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What I Learned Writing Dreamlander: Your Must-Have Book Checklist: From Idea to Publication

The greatest teacher for any author is his own book. Every book I write teaches me new things, both about myself as a person, and about my craft as a novelist. My fantasy Dreamlander was no different. The book will be released December 2, and in the intervening weeks between now and then, I’d like to share a series of posts about the lessons
this book has taught me during my twelve-year journey with it.

This week, I want to start with something several of you have been asking me for: a start-to-finish checklist of how to write a book. What’s the process? How do you get from idea to publication? How do you capture your beautifully incomplete inspiration and create a story you can share with the world?

Let’s take a look!

Write Your Novel Checklist

May 2000

Idea dawns (and germinates for a loooong time).

In my case, it was a seed planted by my brother, who thought it would be cool to write a story in which people live two lives: one when we’re awake here on Earth and one when we’re asleep.

March 2007

Write a few chapters.

Those of you who have read Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success will note that I didexactly what I recommend not doing. I dove in without an outline. Yipes!

Begin outline.

Then I got semi-wise. Wrote a very brief outline and dove back in.

Write character interviews.

April 2007

Write a few more chapters.

November 2007

Get stuck.

Thanks to my impatience with outlining early on, I paid the price fifty pages in. Since I wasn’t sure where I was going, I didn’t yet know how to get there.

Write a serious outline.

So I slowed down for several months and wrote a complete outline. And—voila!—everything fell into place. (Right about now is when I swore I would never start another book without outlining.)

January 2008

Write first draft.

November 2008

Edit x 3.

Three quick edits after a draft is my lucky number. Because I essentially edit as I go, my manuscripts are pretty clean by the time I finish. At this stage, I usually only have to clean up minor plot issues and typos (until, of course, the critters get hold of it!).

December 2008

Send to first round of readers (x 4).

This round of readers is hand-picked to include two hard-hitting critique partners (including editor Linda Yezak), one complimentary beta reader, and one critical beta reader.

June 2009

Incorporate suggested changes.

January-August 2010

Edit every few months.

After the initial round of corrections from my alpha readers, I always like to let manuscripts sit for at least a few months. During this period, I’m usually busy outlining and researching my next book, so it’s a good opportunity for Book #1 to cool its heels in the back of the closet.

September 2010

Revise to trim word count.

Dreamlander was maxing out at about 50,000 words heavier than I wanted it to be. So she went on a crash diet, using some of these methods.

November 2010

Send to next round of readers (x 3).

This round of readers is more or less composed of “casual” readers, from whom I’m looking for, not so much technical criticism, as I am just general answers to the all-important, question, “Does this work?”

February 2011

Revise again.

March 2011

Send to next round of readers (x 2).

And here we bring in another round of heavy hitters. We’re nearing crunch time, with only a year left before we enter “pre-publication” phase, so any major remaining problems have to be taken care of now.

October 2011

Finish the next book.

I gotta tell you: it’s like magic. As soon as I finish one book, I’m able to return to the previously written one with new eyes. I see the story much more clearly—its strengths and weaknesses—and I’m able to revise it much more critically than ever before.

November 2011

Outline revision.

Yes, I’m that much of an outline nerd. I even outline my revisions.

December 2011

Rewrite.

This is it. This is the last big makeover before the wheels start rolling inexorably toward publication. Rewrites aren’t supposed to be fun, but I’ll be honest with you—this one was a blast.

April 2012

Edit x 3.

My lucky number of edits once again!

May 2012

Send to next round of readers (x 4).

Since this is the last round of readers who will be able to influence content edits, I want a mix of casual readers and savvy writers.

Revise.

June 2012

Send to editor.

This was the first time I’ve worked with the fabulous Cathi-Lyn Dyck, who had the manuscript—and a pile of juicy notes—back to me within just a few weeks.

July-August 2012

Revise x 4.

Here’s where I roll up my sleeves and start polishing like mad.

Send to proofreader.

Typos begone!

Send to final round of beta readers (x 7).

At this point, the book has been typeset for the print version and digitally converted for the e-book versions, so major changes have to be kept to a minimum. But the more eyes on the book to look for those sneaky little typos, the better.

Proofread digital version.

I plug the .mobi version into my Kindle Keyboard and have it read aloud to me as I simultaneously read along. Bar none, this is one of the most comprehensive proofreading methods I’ve ever used.

October 2012

Proofread hard copy.

For this one, I take a slightly different tack and read it aloud myself—with the aid of plenty of lemon water and tea.

November 2012

Share excitement!

December 2012

Launch.

January 2013

Breathe sigh of relief.

Rinse. Repeat.

