Friday, December 2, 2011

the writing process

Got an email today that made me think about the writing process. Good grief, what a complicated, many-faceted beast that is. Everyone has a different system. Some people sell their writing process systems for bundles of money, some people struggle for years to find the system that works for them, some people just sit down and bang the shit out, and voila! Story.

Me? I used to be a total pantser. Sat down, basic vague idea (but not much more) in head, and just started to write. Sometimes I wrote as much as 30 pages. Pretty cool. However, those 30 pages were usually meant to be part of a novel, which should be closer to 300, 400, or more pages. End result? No book. Not finished. Left to the dusty confines of its file, not to see the light of day unless I stumbled across it while transferring files to a new computer.

Years passed. Some (very) short erotic stories were published. That was cool. Novels? Nope. Nada. Of course not, since they not only weren't completed, they weren't even plotted out. How the heck could I finish something when I had no idea where it was headed? Correct answer: I couldn't.

Solution: Become a practitioner of plotting. Big time. Plotting, outlining, detailing until I knew the bones of the thing backward and forward, inside and out, yes and no, all of its all. And, while I have yet to finish a novel using this method (haven't even attempted one yet! Still working on stories and novellas first), I am a fan. Why? Because IT IS WORKING. My short story is just about done. Once I started working on it seriously, it flowed quickly. Why? Because I knew where the darn thing was going. I had it outlined out step by step, almost page by page. (By the way, this outline was on the front sides of two small sticky notes--so not too ridiculously long and detailed, but enough so for me.)

As it turns out, my writing process key is a map. I need the map, the coordinates, the locations, the trail, and the "X marks the spot"-ness of it all. That works for me. That helps me be an efficient, effective, and completed writer.

Is there room for interpretation? Is there a chance that this process will not always work for me, every single project, until the end of my time here? Of course. Case in point:

The goal this week was to finish the short story. Have I done so? Almost, actually. I of course ran into a snag at the very end, where what I'd planned to end with isn't sounding quite right, and I don't want it to start drifting into novella territory. I don't want to fall back into the old writing without a compass style. My compass points in a certain direction; I just can't quite see the very final end point of it. So I sit here at the coffeeshop overlooking the busy street (totally cool street, worthy of plenty of inspiration), document open...and of course I cruise around online instead. Lol!

What I really need to do, though, is sit with that open document, read it from the beginning, and then I will know exactly where it is to end. Because that works for me too.

What's your writing process? How do you write, start something you want to write, finish something you're writing?


amy kennedy said...

Ha! For goodness sakes, are we two-peas-in-a-pod or what? I get an idea and I can't help myself, I run with it, 100 yard dash with it, but can I long distance run with it? Damn it, no.

I do so love the ideas, but I know I'm like an adhd kid when I don't plot -- I'm everywhere, and not making much sense, and getting into all kinds of trouble!

Widow Dyer said...

I think I'm a bit of both, pantser and plotter. I don't want to know every detail because I want to enjoy the story as I write it, but I need to know where I'm headed.

Sometimes one or the other works against me. If I plot too much details too early before starting the first draft, I lose interest in the story. If I freestyle it, I get frustrated that I'm not sure where to go next and lose my writing steam.

Usually when I get an idea, I'm consumed with various scenes. I'll jot those down on index cards and when I think I'm ready to "attempt" to write the story, I'll lay out the cards and arrange them like a puzzle.

This usually helps me come up with other scenes for the book. My problem is finishing the first draft. I usually get close to halfway and then find myself stuck, realizing I hadn't worked out the backstory or worldbuilding or characterization enough. And then life (work, family) kicks in and the book gets put to the side.

And then I get brand new idea, making the vicious cycle start all over again. Argh! :-)

Jesi O'Connell said...

Amy, Good thing we're two peas in a pod, I think that will work well for us! :)

I am so, so, so on the bandwagon of plotting for the long haul. Because I want to complete something long...soon.

Jesi O'Connell said...

Widow Dyer,

Love your site, btw. I need to pretty mine up like yours is!

I think there's definitely something to be said for being both a plotter and a pantser. Generally, I am not a believer in black and white, one or the other, all or nothing. I still love me some pantsing in the midst of my plotting. What works best for me is plotting out the major things first--then pantsing a lot of the details as I write. Such as character quirks, etc.

The one trap I sometimes fall into, though, is then dumping some backstory as I write. Gotta watch out for those info dumps!

I like your index cards idea--I've done that before, and found it really helpful. Another one that I think probably will be my go-to method is colored stickies on a big white posterboard. I'm a visual person, and it helps me see the big picture, lol. have you ever tried that method?