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

On Different Approaches

Last week while speaking with a friend, we ended up on a discussion of worldbuilding and where to start it. In essence, she wanted to write a story, but complained she didn’t have the world for it. My response caused a bit of confusion for us both: Just write the story.

The fact that I did so surprised her, if only because she’s also heard me complain and grump about editing when my story contradicts the world I have for it. She’d thought that I, like her, built the world first and wrote the story second.

I however, had a hard time grasping how you would build a world that you don’t have a story for at all. I tend to write the early draft, and pull out any details from it during editing to build the world as I build the story.

Both techniques work, and there’s something to be said for both of them on where you begin.

Worldbuilding First gives you a solid structure to work from. It provides plenty of places for conflict as well as giving you the details needed to make your story seem real. On the other hand, worldbuilding is a massive undertaking and it could be very easy to get bogged down on trying to figure out everything before you put pen to paper.

Story writing First provides ideas to help spawn details and new features for your world. It can help you populate the world with realistic characters. But, it also leaves you open to contradictions and possible continuity errors.

Whichever approach you choose, choose the one that works best for you. There’s no right or wrong way to go about it.

Where do you start your worldbuilding?

Posted in Exercises, writing

The Middle Bit

When it comes to a story, there’s three main parts to the plot: The beginning, the middle and the end. If you want to get technical, there’s an exposition, rising action, climax and  resolution. Regardless of what you call them, there’s one part that causes numerous headaches.

The middle. Writers everywhere struggle with getting from the opening to the ending.

The Saggy Middle is a common complaint among writers. We’ve all been there. The opening is great! The climax is dramatic. The resolution is perfect.

It’s that bit between the opening and the climax that’s not holding a lot of tension, causing it to feel lackluster and flabby. There’s a couple of reasons that might be, most of them structural in nature.

If you’re a pantser like me, beware of having too many detours in your middle. While it’s easy to wander through a lot of different scenes, make sure you’re taking a look at what each scene is doing for your plot. Do you really need it? If the answer is no, remove it. If it does add something, ask yourself if it’s in the right place: does it make sense in context with only the two nearest scenes? If not, move it to a more appropriate place.

If you’re more of a plotter and you’ve done an outline, then take at the tension in your scenes. If your characters aren’t facing obstacles, then it can seem like you’ve driven them into the climax with no real motivation to change. Take a look at whether or not you’ve got enough obstacles in the way of your characters. If you don’t, look at where obstacles would make sense and consider reworking the specific scenes.

No Idea What Happens Next is another problem with the middle, but it occurs most often in the actual writing process of an early or rough draft. You might know how to start the story, and you might know where it ends. What happens in between can be a bit fuzzier.

In this case, try making a list of things that could happen. They don’t need to be an outline, or even logical–just start listing things your characters could do. Let your inspiration wander freely down this list. Remember you can come back later and take out anything that doesn’t fit.

Once you have a list of at least five things, set a timer for fifteen minutes and write a scene as if each of those things is what happens next. Which ones are you more inclined to keep writing on?

 

Posted in General, writing

On Shifting Mindset

Not every part of the creative process is enjoyable. It’s certainly a lot more entertaining to daydream about the six-figure deal you’ll get, or the contract for an original show you sign with Netflix than it is to go back through your manuscript for the hundredth time trying to hunt down out of place commas or lurking filler words. While those tasks may not be enjoyable, they are necessary. Thankfully, there’s something to be said about having the right attitude to approach something.

How you think about something can have a vast impact on how you feel about it. Rather than focusing on how much you dislike doing a particular part of editing, think of how easy it is to get done. Alternately, remind yourself how much it’s going to improve your writing and your story. By shifting your thoughts from the negative ‘dislike’ of the task at hand and onto the postive aspects of it, you’re also shifting your feelings. This won’t mean you necessarily enjoy searching for every instance of ‘that’ or sprucing up your descriptions, but it will make it less of a chore.

Another way you help change your view on something is to adjust your enviroment accordingly. These don’t need to be huge changes either. If you can work with music on, try putting on tracks that are upbeat and exciting. Music has been shown to affect your mood, so having something that cheers you up and energizes you can help make a daunting or tedious task go a little easier. If you find sound distracting or need to work on your focus, try a scent such as lavender or lemon to help calm and focus your thoughts. This might make distractions less tempting and help you ward off procrastination.

What are some ways you make difficult tasks easier?

Posted in General, writing

On Rewriting

Currently in my writing projects, I’m knee-deep in a rewrite. In this instance, I’m talking about completely scrapping the initial drafts and notes and starting over again. I’m keeping the characters and the basis for the conflict, but everything else has been moved to the ‘junk’ folder. In a lot of ways, as much as rewriting is a significant part of my process, it’s also the most frustrating.

There are multiple reasons for needing to rewrite something. Perhaps the plot makes too many illogical leaps. The characters might not have solid motivations, or they lack development. Maybe the setting creates problems. Individually, the problems might be solved by rewriting one or two sections. The main reason I’ve found for needing to rewrite an entire manuscript is because the problems have all added up to need multiple different sections rewritten.

As I mentioned however, it’s frustrating. The idea itself may be good, but the execution and the work already put in may not be enough. Having to throw out the time and effort I’ve already expended to start over can give doubt a reason to creep in.

In some ways it’s a good thing. Rewriting gives me the chance to explore the story again, to find new places to look for mystery and wonder. It also gives me the opportunity to bring an old idea up to par with my current skills. Although it doesn’t always help, reminding myself that a rewrite is just another opportunity to learn can curb some of the frustration stemming from needing to start over.

How do you handle rewriting?