As a writer, finding your fiction writing process is crucial for productivity and publication. And learning how to find your process again when life shifts or what you need changes is just as important.

a dark-haired woman in glasses holding a laptop with the text "How to Find Your Fiction Writing Process"

Every writer has to find their process, and my fiction writing process has gone through so many changes over the course of my life. When I was younger, it was slower and more like simply writing a discovery draft. As I got older and needed to be more intentional about the finished product, I started outlining.

And the more fiction I publish, the more into editing I get.

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The key with finding your process is to know what you need out of it. And while I do agree that writing is a process, not a product, you are still left with something at the end of the process. And if you want to publish or make money from that product, you need to hone the process.

Knowing how to start writing a novel is important. But it’s more important to know what you need when it comes to starting a novel. Do you need a particular novel writing software like Scrivener, or are you cool with using Microsoft Word? How much do you need to know about your characters? What kind of outlines work for you?

And every novel you write is different. Knowing how to write a long novel will require something that writing a short one does not. And if you’re tackling NaNoWriMo, then knowing how to write a novel in 30 days is important, because that process is definitely different than writing under normal circumstances.

If you are new to writing, though, I do have some resources for you.

Check out this post on how to start a big writing project if you don’t know where to start with your novel. And if you want to be intentional about your writing, check out these short-term writing goals you can set to keep yourself on track. If it’s been a while since you’ve touched your work in progress, I have some tips for how to get back into writing, even if you think you’ve been gone too long.

Oh, and if you’re a binge writer like me, you may want to know how to write 10,000 words a day.

And if you’d like a little more in-depth information, you can check out this how to write a novel for beginners PDF.

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There Is No Set Fiction Writing Process

You don’t have to look very far to find a ton of novel writing examples online. A lot of writers share their process, and they’re pretty keen on what works for them. But that doesn’t mean it will work for you.

My best advice is to ask yourself what you need to be successful, and then create the resources for it. Need a writing a novel outline template? There are a ton out there, but you need one that works for how you write. I created my own romance novel outline based on Romancing the Beat. Even though RTB has a great plot breakdown, I knew I wanted to add a few things to mine, so I created my own.

The same thing goes for the rest of the process. If you don’t like writing sprints, don’t do them. If you don’t like outlining, don’t do it. No one likes editing their own work, but we should all do it.

Unfortunately, the only way to find your process is to try a lot of things. And I thought about just writing that and leaving the post as is. But a blog post that simply says “just try a ton of stuff” is less than helpful.

So in an effort to help you find your fiction writing process, I thought I’d share mine.

My Fiction Writing Process

Admittedly, my process changes often depending on what I’m working on and what season of life I’m in. But the following stages seem to be universal to my fiction writing process, so I present them to you in case they are useful.

001: Ideation and daydreaming.

This is where it all starts. I get an idea and think about it while staring off into space. Eventually, if the idea has some sticking power, I’ll write it in a notebook and play with it for a while. There’s nothing set in stone during this stage. Or really, any stage. But this is the stage that’s the most fun and it’s full of what ifs. There may even be a little discovery draft writing in this phase, but not much.

002: Outlining.

In this phase, the discovery drafting intensifies, and I try to nail down story beats and a specific story question for the novel. Once I have the beats, I try to break the story into chapters. This process always takes longer than I’d like, but I am not the kind of writer who can write fast without an outline. I need to know where I’m going or I start every session with too much overthinking.

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003: Writing.

Once the outline is in fighting shape, I start writing. The first 10,000-15,000 words come pretty easily, but after that, I usually need to go back to my outline and firm up the timeline or little details. And it’s worth noting that during this phase, I’m making notes using the comment function in Word for things I need to go back and research and figure out, or things I need to rewrite when I have the emotional fortitude to handle them. I can usually get to about 30,000 or so words before the next phase hits me like a fist to the face.

004: Identity crisis.

I mentioned this in my newsletter last week, but identity crises are part of my process now, I guess. I mean, it’s always been a part of the process. But now I’ve codified it into the system officially. This is the phase where I get about halfway through a draft and then remember every terrible thing anyone has ever said about my writing. I think about what everyone I know will think about what I’ve created. I think about the writer I’m meant to be and if that’s somehow different than the writer I’ve become. It’s a fun little mind fuck and I do not have any fun during this phase. Ideally, it passes. But mostly, it doesn’t. Sometimes it lasts for a really long time, so long that I run out of time and miss phases six and seven because I have to pull myself out of the crisis at the zero hour and write until it’s time for the book to go to the editor.

(I’m actively trying to fix this, but also, aren’t self-loathing and existential quandaries part of being a writer?)

005: Writing continued.

The second half of the actual drafting goes much faster than the first. Usually, I can do this in under a week. For whatever reason, when you dance in the flames of your own personal mental hell, you come out forged stronger somehow, and you can write 40,000 words in a week. Do I feel hungover when I’m done? Yes. Very much so. But it’s always good to have the draft finished.

006: Read through.

When I was in school, the advice was to let the novel sit. I do not do this. If I let it sit, the identity crisis has time to set in again. So, I give myself a day off, then I read through it. Sometimes I’ll print a copy, or I’ll export it as a PDF and then put it into GoodNotes on my iPad so I can mark it up with the Apple Pencil. This phase is all about figuring out what I actually wrote, and making notes of things to change. Sometimes I’ll even format it so I can read it on my Kindle. This helps me read through it faster, and experience the story the way a reader would.

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007: Edits.

After the read through, I go through the story and make the edits I outlined in my read through. This is probably the hardest phase in that edits are just tough for me in general, and I end up wanting to delete entire sections of the book, which isn’t helpful. I mean, sometimes you need to. But sometimes, it’s the identity crisis coming in hot. This is the phase that is the hardest for me to sit down and just work because I want to do anything else. But once it’s done, it’s done. And that’s the best feeling.

008: Send to the editor.

This is my favorite step when it happens, but it haunts me for days after! Once the draft is held together by metaphorical duct tape and chewed gum, I send it to the editor who tells me that it’s not complete trash, and helps me make it even better. (All the editors I work with are genuinely lovely people. None of them would say I’ve given them trash.) But until I receive their feedback, I spend a lot of time thinking about the draft I’ve sent them and how terrible it probably is. There may or may not be nightmares where I wake up in the middle of the night because my anxious brain thinks I sent them a grocery list on accident. It’s weird.

Why, yes, the identity crisis is part of my writing process. Thank you for asking! Click To Tweet

What Does Your Fiction Writing Process Need?

What do you need in your fiction writing process? Are you the type to outline or pants your way through a story? Do you also have an existential crisis phase in your writing process that lasts anywhere from a week to three months? (If so, how do you get out of it?) Do you also lose your mind when you send your novel to an editor?

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