Ash’s Writing Process

This post was originally posted to my Patreon first.

Please note this is half what my writing process was twice now for my novels and half what I intend to do hoping to make my process easier. It’s the culmination of lessons learned bringing my stories to life.

Step 1: Random Ideas & Concepts

Stuff either pops into my head and I want to see where it goes, or I think of something I’d like to do or see. I tend to toss these into a file folder or my Trello list to expand on later.

Step 2: Cast and Develop the Characters

I say “cast” here because my “stable” is full of annoying people all begging for a shot at the spotlight. Some will fit into the story I see happening. Sometimes new people come to mind and fill the roles I have. Once I have the cast, I do everything to develop the main characters if not all of them. Knowing what they would do in a situation drives the story.

Step 3: Find the Goals and Problems

The characters’ goals and the problems that get in the way drive every story. Sometimes there is just one problem stopping the character from reaching their goal. Sometimes the characters will change their mind and chase another goal later on. Doesn’t matter, I need to know what they are.

Step 4: Plotting Part One

My first plots are all bullet point lists of plot points, detailed as little or as much as needed. Sometimes, I realize at this stage I don’t have a story, I have a list of things that happened. I’ll go back to the goals and problems step and see if I can fix that before moving on.

Step 5: Plotting Part Two

I’ll take the bullet point plot and expand it into scenes. These are, again, as long or as short as needed. I use the Introduction > Rising Action > Climax > Falling Action etc structure, also known as Freytag’s Pyramid. Most of the time. [Update: I’ve switched to a “form” based on K.M. Weiland‘s guide to story structure. It still uses the three-act structure but is less vague. Highly suggest that.]

Step 6: Write Draft 1

I used to just write this draft out. Now, my goal is to use the scriptwriting software Celtx to do my first drafts. I have less of an issue with making major edits to a script than a manuscript. At this stage, I plop the characters down at the first bullet point on my plot and just follow along to the last one. Sometimes they take detours. Sometimes they grow during the process in a way I didn’t plan. Sometimes they straight up say “screw you, author” and do something different that still reaches the goal. It depends. Often I end up just documenting the train wreck.

Step 7: Give Myself Space From Draft 1

Draft 1, in whatever form it took, gets tossed in a metaphorical box for at least a week to a month. I do this so I can read it more as if “someone else wrote it” when I proofread. This step in my writing process comes from If You Can Talk, You Can Write by Joel Saltzman. Really, most of these steps are a mix of techniques I’ve picked up from writing guides.

Step 8: Proofread Draft 1

At this stage, I try to find everything I missed and fix it. Editing software helps. But I look for consistency errors as much as typos.

Step 9: Turn Draft 1 Over To Beta Reader/Editor 1

Time for someone besides me to see this monster I’ve made and judge it as harsh as they can. It may be a complete mess. It may just need a few tweaks. I won’t know until someone else reads it.

Step 10: Read Returned Draft 1’s Notes And Suggestions

This is where even “professional authors” get discouraged. Reading through every problem your first draft has is torture. Time to get a pillow to scream into. I also prepare to be anti-social for the next forty-eight hours. And no, I have never gotten my first draft back with just already-fixed proof-reading errors. This doesn’t happen. Period.

Step 11: Discuss Notes And Suggestions With Beta Reader/Editor 1

The suggestions do not always make perfect sense. Sometimes they run counter to what I’m trying to do. Sometimes they are out of character. So I go back and forth with the person to make sure I understand before starting the second draft.

Step 12: Write Draft 2

If Draft 1 was a script, this is when the story gets written out properly. If Draft 1 was narrative fiction, then I edit. This is the stage where those notes and suggestions get applied.

Step 13: Repeat Steps 7-10 For Draft 2

If I did my job, my beta reader/editor hands the draft back with just proof-reading errors they already fixed. At that point, I can skip to Step14B. If I did not, then its onto 14A.

Step 14A: Repeat Steps 11-13 For Draft 3

Draft 3 should come back clear, letting me move on to Step 14B. If I need a Draft 4, I shelf the project or start over. I used to do as many drafts as needed. Now I assume if I need 4 or more, either the concept is beyond my skill level or something is wrong at the core.  

Step 14B: Format For Publication

Formatting is 80% copying and pasting, and 20% correcting bold text, italics, indents, and other things that don’t survive the transfer. I publish online and in print and electronic editions. Publishing print and electronic editions require a file per edition. [Update: Since finding Reedsy, this has not been as much of a problem.] Publishing online requires copying and pasting to a Rich Text editor or running the text through a format converter.

And this is as far as a description of my writing process can go. Anything further would be my publication process, which varies depending on the method and the distributor. Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoyed this look into my writing process.

Ashleigh D.J. Cutler (AshWolf Forever)

Ashleigh D.J. Cutler, better known online as “AshWolf Forever”, is an author and artist from Ohio in the U.S.A. She began building the Realm of Crystal Prism at the tender age of three. Since then, she has fought to bring it to life in a fashion that can be shared with the world.

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