Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Guest Blog: Hanna C. Howard on Her Process

I wrote about my writing process a while ago, and you can find that post here.  But Hanna C. Howard has a very different process, and I thought it would be helpful to share that with you today.  She's been kind enough to write a post describing how she writes.  So say "hello" to Hanna, and absorb some wisdom!


When Giles asked me to write about my writing process—from conception to final edit—it did not at first occur to me to quail. Of course! I thought robustly. I’ve done it enough times, it ought to be easy enough to discuss.

Ought to be.

Weeeelll, we all know that sometimes the things that ought to be easy are really nowhere near that. When it came down to writing this post, I realized that my “process,” as it were, is really just a mixed up series of fumbles in the dark that somehow, inexplicably, lead to a finished novel.

I’ll explain, but be forewarned: these steps are not to be undertaken by the organized, the sensible, or the timid of heart. For anyone who likes to begin massive undertakings with a Real Plan in mind, this strategy will undoubtedly cause considerable distress.

How to Write a Novel the Hard Way 
by Hanna C. Howard

Step One: Find or Formulate Your Idea

This step is all very well in theory. Ideas are a dime a dozen, after all. But I tend to turn starry-eyed and dreamy here, and before long my mind has given itself over to visions of glossy hardcover books on the bestseller shelf at Barnes & Noble. So Step 1.2 would be: Get a grip on yourself and start thinking how such an idea might turn into a story that works.

Step Two: Outline Your Plot

At this point it is absolutely necessary for me to delude myself into believing that the elements I have imagined up so far do in fact make my story work. I suffer from Extreme Illogic, but I can’t let that disability entangle me so early in the game, or I’ll never get anywhere. So, pretending that my ideas are infallible and nothing short of genius, I proceed to a rough outline of the story, which begins in great detail, and quickly tapers to vague approximations as I realize that I must get to know my characters before I do anything more.

Step Three: Do Character Studies

I usually abandon the first plot outline midway because I am too excited about my character studies to focus any more on the plot. This is much the easiest step in the process, and it can go many different ways. The simplest is this: Open a fresh word document for each of your main characters. Either from your own mind or by means of the Internet, compile a list of personality and history questions to apply to your characters, and then answer them according to each. You may go into as much depth here as you wish, and if it helps you, go to Google or Pinterest and find a photo or portrait to represent each character as well. Insert these pictures into the corresponding word documents. You can refer back to these studies later, to see how much your characters have defied you and become their own people, no matter what you may have said about them in the beginning.   

Step Four: Write or Intricately Outline Your First Draft

This step varies depending on whether you are a Plotter or a Pantser. If you’re me, it varies depending on your mood and level of inspiration. While I do like to have an idea of where I’m going, I also like a fair amount of free-writing, so often I use this step to outline in a bit greater detail before delving in to the actual draft. I mentioned before that I tend to abandon stages halfway through; this is another step that frequently suffers my caprice. Typically I begin an outline that is extremely detailed, and carry on with such impatience that I sprint-outline into a kind of mental fog that even I can’t pretend is clearheaded genius. I defy my plot or character befuddlement (invariably a result of a lack of planning) by ceasing the outline in favor of an actual draft. For the rest of the first draft, I switch between the two, sometimes taking grudging breaks to work out the problems too big to bluff my way around.

Step Five: Revise/ Write Your Second Draft

This step is very painful. To spare us all, I won’t say much about it, except that it is the one that most often causes me to question my sanity. (“Why the bloody hell did I think that made sense??”) This stage is also very time-consuming, as you might often find you need a break from it in order to patch up your battered self-confidence. If your brain does not explode before you finish, you may advance to step six.

Step Six: Swallow Your Pride and Give it to (a) Reader(s)

Depending on your preferences, you may choose to give your manuscript to between one and one-hundred readers; although the experience of letting one-hundred pairs of eyes anywhere near a MS so young and tender would be well beyond my personal ability to bear. I learned with my last book that my lucky number is somewhere around three. More than that and I start feeling like a boggart confronted by a crowd—which person should I listen to?—and end up with a disjointed and thoroughly not-my-own MS that gives me a headache just to think about.

Step Seven: Fix It

If, at this point, you can take some time away from the book, do. Time helps. I am very, very bad at taking time away unless I have quarreled with the MS in question, and so I tend to throw myself into revisions without thinking them through completely. This usually leads to another trip through the land of Dense Mental Fog. Once I struggle out of it, I often elbow my way to the end of this revision and tell myself it is ready for querying.

Step Eight: Polish to Perfection

Or, if you’re me, query, get rejected, and realize that you still have more work to do. Then do the work, and FINALLY (with the levelheaded consent of your most trusted reader) advance to what I consider the best step of all: Polishing. This involves making your MS shiny and glittery and gorgeous. It is sentence-tweaking, and diction-changing, and generally beautifying the prose. But as someone once said, there’s no point polishing a turnip, so make sure you’re MS’s structure and foundation are sound before you start making it pretty.

Once you’ve done all this, you will have in your possession a completed manuscript. Of course, there’s  no knowing how long it will remain “completed,” because an artist is rarely satisfied with his or her work—and agents are hard to seduce—but you will at least have a very good and sound foundation to build on. And if you can manage it without becoming ensnared by mental fog, faulty logic, and emotional exhaustion… well, I’ll try not to hate you too much.


  1. I love reading about other writers' processes. Step 4 is important for me, too--after figuring everything out I always need to make a clarified outline.

    1. Hi, Faith. Welcome! I agree: the outline makes the rest of the process SO much easier :)

  2. Hanna C. Howard... we are kindred spirits. Your 8 steps are very much like my own!

    1. Claire, I love finding Kindred Spirits! It's lovely to know you're not alone, isn't it? :)