Our Writing Processes: Reem Khaleel

My writing process usually begins with the spark of inspiration that turns into an idea. Sometimes it’s in the form of the first scene, the title of the potential novel, the tropes in the plot, or the characters. Sometimes it’s a mix of some of those elements or all of those elements. I’ve written several novels at this point. My very first novel was inspired by a very vivid and detailed dream that I had. The idea for every novel after that has come sometime during the editing stages of the novel that I most recently finished. That’s usually my sign that one novel is close to completion and it’s almost time to start on the next one. Inspiration comes to me in many forms but most often, I’m inspired by one of my favorite songs, a movie or tv show I love, or a novel that I devoured. This usually makes it really easy to choose comparison titles for my novels. Taylor Swift is one of my all-time favorite musicians and every novel of mine has inspiration from her music, so from here on out, I’m going to label the parts of my writing process with related Taylor Swift lyrics.

“Will you still want me, when I’m nothing new?”- Nothing New (Taylor’s Version)

My process for deciding whether the idea I have for a novel will work has several steps. The first thing I do after I have a new idea is to gather as much inspiration for the idea as I can. I start to compile an aesthetic board on Pinterest. I create a Spotify playlist that always includes a lot of Taylor Swift, Olivia Rodrigo, Jonas Brothers, Harry Styles, Niall Horan, and Shawn Mendes. I read potential comparison titles or watch potential TV show or movie comparison titles. I browse baby name websites to help name my characters. I change my Scrivener theme to match the aesthetic of this potential new novel. Often, I can picture the opening scene and closing scene for the novel while compiling all these pieces of inspiration. That is how I know that my idea is more than just a plot bunny and that it can actually be a real novel.

“We are alone with our changing minds. We fall in love ’til it hurts or bleeds or fades in time.”- State of Grace (Taylor’s Version)

I used to think that I was a hardcore pantser and that there was absolutely no way on earth that I could fully plan a novel before writing it. I do my best writing in the moment when inspiration strikes. I always thought that an outline would hinder my creativity, until I took an EdX course on outlining. I took the course at a time that I was battling a bad case of writer’s block. My fourth novel just wasn’t coming together the way I wanted it to. Within two weeks of a six week course, I realized I was wrong. I can no longer be a hardcore pantser, but I can’t be a full planner either. I’m happy to be a plantser now. I don’t work off of a full outline, just a very broad, bare bones skeleton of plot points. I know where I want my characters to end up but I don’t force myself to figure out how they end up there right away. By not having an in depth outline, I still give myself the freedom to figure out how they end up there as I write. I’m not ashamed to say that I partially changed my mind about planning. I even started using Story Planner on my iPad, which has really helped me to keep the parts of my novels that I do plan organized.

“I think I’ve seen this film before.”- Exile

I never write my novels in chronological order. I jump around and write scenes as inspiration strikes, but one interesting thing about my writing process is that I always start off a novel by writing my beginning and ending scenes. These are somehow always the first scenes that I can picture like a movie in my head. My beginning usually significantly changes as I continue to draft and edit, however, my ending almost always stays the same. What can I say? I write YA romantic comedies. Those epic I love you scenes at the end are kind of my favorite scenes to write…along with first kiss scenes of course!

“When you’re young, you just run, but you come back to what you need.”- This Love (Taylor’s Version)

I usually know around the 10K mark if I’m falling in love with the story I’m writing. I edit as I write though, so if at the 10K point or beyond I know I’m not falling in love with the story, I rework and rewrite it until I do love it. With my last novel, I completely reworked it after getting past the 30K mark because I wasn’t vibing with the plot. While it pained me to hit that delete button and start over, it resulted in the best version of that novel. I knew in my gut that the novel wasn’t working as it was and that it was in need of a glow-up, so I ran with it until the novel got to where it needed to be. Considering the reworked version of the novel currently has been getting a lot of full requests from agents it was definitely the right call to rework the story even that far into it. (Fingers crossed, this is the one that gets me an offer of representation. I got a good feeling about it from the moment I started querying it.) So, I’m a huge fan of killing your darlings early on in the writing process if something just desperately isn’t working. Editing as I write means that my “messy” first draft of a novel reads more like a third or fourth draft. This makes it significantly easier on me when I actually start to edit.

