Usually I will get the kernel of an idea and let it roll around in my head for a few days. Sometimes they dissipate, but sometimes they begin to grow, like a snowball rolling downhill. If they do that, before long I have to start writing. Generally I'll jot down about 5 main plot points, then just start in.
Unlike (I think) most writers, I write in longhand. I find the physical action to be soothing and helpful; I don't think I could ever quantify how it keeps me inspired, but I am convinced it does. If I sit at a keyboard, I don't feel near the satisfaction, nor have near the output. At left is a sample page from my latest book.
As you can see, I do a bit of editing as I go, changing or adding words. Often I'll add a sentence or two in the margin, or make notes to myself about something I need to do or remember.
One tool that's imperative is the Story Bible. This is where I keep track of who's who--my characters' names, descriptions, ages, personality quirks. I'll often list several possible names to start, then narrow it down as I go and as the character becomes more solid. I also keep a timeline of events so I know what has to happen in what order to get the story where it needs to go.
What still amazes me is how a story--and a character--can end up very different than I originally imagine them. In this particular book, The Field Where I Died, I had an idea for a plot twist involving the main character, Devon Muir, from the very beginning. When I finally reached that point in the latter part of the book, imagine my surprise when Devon refused! Try as I might to force him to do my original bidding, he would not, and I finally had to let him have his way. I think it's very important to allow the characters to be true to themselves; if they do something that's not authentic to them, the readers will know. And that casts a shadow over the authenticity of the entire story.
When the book is done, then I start thinking about the cover. If I already have some idea about what I want, I will search royalty-free image sites like pixabay.com to see what I can find. In this case, I found this image of the Gettysburg battlefield and I thought it was a good fit for the story. I made my own mock-up of a cover and sent that to my cover designer so she could see what I was visualizing.
Then the real work began. My cover designer read the book and made some alterations to my mock-up. The one thing I wanted was a female face in the clouds above the battlefield, as that is an important element in the story. The first woman that my cover designer put in seemed a little too modern, so we looked for other possibilities. I had an idea of having just the eyes in the clouds, but as you can see by the second attempt (below), that didn't work well at all.
We went back to the original image of the woman in the clouds, but then I was afraid the cover looked too much like a romance. Although there are relationships in the story, it is not a romance in the general sense, and I did not want to mislead my readers. There's nothing worse than buying a book you think is one genre, only to find it's something completely different. The story has some rather dark turns to it, so instead of the light blue sky, I chose a stormier, moodier sky. We also went through several iterations of fonts and finally came back to my original choice. All in all, I was happy with the cover.
Here is a link to the video of the segment from the TV show.
So there you have it. How to write a book in a few easy steps!