Here’s my process:
1. Get an idea. Sometimes it’s a broad idea, like I want to write about hurricanes. But usually, it’s more specific and conceptual, like I want to explore the interrelationships of living things using a cocoa tree as the hook.
2. I do some research to see if my idea is viable and to make sure another author hasn’t already done a brilliant book on the topic.
3. I dive in.
4. After I have a solid body of research, I take out my toolbox and start tinkering. I think of my tools as the items on an a la carte menu. I choose each one separately, but with the goal of combining them to create a delicious, nutritious, and satisfying meal.
Here’s a recap of the items on my menu:
Categories: survey, specialized, concept, biography
Style: narrative, expository, persuasive
Structure: description, sequence/order, compare & contrast, question & answer, cause & effect
Voice: lively, lyrical, or somewhere in between
Point of view: first, second, third
It used to be that I’d just plunge into the writing and see where it took me. I was shooting in the dark. Often, I ended up with a big, bloody mess.
But now that I have a have a well-stocked toolbox, it’s easier for me to imagine important elements of a manuscript in advance. (Get ready. I’m about to mix metaphors again.) Will a survey with a compare & contrast structure taste better with an expository style or a narrative style? Will adding a lively voice ruin the meal?
Does this process always work? No. Sometimes I have to do some sample tasting. And let’s face it, sometimes I still have to just plunge into the darkness. I don’t know if I’ll like a meal until I’ve eaten half or even all of it. But having these tools and thinking about how to mix and match them definitely helps.