Three Stages of Writing by Nancy Cohen, author of “Shear Murder”

About the Author

Nancy J. Cohen is an award-winning author who writes romance and mysteries. Her humorous Bad Hair Day mystery series features hairdresser Marla Shore, who solves crimes with wit and style under the sultry Florida sun. Several of these titles have made the IMBA bestseller list. Shear Murder is the tenth book in this series and Nancy’s sixteenth title. Her imaginative science fiction romances have also proven popular with fans. Silver Serenade recently won Best Book in Romantic Science Fiction/Fantasy at The Romance Reviews. Coming next is Warrior Prince, a Drift Lords novel and book one in a new paranormal romance series from The Wild Rose Press.

Active in the writing community and a featured speaker at libraries and conferences, Nancy is listed in Contemporary Authors, Poets & Writers, and Who’s Who in U.S. Writers, Editors, & Poets. She has served as President of Florida Romance Writers, and as Secretary for the Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Nancy is an active member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America, Novelists, Inc., International Thriller Writers, and The Author’s Guild. When she’s not busy writing, she enjoys reading, fine dining, cruising, and outlet shopping.

Three Stages of Writing

Story writing has three stages: Discovery, Writing, and Revision. You’ll work your way through each one of these steps per book, but it’s possible to find yourself in more than one stage at a time. That could happen when you’re in the early stages of conceiving your next book, but you’ve received revisions from your editor on the one you just turned in.

Discovery is the process by which you discover your story. The bits and pieces of character and plot swirl around in your subconscious before you put words to paper. Consider it creative energy at play rather than feeling guilty that you’re not being productive. This can be the break you need before starting the next novel. It’s time well spent to refill your creative pool and to gather ideas. Doing a collage, watching movies, listening to music, working on a hobby, walking outdoors, or reading for pleasure are some of the ways you can stimulate your creativity. Cut out photos from magazines of celebrities who look like your characters and fill out your character development charts. Search for relevant articles to your storyline and sift through them. Thus begins your research. Often this prep time can take weeks, or it can take a month or two. If you’re a seasoned writer, you’ll know how long you need. Be sure to factor this in when you determine your target goal of completion for your project.

When these ideas begin to coalesce in your head and your characters begin to talk to you, you’re ready to begin writing. This is when I sit down and write an entire synopsis. The synopsis acts as my writing guideline, so I always know where I’m going even if I don’t quite know how to get there. This still allows for the element of surprise. The plot may change as the story develops.

At this stage, I’ll set myself a minimum writing goal of 5 pages a day or 25 pages a week. It’s okay if I exceed that amount as long as I meet my quota. Beginning a book is the hardest stage for me. It might take me the first third of the book to get to know my characters, especially if it’s a new series. I’ll collect my critique partners’ comments but I keep forging ahead. It’s important to give yourself permission to write crap during this storytelling phase. Once the book is written, you can fix it. Just get those words down on paper and move forward until the draft is done.

When you finish the first round of storytelling, it’s a good idea to put your book aside so as to gain some distance from it. You’ll be better prepared for revisions with a fresh viewpoint. Use the time to plan your promo campaign, to jot down blog topic ideas, or to write reader discussion questions. When you find yourself eager to tackle the story again, move on to the next stage.

Now come the heavy revisions. First I’ll do critique group corrections. Then I begin my own line editing. This can get intense, because you need to keep a sense of the whole story in your head. You can’t stop, or you’ll lose your train of thought. I might work off and on for 12 hours a day, inching through revisions one word at a time. Ideally, I get the chance for another read-through for more polishing and to double check for continuity. You can’t rush this process if you want to produce what editors call a “clean” copy. When you set deadlines, be sure to allow a month or so for revisions, especially if you forge ahead like I do to write your first draft.

I guarantee that you’ll always find things to correct, but at some point you’ll be too close to the material to see straight or too sick of the project to work on it any more. Then the book is ready to submit. But don’t worry, likely you’ll have a chance to fix things again when you get your copy edits.

Send it off, clean up your desk, and file away your mounds of papers. By now you’re thinking about the next book and are getting ready to start the process anew. Force yourself away from the office and take some time off. You’ll return with fresh ideas and renewed energy. Take advantage of it while you can and start discovering the next story filtering into your mind.

About the Book

Weddings always make Marla Shore shed a tear of joy, especially when she attends her friend Jill’s affair as a member of the bridal party. Marla’s own nuptials are weeks away, and she’s been busy juggling bickering relatives, building a new house with her fiancé, and expanding her hair salon.

The South Florida stylist is following her To Do list just fine until an unexpected event unravels her carefully laid plans. At Jill’s wedding reception, Marla discovers the matron of honor—Jill’s sister Torrie—dead under the cake table, a knife embedded in her chest.

Unfortunately, Jill has a strong motive for murder. She and Torrie co-owned a piece of commercial property, and they’d disagreed on whether to sell or lease the land. Now with Torrie out of the way, Jill’s decision can rule. Or can it? Her relatives may have some say on who gets control, meaning Jill can’t trust any of them.

Torrie knew secrets about her colleagues, too, things they wouldn’t want revealed. But when Marla learns one of those secrets involves Jill’s past, she wonders if her friend is truly innocent. She’d better untangle the snarl of suspects and iron out the clues before the killer highlights her as the next victim.

Shear Murder is a fast-paced humorous mystery that will have you rooting for Marla to walk down the aisle with her groom before another disaster befalls her.



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9 Responses to “Three Stages of Writing by Nancy Cohen, author of “Shear Murder””

  1. Mary Ricksen says:

    Great blog Nancy, and however you do it. You do write some amazing stories. Looking forward to reading this one too!

    • Nancy J. Cohen says:

      Thanks so much, Mary. I'm in the Discovery phase now, or maybe I should call it Procrastination when it lasts too long.

  2. Thanks for this post, Nancy. It's nice to acknowledge that the floundering around we do from time to time is actually a critical part of the process.

  3. Jacqueline Seewald says:

    For me, discovery is the fun stage. The initial writing is hard work. I actually enjoy revision.
    Best of luck with the new novel!

  4. Getting through the writing process is never easy even when the idea for the story comes easy.
    You have created a great character in Marla. I love all her mysteries.

  5. Nancy J. Cohen says:

    Thanks, Mary, for visiting my blogs and always leaving comments! Lynette, yes we flounder but that means we're working! Jacqueline, I agree with you about the initial writing. Beginnings are hard for me, too. And Zelda, your words are true. A book might be a labor of love, but it's still labor.

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