Writing Approach

I am hardly an authority on writing. I have no published works, except for some short stories in a collection of short stories by various authors. But people have read my works and liked them, and to the extent that they were writers too, have asked about my process of developing a novel.

The big question is “outline” versus “winging it.” I’m not only heavily in the “outline” camp, I actually use an Excel spreadsheet in writing the book.

But I’ve been asked multiple times in the last couple of months:

  • Work out the basic idea.
  • Develop the concept — talk/think it through.
  • Write/revise outline (at end of book doc with the chapter at the bottom of each chapter, automatically updated).
  • Create (really, copy and modify) an Excel spreadsheet to track progress on the writing itself. This includes setting goals for completion.
  • Create (really, copy and modify) a Word document for novel writing and copy the outline into it.
  • Create (really, copy and modify) an Excel spreadsheet to track progress on the writing itself. This includes setting goals for completion.
  • Write sequentially (following the plan just below the cursor) so that details from previous chapters are still in mind. Copy edit (typos, continuity errors) as you go.
  • Review and identify concept edits (voice, character arcs, etc.) and larger continuity problems.
  • Concept edit pass again sequentially.
  • Scan doc for “forbidden” words/phrases (octopus descendants with armtips and visual communication would never make “off hand” remarks or “hear” a rumor)
  • Final reading pass for enjoyment, best for last typo spotting.

I did a first, novella-sized book just winging it, and enjoyed it but it felt disorganized and less of a story than I wanted. I wound up using it as the middle third of a full book, written as above, using its contents to seed the middle part of the outline. It made me happier.

I use document automation for the Word doc so that if I modify the outline paragraph for a chapter in the bottom of the doc, it is automatically copied to the bottom of the chapter.

Two more books so far completed in this fashion (well, the last is not quite complete), and a third tiny book (30 pages) in an abbreviated version of the same style. I hope to complete the tiny book in May and to publish the two Octans books before the end of the second quarter.

I use this now for research proposals as well. Having the outline chunk right there helps me maintain focus.

===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

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