The Writing Process

- 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.

17 comments

  1. I’m so excited that Rancher’s Son is finally out. Yay! And I know I say this about all your books, but honestly this one is my new favorite.
    I’m so glad the “Library Study Room” process worked so well for you.
    It has certainly brought two awesome books into the world. As you know, Rodeo Daughter is my other favorite book.
    Long live Library Days! :)

  2. Lara,
    No matter what you call it–Library Days or Writer’s Camp–this new process has certainly increased productivity. And not just for me. You finished 7 books at Writer’s Camp this year…and hit the top sales list at Siren/Bookstrand.
    Thanks for including me in the library study room and for your constant support!
    Leigh

  3. Leigh, Congratulations on another wonderful story. Love how the group of you inspired each other. That’s something I love about writers in general. Good luck with this book. I LOVE the cover!!

  4. Judy,
    You are so right about writers supporting other writers!
    Thanks for stopping by today–I look forward to your own post here soon.
    Leigh

  5. It’s always interesting to read the different way writers work. I appreciate that you sacrificed Internet time and Mahjong from your day; I’m sure you enjoy those both, but knew they had to go, for awhile. Nice post!

  6. Naomi,
    I’m fortunate, now, that I can write full-time and no longer have to juggle kids’ schedules and a day job. By the end of next year when hubby takes early retirement, I have a feeling my process will change again.
    Leigh

  7. Leigh,

    I’ve loved all of your books and I can’t wait to pick up Rancher’s Son tonight. You have a true gift for storytelling.

    I love that the Library Room helped some of my favorite writers turn out such wonderful books. Thanks for sharing your process with us!

  8. Leigh,

    Thanks for sharing your process. It’s tempting to imagine that books just pop out from your creative mind, but the truth is it takes work and discipline. I’m so glad you’ve persevered, and I’m looking forward to reading RANCHER’S SON!

  9. Lynne,
    One of the things that helped me the most was taking Candace Haven’s Fast Draft class. Her infectious enthusiasm convinced me it was possible to write fast and well.
    Leigh

  10. Ruth,
    Oh, I WISH it was easy. I watch some of my writer friends and I’m green with envy at how quickly they shape a story. For me, it takes time and quiet. :)
    Leigh

  11. Wonderful post, Leigh! I’m one of those writers who also needs quiet (probably because I talk out loud to myself while I write!). Congratulations on the new book. Can’t wait to read it!

  12. LOL, Maria! We had a guest at the house once whose normal process was to get up at 3 in the morning to write while wearing noise-cancelling headphones. Another friend writes while blasting hard rock through her headphones. Yet another writes in 5-minute bursts sandwiched between 20-minute email and text sessions. Whatever process works for you, I say, “Go with it!”
    Leigh

  13. Yay! I just downloaded my copy of Rancher’s Son and am anxious to dive right in — but have to drive downtown so I can get hard copy books for my favorite author(s) to autograph. So glad I live near to you and can listen to your good advice in person. See you at the signing!

  14. I’m so glad Rancher’s Son is available. I can’t wait to download it.
    Candace Haven’s Fast Draft class helped me as well. (My new motto is I can do anything for two weeks.) It really is amazing how our writing process changes over the years. Thanks so much for sharing your process. I might have to try the 4 a.m. wake-up strategy.

  15. Karen,
    If you wanted, you could download a free autograph for your e-reader from http://www.authorgraph.com. But it was fun seeing you at the book signing!

  16. Brenda,

    Oh those 4am mornings! I still resort to them when I’m close to deadline.

    Leigh

  17. Thanks so much for helping to celebrate Release Day for Rancher’s Son on the NINC blog yesterday! I enjoyed our time together and look forward to chatting with everyone again soon.

    Leigh