Posted in blogging, writing

Personal Writing Process

I’m a firm believer that the writing process is different for every writer. While some of us dive headlong into the story with minimal planning, others take days, weeks and even months to plot, research and develop the story and characters before we ever put a word on the page. And many, many of us fall somewhere in the weird spectrum between plotting and discovering.

Thinking on that made me curious: what does the process look like for each writer? What are some of the ways we all differ from one another and what are the techniques that work best for each of us?

To answer that, I wanted to look at my personal process, from rough draft all the way up to a finished piece.

Normally any story for me ‘starts’ when I get an idea. If I’m in the middle of writing another piece, I tend to jot down a couple of notes on it—maybe a line or a word including with any known Characters, Antagonists, Reasonings, Obstacles, Themes or Titles and possibly the Setting. I’ve been using it for years and it works for me to hold onto a possible idea until I can come back to it.

Starting on the story itself is pretty easy. Recently I’ve moved away from rough drafts and into zero drafts—or, rather, what I typically end up titling as a Story Run. Rather than writing full chapters, I limit myself to ten or fifteen minutes to write a scene. Often because I’m racing to get the words down before the timer rings, I don’t have the option to stop and think, which prevents me from getting stuck. And if I do get stuck on a particular scene, I can simply move ahead to the next scene I know about and come back to it on editing later.

Once I have a complete run I typically move off to another story for a while, letting it sit and stew. Usually I like to give at least a month between each phase of any given story. That lets me work on something else and helps give me a better perspective on what the story needs when I come back to it.

From the zero draft I start expanding, working each chunk of writing up into individual chapters. Sometimes I’ve outlined the expansion, especially when I’m missing scenes. Other times I just add more to each scene, bridging it from one to the next to get a complete rough draft.

When I start on the editing itself, I always start with an outline, as well as a list of characters and their goals. This way I can tighten up any loose scenes or expand on flimsy ones as necessary. Usually my outlines include just a sentence or two about what happens in each chapter. Once I’ve finished the second draft it tends to look a little more like an actual story, but still needs a lot of polish. At this point I can send it to an alpha reader, or if I know there are still some problems I want to fix, I can head into the third draft.

I don’t always need another outline between the second and third draft, but occasionally do. At this point I’m usually working in a side-by-side view with both drafts. Because I tend to draft short, it also means I can keep an eye on my wordcount between the two versions and expand places that need a little more detail.

At this point it’s definitely time to get a beta reader if I don’t already have one lined up. Following beta feedback, I can address any remaining structural issues and start focusing on word choice and sentence flow. Once the next draft is finished, it’s time to rinse and repeat—get more feedback, make more updates. Draft six is usually the earliest I’ll start shopping a piece around, but dependent on what my early readers tell me, there may be more drafts. And if I get critiques while trying to find a home for a piece, I may also put it on hold to do another draft and address any valid feedback.

Writing is an ongoing and oftentimes lengthy process, but that’s only my take on it. I’m curious for my fellow writers: What does your process look like?

Posted in worldbuilding

Worldbuilding: Politics Intro

Anywhere civilization starts to crop up people tend to group together. The exact definitions of a group of people can be a little vague. You might have people who are grouped together in a town, or in an occupational group. And how a group is managed and how they make decisions together is where politics comes into play.

Politics sound somewhat complicated, but they don’t have to be. In essence politics is how a group makes decisions. This ties partially into how they’ve organized any governing system. Are they held by a single leader, or do they follow more democratic or oligarchical structures? It also ties into cultural beliefs. Places where politics and religion aren’t separated may have some of those choices heavily influenced by a religious group or influence. And where there is a separation, any clash between differing beliefs can cause smaller political problems, even within the same group.

To start figuring out politics, it may help to start with the large picture such as your kingdom or country. The group decisions there are often about how to keep the kingdom and country running. This covers everything from who can become a part of the governing body, to how laws are agreed upon and who can trade with who.

From there take another look at how your group can be divided up. Consider things like religion, social and economic standing, educational level, age, gender and race. Smaller groups within a larger may have different views, and some of the political issues that crop up are the result of conflicting views. How do these smaller groups make themselves heard to the larger group they’re contained within? How do they influence the choices made by their governing body?

