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Successful writing (fiction or non-fiction) is in the process. No process, no product. Let’s look at a process you probably already use as a tech writer, analyst, programmer, etc.:

  1. Discover the need
  2. Gather requirements
  3. Design
  4. Write
  5. Review and approve (edit)
  6. Publish
  7. Promote

Look familiar? If any one of these are weak, you won’t have a good product. What’s a good product? One that users will use (read) successfully.

Note: As with every process, these phases are dependent on each other. Work them up and down to ensure they’re aligned before you jump in. You'll probably make several passes through the process before you have an acceptable product. Writing is an iterative process, not a waterfall (one-pass) process.

Discover the need

If there’s no need, why are you doing it? If you want to “try your hand” at fiction writing, just ignore this process and start. If you want to try your hand and have a chance at success (that usually means people investing in your book or novel) you’d better follow a process. Even a flawed process is better than no process. Same thing holds for a non-fiction project.

On your job, this phase is straightforward: There’s a new product, release, process, policy or whatever coming out and you get elected to do the documentation. For fiction writing, you need to do a bit of research.

As a independent fiction/non-fiction writer, though, you’d better see if there’s a need and want before you spend time on How to Grow Prize-Winning Garden Snails in Your Bedroom Window or Howdy-Doody on Mars.

This is genre research. In the first part of this series, you made several lists which hopefully narrowed down your interests to some genres. Now, go to the local bookstore and see how many physical books on the shelves are in your genres. Use Google and see what’s the demand. Check Amazon.com. Look at blogs.

If you can see a market, you can probably produce a sellable product.

Gather Requirements

Do exactly what you’d do at your on-the-job production. Do you need a User Guide? Full reference manual? Simple desktop instructions or cheatsheets?

For your own fiction writing, you’ll want to have a good idea about genre, length, deliverables (print in several formats, PDFs, ebook reader formats, etc.) and a plan for some single-sourcing.

For the Sorcerer novels, my intention from the beginning was to make them available in print as Print on Demand and in various PDF formats. The original publication on StoriesOnline was driven by the input requirements to get HTML output. I did the research on the available input formats, picked the simplest (it just worked out that way) and got the entire specification.

You will generate most of your own requirements. If you’ve got a Print on Demand publisher in mind, get their requirements. For an ebook reader or PDF, ensure you have a good grasp of what they need as input. Establish your word processor (yes, you could do it in Notepad if you're masochistic) and plan on doing as much single-sourcing as possible.

For the Sorcerer novels, the original input requirement was tagged text: underscores bracketed italics, * bracketed bold, {br} was a line break. No big deal.

As I completed putting a novel/book out on StoriesOnline, I saved a copy and went to a WYSIWYG in Word with full styles and page layout specification. The targets here were Print on Demand (lulu.com) and several sizes of PDF.

So, your requirements will include your output media choices.

Design

The design phase for fiction writing departs fairly widely from our normal Tech Writer designing although they do have some common points. This is a widely-debated phase among writers. On one end of the design spectrum is the seat-of-the-pants or organic writer who starts with a blank page and starts writing. He’ll refine with several full drafts and rewrites. The claim here is that there is no limit on their creativity.

On the other end of the design spectrum is the outline/blueprint methodology. This has the story, scenes, characters, etc., completely laid out down to less than a page. After the writer polishes the blueprint (tons of creativity here), he starts the writing phase.

Confession: I did the four Sorcerer novels in the lower third of the range. I knew where and how each book was to end, arranged many of the scenes where they belonged, kept extensive character and timeline lists, and let it rip. I discovered much of the Craft of Writing when I was on the last half of the last two novels (I was originally doing them simultaneously, since they were concurrent).

We’ll have more posts on design, since story structure and architecture are one of the Six Core Competencies.

Write

If you’ve done your requirements and design phases decently, the writing phase is straightforward. If you decide to go organic, it’s going to be pretty convoluted.

Here’s where your artistic sense or abilities will start to shine very well. They’ve either got to start appearing in the design or you’ve got to work the writing phase a lot.

Steve Manning has a methodology of doing the actual writing very rapidly; you should be able to do the first pass/draft of a novel in less than two weeks.

Some editing is part of the writing phase. You should can do the first several yourself because you can get the scene transitions put in, fix the obvious continuity errors and catch a lot of the typos and misspellings. It’ll be up to you whether or not you have an external editor.

For the Sorcerer novels, I went through four volunteer editors before the first novel was completely published to StoriesOnline – they ran out of time, became ill, had Real Life issues, etc. After the last one, I did the best job I could and let it rip.

My brother got a Kindle in the last year and loves to play with it. So, I converted my screen-optimized versions into the Kindle format and sent them off to him. He had a great anal-retentive time using the Kindle to copy an error, drop it into a note file, then going on. I’ve just finished the updates from those edits. The last novel was pretty sloppy. Arg.

Review and approve

In technical writing, programming, system development, etc., you do a review/debug pass (or several). It’s the same here and is known as editing.

You self-edit, get the transitions and consistency correct, do the final research and integration and then you’re done with this phase.

If you’re targeting the traditional publish-to-print market (sell it to a publisher), you’ll probably go through quite a bit of editing and re-writing which the publisher demands.

Publish

If you don’t publish, you perish. In the tech writing world, if you don’t say, “Here’s the final product,” you might as well not have started. On the other hand, we usually get paid for all the prior work if the bosses decide not to complete the project.

As a programmer, system analyst or other tech-type, if the product doesn’t get out, it’ll sit around shedding bits and bytes until it gets filed away in your archives to die a lingering bit-rot death. May be you’ll be able to use parts of it in a later project.

As a fiction writer, though, the entire idea is to get your novel out to others. In the requirements phase, you established the delivery media, right? The publish phase contains the final passes through the formatting and discovered typos before you say, “Enough. It’s as ready as it’s ever going to be.”

You can sit and polish for years if you wish, that’s up to you. On the other had, during your experiences as a fiction reader, would you rather have something okay to read than nothing? We’ll never get it perfect, so don’t plan on trying.

Promote

As tech writers, this phase could be short or long. When we have the product, we just tell the boss, “It’s ready.” We may have to get IT to put it on the server or distribute it to the users.

In any case, someone’s got to tell the audience (you did establish the audience in the requirements phase, right?) that the product is there, why they should get it and how they can get it. At your job, you might even be doing some of the user training.

In fiction writing, you’ve got to market your novel. You can do like I’m doing, which is running a blog and promoting on the Internet. You can use Amazon’s Print on Demand and market it on Amazon.

There are lots of ways to promote; which way you do it is another discussion for a later post.

Finally

This is a brief pass at the process or methodology. Other posts will go into much greater detail and give you more references on each of the phases.

So, did I miss a phase? As a tech writer or tech-field professional, is the process out of line? Leave a comment.

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