I sent off the final manuscript today. I can't tell you the title...because it's a secret. I can tell you this is my sixth novel, it took me a little over three months to write, it's YA contemporary fantasy, set mostly in California--and it's very California. Except for that bit in Nova Scotia.
I finished this book in June, put it away for a couple weeks, and then picked it up again for an edit pass in the middle of July, handing out copies to a few readers, including my daughter Chloe, who is like a reading machine. She reads twice as a fast as I can, with complete comprehension. So, when I give her a book, she'll have it done in one day with feedback the following day. Crazy. I think she should be an editor. Or a lawyer. She's pretty good at arguing her points and suggestions.
I wrote this book almost entirely in the Pages app on my iPad, using the dockable keyboard. (Yes, the on screen keyboard is impressive for what it is, but it would be torture to have to write a book on it). This was an experiment, and I have to say it was completely successful.
At a high level, here are the steps I take to write a book.
1. Idea. We all have story ideas, and they can spring into our heads at any time. I keep a journal so I don't lose them. Story ideas are all around us. Look at this (Mystery trader buys all Europe's cocoa beans) and this (Man detained at airport with 18 monkeys) and you try to convince me the news isn't full of stories. You don't even have to look very hard.
2. Characters. I always--always--draw or paint my main characters at least once (See my painting at the end of this post for a typical character study). I think it's necessary to see what your characters look like. If you don't want to draw them, find people in the world who look like your characters, and use those--cut them out of magazines, do a google images search and print them out. I also interviewed my primary characters in this book, which really helps to nail down personality and motive--which then drive the plot. Here's a tip: if you're stuck on a particular scene, stop writing the story and interview the characters involved in the scene, pretend you're the director of a movie and you've said "cut" to take dinner break. Even better, pretend you're an outsider who's wandered onto the set and doesn't know anything about the story. Write it all down. Ask them questions, and answer in the characters' voices--why do you have blood on your hands, what's with that ridiculous t-shirt--don't you ever wear anything nice?
3. Plotting. I usually write my query at this phase of the process--and I always write a query, at least a paragraph in language that sells the story. Even if you have an agent who will do his or her own pitching, or you're writing this for a proposal that's already signed, it's important to give everyone including yourself the means to briefly tell your story to someone else.
4. Writing. This also includes some plotting because unless you're an outline god who can document every footstep of every character before the first line goes on the paper, there's just no way the concrete of your plot is entirely dry when you start writing. (At least that's the case with me). I always leave some sea room to maneuver in the outline. That said, I started this book with a mostly clear and complete plot, with less room to wiggle than I've ever left before.
5. Put the manuscript away for a little while. Go off and write a short story or two.
6. Do an edit pass. Read your story all the way through, make corrections, cut, move, expand scenes, scratch your head over that paragraph that makes no sense. Every book I've written has at least one of these.
7. Print out some reading copies. Get some feedback on plot, characters, everything. Print out the book because you will see and read your words differently on paper. My standard reading format is two columns per page. I usually do this in Word. I'll format the whole thing into two columns with a .2 inch gutter, Times Roman, italics, no underlining. I guarantee that you will find textual problems that would go right by on the screen.
8. Read aloud. To yourself, or even better to your friends, spouse, kids, complete strangers.
9. Second edit pass.
10. Format the manuscript.
11. Send to your agent, editor, submit query to publisher, all that other good stuff.
12. Go back to step one.
Here's the original sketch and painting I did for this book, with my POV character in the middle:
Go tell a story!