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 General, writing

Outlining Methods

One of my least favorite tasks when I’m getting ready to start editing is creating an outline. As much as I know they’re useful and will help me create a better draft, they take time to create. The most important thing about an outline is that it is only a tool. Regardless of how or even when you create an outline, they are incredibly useful and can help you structure your novel.

And, the beautiful part about outlines is that much like the writing process itself, there’s a variety. If you’re more of a discovery/pantster/garden writer (like me!) you might find writing an outline beforehand kills your story. You can save it for later. If you need a structure to keep you on track without boggling down the details, there are methods for that too. If you’re happy creating an outline before you start on Chapter One, then you have your pick of outline flavors based on your needs and preferences for a story.

If you have trouble with breaking your story down into chapters, it might help to use a synopsis. Because the synopsis is all of the events that happen in a story, it can be useful if you have the premise and the characters, but need some guidance on the plot itself. Bonus point for the synopsis: you’re more than likely going to need to write one at some point, especially if you’re planning on traditional publishing. Most synopses are summaries of the scenes and dialogue.

Another summary-like method is often called the flashlight method. I’ve also see this occasionally referred to as the ‘traditional’ method. In essence, you create one or two sentences for each chapter or story section. You can use the Hero’s Journey or the traditional plot structure known as Freytag’s pyramid if you’re not sure where your chapters are. The flashlight method flexes well enough that you can dedicate entire pages to each section, or keep it all on index cards.

If detail is a large priority for you, consider an expanding outline such as the snowflake method. With the snowflake method you start with a single sentence and simply keep expanding until you’ve reached the level of detail you want. If you choose to use the original form of this method (created by Randy Ingermanson) it can be very work-intensive but steps you through everything from character arcs through to plot and into early scenes.

The final method I want to cover is the mind map. This is a fantastic thing for brainstorming. You start with your core premise and began mapping out the parts that branch off from it. This includes things like your Main Character, who then has branches out for his goal, his motivation, his flaw. It might also include your main conflict and how it connects to your Main Character and your antagonist. This doesn’t follow any structure, so be warned that it may not give you a clear-cut plot line.

Regardless of what you use to outlines, keep in mind that these are organizational tools. As your story develops and changes, you might find yourself needing to revisit and revise your outline.

Posted in Stories, writing

Embracing the Longer Story

When you’re first starting to consider a longer story, writing something as long as a novel can seem a bit like climbing a mountain. While that’s not entirely incorrect, it’s far more important to remember finishing your novel is not in fact, a race. Your leisurely hike to The End Peak can take you as long as you like. Your novel will be there and waiting for you when you need to take a day off to go do things like the dishes, or research or what have you.

Like climbing a mountain however, there are definitely things you need before you get started on it.

Know your style. Are you a plotter or a pantser? Or, are you a comfortable mix of both? How fully do you need your idea fleshed out before you’re ready to start with ‘Once upon a time’? Knowing your particular style and process is going to make starting a lot easier because it makes preparing easier, and it means that when you hit a snag you’re less likely to become discouraged.

Be prepared for anything. This literally means anything. From a computer crash to a brilliant solution occurring at two a.m, be prepared. Back up your files regularly (both physically and digitally) and don’t discount other ways of keeping notes such as as a voice recording for those moments when you just can’t write something down.

Pace yourself. The novel range starts somewhere around 50,000 words, depending heavily on genre and target audience.  To do that in 30 days, you’d have to type 1,667 words per day without missing a day. To type that much in an hour you’d have to sustain a typing speed of roughly 28 words per minute without stopping. That sounds doable, but real life often gets in the way–and remember that’s only the starting range. Some genres like sci-fi and fantasy can have much higher ranges, and that’s only the writing portion. None of that accounts for editing or research. Remember to take things at your own pace.