One of my clients/friends/associates recently sent me a message asking for a Writer's Workshop about the writing process. Well, like a really crappy genie, your wish is my command! ...Eventually.
Step 1. Conceiving the Idea. For some, this is the easiest part, while for others, it can be maddeningly difficult. Personally, I've never had a problem with it, so let me share with you some of the tricks I use to come up with my ideas.
a. Fusion. Take two seemingly unrelated ideas, then mash them together. So I'll be thinking about, say, Hamlet or Cyrano de Bergerac, and I'll realize, "Hey! I can mix this with MLP and get a neat fanfiction out of it!" The first is The Queen Beckons, while the second is a story I've had up my sleeve for a while now called "Red Strings and Black Ink."
b. The Unanswered Question. Regarding fanfiction, I see lots of holes in the mythos or the characters' backstories, so for me, I immediately get the question, "What really happened in that time?" Hence, It's Impossible!, which jumps off from a question about how unicorn magic actually works, or "Open Doors," another fic still in my head about Fluttershy buying her cottage.
c. What If? Admittedly, this may be the hardest. You have to be able to look at some story event or some occurrence in real life, and ask yourself, "What if something else happened instead?" Rainbow Dash, Pagemaster is "What if Rainbow Dash had been infected with some equivalent to Inspiration Manifestation," and "The Waltz of Rarity" is about "What if Rarity had wished to replace Twilight as Celestia's student?"
Step 2: Creating a Plan. This step is pretty hard if you're a spontaneous/lazy writer like me, but I assure you, it's important. This is setting up your bible, creating a preliminary outline, deciding on the approximate length, and determining when and how long you're going to work on it. Don't be like me and start a story with nothing written out but fluff and a dream. Figure out ahead of time what, how, and when you're going to write. Then go out and do it. Don't slack, don't rest on your laurels, just achieve the plan.
Step 3: Researching Your Topic. In the traditional model of the writing process, there are three steps: pre-writing, drafting, and revision. Whether "pre-writing" actually includes research or not, I think it's a critical part of the process that deserves to be its own step. Research is what lets you write about topics you don't know anything about, i.e. it lets you write "things you aren't allowed to write." But even if you do already know about a topic, research can help you expand your knowledge base on that subject and have a more nuanced position.
But don't think just because you're writing fiction in a fantasy realm means you're exempt from research! Your first order of business is to do research into your genre, i.e. know your place. Second, if you're writing fanfic, go back and watch the show some more. Make sure you really understand the characters, the setting, and the general themes. Finally, guess what? If you're making your own world, you get to make up the content! So instead of reading about it, you have to use your ~*~imagination~*~ to learn more. Imagine the world is a little pocket dimension in your mind, then explore it; talk to the people; read the books in that world. If you can describe the king's mansion in the same level of detail and clarity as you can your own house, you've succeeded. (...I'm only a little kidding.)
Step 4: Actually Writing the Freaking Thing. Look, if you're reading this, you're probably a writer. Even if you're not, this isn't really the hard part. What makes it hard is when we writers decide to complicate it by trying to pick the right words while drafting, or revise while writing, or write without a strong plan ahead of time. If you're having trouble with this step, it's because you've either screwed up one of the previous steps or you're trying to skip ahead to the next step. There's a classic saying by... Ernest Hemingway, let's say. "Write drunk, edit sober." In other words, when you're on this step, just write. Write without restrictions, without hesitation. Execute the plan, and you'll be golden.
Step 5: Editing and Revising. Everyone's least favorite step--and I'm an editor, so you know I'm being serious. This is the hangover of writing, where you look at everything you wrote on your Step 4 drunken stupor and think, "What the heck was I thinking?!" You need to be able to be critical of your writing without being critical of yourself. At the very least, think of things like, "How can I make this better?" and "Where can I add more vibrant language?" Sure, if there are plot holes or character weirdness, that needs to go, but also use this step to polish rather than fix gross errors. Cuz, to be frank, most of the stories I read aren't critically flawed. Most stories I read don't have inconsistent characters, bad MUGS, or unrealistic plots. Most of the stories I help edit are simply a little bland. They need things tightened up or expanded upon, stronger chemistry and more interesting narration, more scenes and stronger themes.
Ah, which reminds me. You must be able to edit your own work, this much is true. But finding/hiring a proofreader like me can help you for a couple different reasons. 1) It can be useful to have another set of eyes on the material, especially someone who isn't going to be blithely approve everything you write. (...Though in that case, I may not be the best choice. I have two modes--nice and critical--and sometimes I lean too far in the first direction. So for all my clients, make sure to ask me for blunter criticism if you want it.) 2) Specialization of skills. As a writer, you should be able to write well, but editing and writing are different skills. Get good at writing, and we editors will get good at editing, and we can help each other.
6. Iterating. So once you've done all of that, you get to go back and do it all again! Okay, you don't have to do all of it, unless you really need to. You may find after revising (or after drafting, or researching, or whatever) that your story idea just won't work the way you intended it. If that's the case, then there's no shame in going back to step 1 and changing your idea to make it more palatable. But if you need to change your plan, or do more research, or rewrite sections, do that as many times as you need to for you to get it write. Unless you're a mangaka or you've got a publisher breathing down your neck, you've got plenty of time.
7. Post-production. So... this is the part I know nothing about. I'm sorry, I really don't! (I did just say I'm a specialist in step 5, so... cut me some slack!) By this part, I'm basically entirely referring to marketing. I don't know how this works. You advertise, you spread the word, you create a fandom... I don't know. There's some kind of step somewhere between "you create your account" and "you have more followers than students in a high school," but darned if I know what that is. So this will have to join the ranks of those before it and be an unfinished symphony. Sorry, client who asked me about this! ...Actually, wait a minute. You don't need my help with this! You have 23 times as many followers as I do; you're in the top 50 of the most popular writers on the site! You've already got this well in hoof.