Publishing at all these days, if you follow this field, is a strange and different experience for each author. What I can say is that for me, the writing process is as twisty as a live oak. It goes something like this: an idea begins in my heart, and my brain begins to put pieces together like a puzzle on a card table with a floor lamp pulled close to illuminate it. Yet there’s not quite enough light, so some of the pieces are in semidarkness.
I do a little research online and at the library, saving newspaper articles and keeping a bibliography. I begin with an outline, and I always write three short sentences about what the main character WANTS, BUT, and THEN. I write down what the protagonist HOLDS DEAR and what she or he FEARS. (This is great advice from Kathi Appelt.) Sometimes I write short poems in the voice of several characters, so that I get inside their heads and hearts.
And then one day I plunge in and begin to write. I start from the beginning, and I often spend too long on those first pages. When I reach the middle, I almost always lose steam. The plot doesn’t seem plausible, or something is wrong, or there’s not enough action. The story needs more conflict, more tension. (Janet Fox says it well.) That’s when I gather more research, or talk to writer friends, or take long walks and talk to myself. I make a recording of the plot, an awkward two-minute speech I save on my phone. This gets erased and redone several times.
Every writer I know says the next stage comes, even though you think you can avoid it: major scenes or characters need to be thrown out. Some element is not working. As terrible as that sounds, it’s a relief when you see a way out, even though the only way out is to rewrite.
Every writer learns that the story wins—and the goal is to write a story in which not one piece is jammed in. That’s where I am, and all I can do is keep on writing.