Every book’s journey is unique. The journey on which Dreamlander has taken me is not the same as the road I travelled with either A Man Called Outlaw or Behold the Dawn, and it won’t be the same as your journey. But watching and learning what to do (and what not to!) from the processes of other authors is always valuable in creating your own process—and sometimes just in gauging whether or not you’re on the right course. Can’t wait until I get to read about your book release!

***

Don’t forget to vote for which prize you’d like to win in the Dreamlander Launch Party Grand Prize Drawing on December 2!

Tell me your opinion: What does your start-to-finish writing process look like?

Click the “Play” button to Listen to Audio Version (or subscribe to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast in iTunes).

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. I never used to outline but I found with my last project it made the entire process much more efficient plus I didn’t have hardly any stalling due to blocks which were more like small detours I had to find my way around. I also edit as I go since I share chapters with a critique partner who is great about letting me know what’s working and what isn’t. Once complete I sent it out to readers for critiquing, revised accordingly, and then back to my main cp for another read. After another round of revisions I am now about to query.

    Also, I have to say your free download on crafting unforgettable characters made a huge difference and I will be using it from now on. Thank you!

  2. I’m one of those writers who can’t bear to share a WIP while its still in the first draft stage. I’ve learned from experience that I lose some of the magic if I share it too early. But I sometimes I do wish I was able to share chapters as I wrote them. Instant feedback can be a great thing!

  3. I love when other writers share process-y things! Looking forward to your series on Dreamlander. And to buying the book :)

  4. Glad you enjoyed it! I’m always interested in a peek behind the curtain myself. Every writer does it a little differently.

  5. sent this to my kindle to read more easily (ie, time frame, leisurely, etc) – looking fwd to it ;-)

  6. Isn’t that a fun feature? I hope you enjoy the post.

  7. My start-to-finish process usually involves;

    #1.. the idea- generally sprouts when I have absolutely NO access to a notebook.
    #2.. note keeper- finally get ahold of a notebook, and find that I’ve forgotten half the idea already
    #3.. chocolate fudge- fudge up enough of a plot to make a cohesive story, let sit for several hours to harden
    #4.. inky fingers- begin writing book, chapter 1, page 1, word 1. Finally write word 2 after 3 hours of intense pain and an extreme overdose of caffiene.
    #5.. depression alley- finish writing 100 words, notice that grammar and punctuation are violated in each and every sentence. Get mad, slam computer lid shut and quickly scalp myself.
    #6.. recovery- 2 days later, come back to the story, find that I have some great ideas, and finish writing the story within 10 hours.
    #7.. reality- Editing is a long an painful process.

    Ok, so, I’m given to exaggerating a tad bit on my writing experiences.. :P
    Isn’t what what most fiction writers are, anyways? Exaggerators? ;)

    Generally, I get an idea during the evening/at night, write down the idea and a beginning to the story the next day. And, if it seems worth it, I usually finish writing the story within a week. (I generally write between 5,000-25,000 word stories.)

  8. Chocolate fudge, but of course! I can’t believe I forgot to mention all the chocolate and coffee I had to consume while writing this book. Sometimes I think writers single-handedly keep Starbucks in business. . .

  9. I like the “you are here” sign. Made me laugh.

  10. Should probably have put a Snoopy-dancing gif under it. ;)

  11. Thank you so much for sharing this! It is _extremely_ helpful to see a process from another writer. Sometimes I’ve had the impression that every writer in the world but me has an idea, instantly creates an overnight outline for said idea if they feel the need to kill some time, and then promptly writes the entire novel the next day. :) This reflects so much more the process I go through. Thank you for sharing.

  12. I suspect there *are* some writers who can whip out delightful drafts in just a few days. However, I’m rather inclined to believe they inhabit the realm of unicorns and leprechauns. At any rate, they’ve yet to let me in on their secrets!

  13. At that pace, the idea I’m germinating now (from the WIP I tore up) would not see the light of publishing (if ever) until I’m…yikes…old!

  14. Twelve years is a little longer, from start to finish, than some of my stories. But keep in mind I’m actively writing other stories throughout this process. I usually start a new story every three years.

  15. Thanks for sharing! This is so interesting. Can’t wait to read your book. Your blog has convinced me to outline. I made SUCH a mess of my first draft.

  16. I’m glad I’m not the only one who outlines my revisions. :) Thanks for the shout-out, Katie. Here’s to a successful launch!

  17. I dive in and write until I “find” the story, then loosely outline the next major arcs. At each stage I plan just a few scenes ahead, always with the bigger arc in mind. Usually I must lop off a good portion of the initial third of the finished manuscript but I needed to write it to get to the story inside.