Once you have an understanding of how the large group works, consider how it interacts with other groups of the same size. This is where your different countries and varying types of government come into play. Even between groups with the same type of government system, their politics may change; one place may allow certain things where the other bars them.

Posted in blogging

Creating Blog Ideas

If you’ve thought about blogging at all, one of the big questions you might have is where you’ll get ideas for it all. You can only post so many times on the same things before you run out of ideas, right?

The good news is that while you might have a limited number of ideas, there are easy ways to find new ideas, and to help make your current ideas fit newer posts.

Expand. If you have a general idea—such as character development, or plotting for a particular genre—consider expanding on that general idea and getting into details and specific aspects of it. Do you want to discuss the exposition, or the climax? Perhaps you want to discuss some common plot twists to your genre. Think to how character development impacts their arc, or where to start developing characters. Look at your general ideas and make some notes. What are more topics you can expand on?

Series. It’s much easier to keep posting regularly if you have a series you can work from. This might be something like ten great recipes with potatoes, or historical accountings of metalwork from medieval times up to modern usage. If you work better with a plan, this is a great option! You can break each topic down onto a particular area you want to cover and plot them out over time. If you have a large topic with a lot to cover, you can also use this topic as a ‘filler’ when you don’t have time to write an in depth post on something else but want to maintain consistency.

Free Write. If you’re absolutely out of ideas, set a timer for ten minutes or so, pick a topic and splash some words down. Don’t worry if they come out with any sort of cohesiveness, you’re not doing anything more than spewing words out to get your thoughts turning. Once the timer is done, set it aside for a bit, maybe go edit another post or play with a page you need to update. Come back to it in an hour and see what sort of gems are hidden in your free write. Did you find a connection between two subjects you didn’t expect? Perhaps you can see a good base of a post.

Keep Tabs. If you notice a topic is trending—i.e. it’s cropping up on multiple other blogs or keeps recurring in the news—it’s not a bad idea to write up a post on your thoughts on it. Even if you never share that particular post, it can help you find new ideas by giving you a place to write down your questions. Those questions can be researched later, and a more informative post can be shared on the answer to that particular question.

Posted in Exercises

Exercise: Writing Sprints

If you’ve read a few of my previous posts, you probably already know that sprints are one of my absolute favorite tools. They’re especially useful when you don’t have a lot of time to sit and write.

Sprints are easy to set up. Get a timer and set it for however long you like. Five, ten and fifteen minute sprints are ideal, but you can set longer sprints between twenty and forty-five minutes if you want (you may see these longer sprints referred to as ‘marathons’). Then, just sit and write as fast as you can.

The best part of a sprint is that you don’t have time to sit and think about word choice, ro sentence structure. The idea isn’t to get a good paragraph down, it’s strictly to get something down for later.

As an option: If you choose to, you can track to see how many words you can write in a given time. Start by writing your current word count down, and then doing a sprint. Mark down how many words you end up with, and subtract how many words you started with. The end result is how many words you’ve written during your sprint.

Sprints are great for friendly competitions as well. If you have a group, set a timer and go. Who can get the highest count? Who can work in the most puns in?

Posted in Exercises

Exercise: Word Association

Word association games are great because they let you ignore the usual rules of grammar and sentence structure. The base idea of a word association game is to say the first word that comes to mind. So, for example if someone says blue and your first thought is berry, then you’d say berry. The next person might say pancake, and so on and so forth. They’re a great way to get your creativity flowing.

Thankfully there’s also two to play them!

Option 1 Grab a partner or two and set a timer for five minutes. Pick up the nearest book, open to a random page and use the first word on that page as your starting word. Go back and forth until the timer goes off.

Option 2 If you don’t have a partner, grab a thesaurus and set a timer for ten minutes. Again, grab the nearest book, open to a random page and use the first word on that page as your starting word. Then pick synonyms for that word, looking up each synonym and choosing a word from their synonyms. When the timer goes off, compare your starting word and your ending word to see how far your association traveled.

Now that you have a list of words–get writing! Try to write one sentence per word and make a coherent story out of your word list.