When I first started writing a book I had no idea what I was doing. I am still a newbie author, but have learned so much in the past year that I am not the same writer I was when I first set out on this journey. I was overzealous, completely unprepared for the raw amount of man- hours writing a novel takes, and totally in over my head.

I had this great idea for a book. I wrote a synopsis of the story, which took up about 5 paragraphs. But when it came to writing more than the outline, I was stumped. Staring at the blank page can be beyond intimidating.

What follows is the story of my evolution as a writer. It’s not the “right” way to write. It’s not the “wrong” way to write. I’m not an English teacher (and don’t want to be). I just hope you can learn something from my mistakes. Some of these stages will demand further explanation, and I will provide it in subsequent blog posts. This post will be a little longer than my average posts because I use examples (about 1,000 words).

Stage One – A Complex Outline

My solution for tackling the blank page was this: I would write a complex outline. Get basic the action done then fill in the details later:

Mary wakes up. She puts on clothes, goes outside, and cuts the lawn.

This turned out to be a huge mistake. After about two chapters of this crap I gave up, realizing I would end up writing the book about 5 times. So stage one was over real fast. First, it reads like an outline – very factual and completely boring in every possible way. If you’re where I was, I beg you not to do this. Just skip this stage completely. You won’t think you can. You might resist this advice at first, fearing that you might be paralyzed by the challenge, but you’d be surprised.

Stage Two – The Bland Details

Okay, so we know that a complex outline doesn’t work. What next? Start filling in the details. Easier said than done, right? I didn’t have a picture in my head at that early stage in my evolution. I didn’t know what my world looked like (and wouldn’t for some time). But I started writing anyway:

Mary wakes up tired. She struggles to get out of bed while she walks to her boring dresser and pulls out her overalls. Her movements are slow as if she was born tired. Mary puts on her work books and walks out her front door. She gets her lawnmower, pulls the string, and the engine turns on. She cuts the grass of her front yard.

Certainly better than stage one. Now we have a better idea of what’s going on, a little more detail. But we’re not there yet. We need more. As many of my test readers said: “I still don’t have a picture in my mind.”

Stage Three – Write a Picture

How do you write a picture if you don’t have one to work off of? My answer is fake it till you make it. Yes, you read me correctly. Fake it. My book was set in a futuristic world, so I started Googling concept or futuristic architecture, and I scrolled through thousands of pictures. I found ones I liked, ones I didn’t, and made a hodge-podge collage of those images at first (until my own vision took over).

Mary pulls off the cotton bed sheets that are stuck to her body from a night of sweating. The straw inside her mattress plucked at her all night, making for an uncomfortable evening. She gets up and trudges over to her dresser. Each step is painful. Her feet have been conditioned to withstand the divots, splinters, and spikes in the wooden floorboards. She lights a candle on her mantle, illuminating a framed picture of her mother.

Stage Four – Using the 5 Senses

If you didn’t know this already and are trying to be an author writing about humans, or most animals for that matter, we have five senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. Use all of them. It not only gives your characters depth, it completes the picture. For example, I will add sound and smell to the paragraph above:

Mary pulls off the cotton bed sheets that are stuck to her body from a night of sweating. The straw inside her mattress plucked at her all night, making for an uncomfortable evening. She gets up and trudges over to her dresser. Each step is painful. Her feet have been conditioned to waistband the divots, splinters, and spikes in the wooden floorboards. She lights a candle on her mantle, illuminating a framed picture of her mother. The room fills with the familiar smell of burning wax as she pulls open a drawer. A rooster calls out the arrival of the sun, calling Mary to her morning duties.

Stage Five – Adding Backstory

Every fiction book has backstory. I can’t recall one off the top of my head that doesn’t. No character is just “born” in your world (unless you’re actually writing about a child). Things happened to them in the past that made the character who he/she is in your book. Backstory gives your character depth, emotions, and history. It makes them relatable. I will spend a whole post on backstory, but here’s an easy example of how you can weave it into your story without being obtrusive:

Mary pulls off the cotton bed sheets that are stuck to her body from a night of sweating. The straw inside her mattress plucked at her all night, making for an uncomfortable evening. She gets up and trudges over to her dresser. Each step is painful. Her feet have been conditioned to waistband the divots, splinters, and spikes in the wooden floorboards. She lights a candle on her mantle, illuminating a framed picture of her mother. She doesn’t like to look at the picture, but she does out of habit, every morning. It wasn’t long ago that her mother was doing the household chores….blah blah blah you get the idea. The room fills with the familiar smell of burning wax as she pulls open a drawer. A rooster calls out the arrival of the sun, calling Mary to her morning duties. The first chore on her list is mowing the lawn.

Stage Six – Embellishing.

Take all that we did and make it better by a hundred fold by adding more details. You don’t have to go overboard in this (like say one author I read who spent 3 pages talking about a character scooping mash potatoes onto his plate – 3 pages for mash potatoes!)

The room is cold and dark. The wooden floorboards and lack of insulation suck the early morning heat out of the room. Her candle burned out long ago, the smell of wax still hangs in the air. Yet the warm cotton blanket surrounds her, enveloping Mary in a cocoon of protection from the duties of the coming day.

Straw bites into her back with sharp jabs of pointed barbs like wires. She twists, trying to find a comfortable position. The sheets swish under her movements.

The red orange glow of the morning sun creeps through her window, coupled with the rooster’s natural alarm, it announces the waiting day.

So there you go. Those were the six stages of writing that I passed through on my way to writing a book. You can see how the writing improves with each stage. This can only be accomplished by actually sitting down and doing the writing. It takes lots and lots of practice. It took me almost 200,000 words before I figured this stuff out. I hope it won’t take you as long if you can learn anything from this post.

About Joshua G. Silverman

As a child, Joshua has always been an amateur historian, focusing on ancient Egypt, Greece, and Roman civilizations.

5 Responses to “Writing a book, My 6 stages of writing (so far)”

  1. David Leiter

    Hey Josh, great article explaining the progression of your writing. This is something I always struggle with. I’m glad to see I’m not alone in the challenges of writing. You also had some great tips on how to generat your thoughts. I plan on using the google image search to come up with ideas. Thanks for writing. Where can I get your book?

    Dave

    • Admin

      Hey David. Thanks for the comments. I was worried the post was a little long – but I wanted to do it in one shot. I’ll elaborate on each in more detail later.

      Generating ideas to bring a “world” to life can be very challenging if you don’t know what your own world is supposed to look like. It’s a bit of a catch-22. I highly suggest checking out deviantart.com and trolling the artists on there for ideas. They can spark your imagination!

      I also have the same theory on people. If you don’t know what your characters look like, browse actor’s photo’s until you do and use that as a base for your imagination. Which doesn’t mean copy, just use them or the picture as a springing board.

      As for the book, it will be available on September 15 for purchase. I believe it should be through our site, the publisher’s site, amazon.com, or barnes and noble online.

      I will also be at Comikaze Sept 15 in LA, where I will be doing signings and we’ll have some shirts to give away for people who purchase the book at the show.

  2. Kenn Crawford

    Great post. I enjoy reading how you went through the various stages and I enjoyed the samples you gave so we can see how each stage was an improvement over the former.
    Well done.

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