  18. I just sent my 1st manuscript to a professional editor last week. It’s been a WIP for 6 years now;( SO I totally get it when a book can take 12 years! I’m outlining(I’m learning from your wisdom) book # 2 in my Historical Romantic Suspense series now. I’m still feeling new to the whole process though…especially editing and asking people to be Beta readers, etc. But it’s definitely a important part of the journey :-)

    Great post BTW!

  19. @Handy Man: Yay! Another outlining convert. Outlines have saved me so much time and trouble. They’re not a cure-all, certainly, but they put an end to lots of false starts.

    @Cat: Guess I’m in good company then. ;)

    @Stephen: Beginnings are tough, with or without an extensive outline. I rewrite mine multiple times.

    @Lorna: Every book is a different journey, I find. Just when we think we’ve got it mastered, we start a new book and find we have it to learn all over again! Makes life interesting, that’s for sure.

  20. Having pured over all your outlining material the last two months, I am just now beginning to work on mine. Firt time Ive ever used an outline to write by, so it’s been pretty interesting. Also, loving the character interviews you put forth as well. They are delving into areas that will shape the character but never see the light of day in the book. Thanks for sharing your process and the tools you use!

  21. Glad the tools have been helpful to you! I love the character interviews. They’re probably my favorite part of the entire process.

  22. GREAT post — my favorite part: “The journey on which Dreamlander has taken me…”

    Only because after countless hours of self-edits, rewrites, and reading grammar books, I had to smile and congratulate you on that sentence. As Winston Churchill said (regarding THE FALLING OF prepositions at the ends of sentences): “that is one rule up with which I will not put.”

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your process — it’s helpful, though I am secretly hoping that your timeframe can be squished down in the future…

    Nick

  23. Re: sharing WIP. Hemingway once said that more novels were lost in conversation in the cafes of Paris than were written in the garrets. A good reason to keep first drafts to yourself. Talking can dissipate your creative tension.

  24. @Nick: I’m old school on that rule. ;)

    @Denis: Couldn’t agree more. Beyond a brief description, concocted to satisfy those whose are curious, I don’t like to talk about WIPs until they’re safely finished and off to the first round of critters.

  25. Before I begin writing the story, I used to write down a rough sentence on what the main idea of the story is. The I would write out a complete character profile. Under each sentence of the profile, I would write down five ways to demonstrate the characteristic. How detailed a story I want to do, would depend largely on how many different ways per characteristic I would want to outline.

    I wonder if such a method would help with world development? Especially if one were to think of that process as like developing a character.

    One thing I wanted to experiment with, is showing how the world changes over time like a character.

  26. That’s brilliant, actually. I love the idea of providing practicable steps for illustrating prominent character traits. Sounds like it should work fabulously for worldbuilding as well.

  27. That made me smile. Thanks for a peek into your process.

  28. Thanks for reading – and smiling! :)

  29. Very insightful. Thanks for sharing.

  30. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  31. Do you think about how to market your book while writing it? I am finding that is part of the process, too. I am blogging next week on this and would love your take.

  32. Yes and no. It’s always in the back of my mind, and if good ideas occur to me throughout the process, I’ll always scribble them down. But I don’t *really* focus on marketing until the year of publication, when I’m working out plans and schedules.

  33. Actually I’m been working a lot better and more organized since I’ve learned some of your process, as well as a bit of Brandon Sanderson’s. I would not be anywhere without some idea of both.

  34. As authors, we all build on what we observe and learn from other authors. It ends up being a wonderful full circle.

  35. What an inspiring look at revision. I love the part of having your script read to you by your Kindle. I have used my tape recorder, read each chapter and then listened for areas to rework. I’ll definately make use of your fabulous tips!

  36. The tape recorder idea is great too. I do read aloud sometimes, but my throat just gets too scratchy after a while. The Kindle’s voice never gets hoarse!

  37. It is encouraging, since my idea germinated in 2006, and since I had only day dreamed about it and not did actual writing until now 2014, I thought I may have lost the story. I also kept frowning and yelling at myself for not writing this story for such a long time. But now, I feel encouraged, (since these are the stories that have truly ripened, just like your other blog post says)
    Okay, gotta go for my next writing session ;)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      It definitely doesn’t work that way for *all* authors, but I’m a big proponent of letting stories ripen. It’s also yet another great way to avoid wasting time on a story that really isn’t good enough or complete enough to be written.

      • I tried to dive right along the muse in a story once. But, after initial drive of passion, I started feeling the story alien and the characters strangers. On the other hand, the story that is ready a.k.a ripened, it feels like I am just telling a story of my own adventures with old friends of mine.
        Maybe I am quite close to your kind of writers league. That may be the reason I am so addicted to your blog.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Discovering the right writing process is all about finding the right balance between preparation and spontaneous creativity. It’s a little different for each one of us.

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