- by Leigh Duncan
Look up process on Wikipedia and you’ll see over forty definitions. The one I think most clearly relates to us as authors defines process as “activities or tasks that produce a specific service or product for customers.” In our case, that product is the story, the manuscript.
Like the word process, there are different methods for taking that first kernel of an idea and turning it into a full-fledged manuscript, one we can hand to our editors or agents with a fair amount of confidence. Defining our process is crucial to success. Unfortunately, just as we think we’ve figured out our process, something comes along to change it.
Don’t be afraid of that change. Embrace it.
When I first realized there was a book inside me that wanted to get out, I had kids in high-school, a full-time job, a schedule that didn’t allow for much free time. So, I set my alarm for four am, rolled out of bed two hours before the rest of the household, and spent the time until the sun came up hunched over a yellow legal pad, pencil in hand.
With that manuscript, I learned a lot. Mostly that I didn’t know enough to complete a novel. But I also started to see what worked—and just as important, what didn’t work—for me as a writer. I learned that I worked best when I was surrounded by peace and quiet. I learned I needed a sense of where the story was headed before I could write it.
Later, my process changed when I traded my pad and pencil for a computer. It changed again after the kids graduated from college because, once the last of those hefty tuition bills disappeared, I quit work to write full-time. (Or as close to it as anyone can with a hubby to feed and a household to manage.) I recognized that I’m a plotter who works best from a well-crafted, very detailed outline. Music was out. Long blocks of uninterrupted writing time were in. I gave myself permission to labor over a sentence, a paragraph, a scene until it was as perfect as I could make it. That was my process, and it worked quite well through the sale of my first two books to Harlequin American Romance (The Officer’s Girl and The Daddy Catch).
But along with the offer for the next two books came much tighter deadlines. Deadlines that meant I could no longer afford to spend six months creating a rough draft. Or another six months smoothing and polishing. With the first manuscript due just eight weeks after I accepted the contract, clearly, my process had to change.
I trimmed all the normal distractions—telephone, Internet, Mahjong—from my writing days. Developed spreadsheets showing the specific word counts I needed to hit in order to turn the book in on time. With a firm belief in “have laptop, will travel,” I met like-minded authors Lara Santiago, Kristen Painter and Roxanne St. Claire at the library. There, each of us agreed to put a thousand words on the page before lunch, another two thousand before we headed home.
And it worked.
Not only did I meet my deadline with a smooth draft of Rodeo Daughter, the book earned a Top Pick! rating from RT Book Reviews.
And today, Rancher’s Son hits the shelves. A book Coffee Time Romance calls “a wonderful story of second chances and new beginnings—western style,” while Night Owl Reviews said, “It had all of the trademarks that have made Harlequin my go-to source…I loved it!”
All of which is to say, the writing process you follow for your first book may not be the one that serves you best for your fourth or your fortieth.