of the whole continent.

Various computer programs can be a real asset to your writing. These are the ones I’ve found the most useful. Feel free to try out any new ideas and let me know how they turned out!

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