Know Your Writing ProcessPosted: August 1, 2016
There is no one writing process that’s right. Writers all use different methods to get to the same point – a finished manuscript of a publishable quality. Some writers binge write. I had a professor who writes this way. She locks herself in a room and puts out a do not disturb sign, then writes until she’s given birth to the story. She claims she doesn’t stop to eat, sleep or shower, and when she comes out of the room, she may seem a little crazy, but with full manuscript in hand.
In one of my Facebook groups, members invite one another to join in writing sprints, where they start writing and keep going non-stop for a designated amount of time. The duration that I have seen is mostly about twenty minutes, but this varies depending on which member extends the invitation. This is kind of a nifty way to write, using the encouragement of others to keep you on track writing, but it’s not for me. I work on multiple projects concurrently and I can’t wait for a group sprint, or limit myself by one. As a graduate student, I had a professor who liked to give us timed free-writes, which was okay except that if I wasn’t finished when the time ran out, I didn’t want to stop. I wanted to finish expressing my complete thought or idea. Once I’m on a roll, I want to keep going. I can sprint when I have to, but I think I’m more of a long distance writer.
In another of my Facebook groups, I saw a post where a writer outlined his very structured writing process. In his outline, he showed how he wrote chapters one through five and then sent them off to his alpha readers, then rewrote those chapters using their feedback before proceeding forward. My comment to him was that even though I liked his structured approach, I just can’t write that way.
Once I start writing, I listen to my characters, and keep writing until the story is told. I’m not as emphatic as my professor, I do take life breaks, but even then, the story is swimming around in my head while I tend to other tasks which life deems necessary. That’s what I mean when I say I’m a long distance writer. Once the idea takes hold, I jump in and just keep going until I’ve expended all of my creative energy. And I write fast. I once wrote the first draft for a thirty thousand word romance story in nine days. It wasn’t perfect. It was a first draft. But the story was all there, waiting for revisions.
But there are drawbacks to this method. Only when the first draft is complete, do I send it off to alpha readers. After receiving their feedback I revise the story, sometimes in its entirety. With Delilah, once I got the initial feedback from my alpha readers, I utilized said feedback to do revisions.
On the next read-through I decided that there just wasn’t enough at stake to make readers care whether Delilah would be successful in her quest. So, I went back and wrote in a teen girl, Sarah, and placed her in Delilah’s care at the beginning of the story. Then I rewrote the scenes that came after that, because everything changed once Sarah was in the picture, and we’re talking major revisions. But they added to Delilah’s quest for revenge, a quest to save Sarah, which raised the stakes, hopefully causing readers to want Delilah to succeed.
I’m also one of those writers who, despite all the warnings from my professors about editing as you write, does it anyway. I correct my typos and misspellings as I go, so after the first few chapters, where the story is set in motion, most of the revisions necessary were mostly minor tweaks, but they were required throughout the story. It necessitated going over it with my editor’s eye and reading it aloud.
Once the second draft was complete, I did a read-through before sending it off for feedback once more. About half-way through, I came to a part where the story was dragging for me. Now when your own writing drags for you, that’s not a good thing. Something needed to happen to keep my readers, (and myself), awake and interested. So, I rewrote the scene and had Delilah run into one of the outlaws she is seeking, resulting in a shoot-out that kills off a character that had previously had a big role later in the story. It solved the boredom problem for that scene, but required a rewrite of the rest of the story, because things could no longer go down that way I had originally written it.
You can see the drawback to my writing process. Waiting until the first draft is finished can entail some major rewrites. Sending it off for feedback a small chunk at a time, and then revising bit by bit seems like it might be a better process to practice, but I can’t get my mind to shut down once the story starts flowing. It’s all got to come out. That’s just how I do it.
Delilah is an example of my normal writing process. I took that first excerpt and wrote. I’m not a plotter. I get an idea in my head and let the words fly to the page. But in my M.F.A. program, they tried to turn me into a plotter. For my thesis novel, Playground for the Gods: The Great Primordial Battle, I was required to make an outline before I started writing. In truth, I needed to take that approach with my thesis, because my original science fantasy idea is broad enough to encompass four novels, and in fact, my thesis turned into the first novel with plans for three other novels to follow. My original idea will become the third novel in the series. I needed two books worth of backstory to tell my tale. But that much information, that much plot, that much story needs to be outlined. You can’t just blunder along blindly writing whatever comes into your head, because what you write at this point must fit in, not only with this story, but with the other three in the series. There are a lot of writers, and many of my M.F.A. cohorts, who prefer to outline and plot before writing.
With my thesis novel, I did send chunks off for feedback instead of waiting for the whole story. There was just too much story to fill in and I needed to know it was all there and flowed smoothly. It’s a good thing I did, too, because I am still waiting on the feedback from my thesis advisor. Quite frankly, I’ve been considering pulling this one back out and doing some revising, even now.
I know how my writing process works, but it’s not the only way, or maybe even the best way. It’s a way that works for me.
What is your writing process? Are you a sprinter? A long distance writer? A procrastinator, who puts the writing off until right before deadline and then crams to get it done? A plotter, who outlines and plots the whole story before ever putting down the first word?
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