My Writing Process for Fiction and Nonfiction

As the author of more than 30 books, several of which have topped’s bestseller’s list for their genre, writers often ask me how I write them – that is, what process do I follow… if I even use a process.

I definitely follow several steps when working on a book.

Writing process
The first step without a doubt is brainstorming, or coming up with the idea. It is that first mad scribble of notes about my characters, their conflicts, and the setting the story will occur. If writing nonfiction, it’s the book’s topic, a vague list of key points about the topic, and how my book will be different from others already written about the subject.

Once I settle on a specific topic, I move on to outlining. Getting down to work, I develop a scene-by-scene plan for what will occur in the story. For nonfiction, it’s a chapter-by-chapter listing of the key points and subpoints. I also do the bulk of my researching in this phase of the project.

From there, I begin drafting. The outline is fleshed out into actual written scenes from the start of the story to its end while for nonfiction the key points are written as articles with a paragraph or two on each subpoint. I usually write several drafts of my book.

Revising comes after the first draft is written. This ranges from correcting typos to rewriting whole scenes or sections of a chapter. With each set of revisions from the first to the last page, I create a new draft of the book.

Lastly, after several drafts, I arrive at a “final” version, bringing me to the formatting step. My final draft is structured so that it can be published as a paper book or an ebook.

To be clear, this process is nonlinear. While in a macro sense the steps are followed in the order listed, in reality I go back and forth between them. I’m often still brainstorming as outlining, trying to figure out what is the best climax to my story or what will be all of the key points needed for my nonfiction book. I’m always revising as drafting, correcting typos and rewriting poor lines of dialogue penned the day before or reworking the transitions between main points with a nonfiction book’s chapters. I even create a new outline for specific scenes when revising, as I decide the interaction between the characters just doesn’t work or that a key point is missing and must be added to my nonfiction tome.

But for almost every single paragraph written, I go through each of those five steps. Rarely does one just pop into my head with no need of an edit.

Why do I bother to go through all of that work?

Mainly because it forces me to think about what I’m writing, which typically results in a more complete and sophisticated work. Only a novice will sit down at the coffee shop, write for a few hours, and think he’s come away with a perfect, ready to publish story (Though sometimes, but very, very rarely, a true genius does this!). Writing typically involves a lot of mental sweat, and recognizing that you need to do a lot of exercising is vital to getting a chiseled body or that perfect book.

But there’s another benefit, in terms of productivity – the process saves me time. If I outline, I don’t have to start all over when my unplanned first draft turns out to be a structural mess. If I draft and revise several times, I don’t have to constantly reformat my book because I’ve decided later that I really need to rewrite it.

If you find you either aren’t as creative or as productive as you’d like, then consider using a process. The one I follow is tried and true, used by many writers before me…and will be by many great writers long after me. I hope you’ll be among those respected authors.