“They say the road gets hard and you get lost when you’re led by blind faith.”- False God

In my opinion, the hardest part of a novel to write is the middle. If the middle of a novel falls apart, it’s really hard to piece it back together. I make my characters go through the ringer during the middle of a novel because I like to write authentic, messy teenagers. The middle is when I purposely slow down my writing a bit because my brain is working overtime to make sure that these characters go through their necessary character arcs to reach my desired ending. This is also where it really helps that I always know how I want my novels to end. It’s harder for me to mess up the middle when I’m working towards an ending. To help me really nail down the stakes of a novel, this is the point in my writing process where I start to craft my query letter and synopsis. I always finish my query during the writing of the middle of a novel and I let the synopsis be a running synopsis that I edit as I continue to work on a novel.

“I love you, ain’t that the worst thing you ever heard?”- Cruel Summer

When I finally finish a full draft of a novel, I love the process of editing! Something about seeing the story come together exactly how I pictured it feels magical. I always start off my first round of edits with a printed out copy of my novel and a red pen. Just because I edited while I was writing, doesn’t mean that I go easy on myself during these edits. I call them my red edits because my novel is mostly red pen by the end of it. I mark up the entire novel with a sea of red, leaving my novel a bloodied mess of developmental edits. I end up killing a lot more darlings. Then, I input these edits into Scrivener. If there are plot holes, this is when I fix them by adding scenes. Once I finish that round of edits, I edit again by exporting the novel to my iPad and reading it like an E-Book. This is often how I catch stupid spelling errors and I’m always surprised by just how many errors there are.

For the four novels I have already written, my mom has basically been my built in CP and beta reader. Once I finish those two rounds of editing on my own, I give my novel to her and she gives me her notes. While she reads, I polish my query letter and synopsis. My mom usually gives me honest notes, as if she’s reading someone else’s novel, which is very helpful for my final rounds of editing. Then, I usually decide which notes I agree with and edit based on those notes. To polish off a novel, I go through the process of exporting it to my iPad at least one more time before I start to query. Maybe someday I’ll find CP and beta matches that work for me in the Writing Community, but so far I haven’t found the right match. Just like my future agent, I want the right matches, so until I find them, my mom will continue to be my right match. I’m pretty sure she’ll still continue to be one of my first readers long into my writing career, even when I have the right agent, editor, CP, and beta matches.

Somewhere in this long editing process, I usually get the idea for my next novel and start to compile the inspiration for that novel. This way, by the time one novel is polished and ready to query, I’m ready to start writing a new novel during the agonizing wait that is the query trenches.

“I watched it Begin Again.”- Begin Again (Taylor’s Version)

Once I wrote a novel in two months using this process. Once I wrote a novel in a year and a half. Once I wrote a novel in six months. Once I wrote a novel in eight months. There’s no average amount of time I spend working on a novel before I decide it’s ready to query. I let the novel unfold the way it’s meant to in however much time it takes me to tell the story the way I envision it.

Instead of setting a hard deadline for myself of when I’ll finish a novel, I set small deadlines for myself. When working on a novel, I start by reading one chapter of a craft book every day because I always like learning new things about the craft of writing. I think writing is like a muscle and it can’t become stronger unless you actively exercise it and that includes practice and learning more about it. Then, I write every day with a goal word count of at least 1,000 words a day. Some days I hot the word count, some days I don’t, some days I exceed the word count by a lot. If I’m close to finishing a full draft, I’ll aim to have a polished final draft in a month. These aren’t hard deadlines, sometimes I finish before or after the deadline, but it gives me a goal to work towards and it’s how I managed to finish and query four novels within a year and a half. I’m always a little sad when I finish a novel because I’ll miss being immersed in the world and spending every day with those characters, but I’m also excited to work on the next novel. That’s exactly how I know I’m meant to be a writer.

While my process works for me, it might sound insane to someone else. All I know is that when I’m ready to write the next novel, I eagerly begin the whole process over again. Here’s to the next chapter because I just started this whole process over again for book five.

“Next chapter…”- The Story Of Us

Reem is a young adult contemporary/romantic comedy author from the Maldives. She has lived in various corners of the world, including New York, Tokyo, California, and Kuala Lumpur throughout her life. She loves writing heartfelt stories filled with love and friendship. She is a 2021 graduate from the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at The New School.

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