Getting up to speed on writing is an interesting process. And being the epistemophiliac that I am, I love watching and figuring out the process (and the perception of learning the process…I know, meta, right?) as much as writing and learning about writing itself.
So, most writers I’ve seen, especially the ones that do a lot of introspection, take years to finish their first book. But after that, it takes dramatically less time per book. Yes, part of this is just knowing how to write better, and understanding what is needed. But I think the biggest reason for this is that we are figuring out our process.
Every writer’s process is a little different. It has to be. Our writing is as unique as we are, so our process must be too. If anyone, no matter how famous or widely published, tells you that you have to do it a certain way, then throw their advice away. They are too egocentric to be of much help. You can gather all kinds of ideas from different authors about their personal processes, to help you find your own, but you shouldn’t try to completely mimic any of them. No matter how much you appreciate an author, you are unique, as is your voice. You need to find your own.
Personally, I’m still figuring out mine. I used to mull over ideas for sometimes years, and that may eventually work for me, but at this point in time I find that puts too much import in the story, which tends to give me a little too much anxiety because then the pressure for the MS to be perfect is a little too much.
Brainstorming story elements with my sister Meggin helps a ton. My best creativity comes through interaction. Even if 99% of the ideas are mine, hearing her reaction instantly lights up paths in my head over what direction the story can take and how best to do it.
I have also found that I can’t just plan everything, then do, but I can’t just ‘do’ cold, either. I have to plan some, then do and experiment some, which gives me ‘real world data’ on how my plans flesh out, then I plan some more.
Right now–and I’m only working on my 2nd story, so nothing is set in stone yet–I’ve found that for me, this is what seems to work best so far:
- Brainstorm story elements with my sister. Once I get a few that I like, I start cobbling together a basic storyline. Usually I do a lot of this in Scrivener, because it’s great at keeping my brainstorming coherent. 🙂
- Put together a very basic story–sometimes just a goal. Outline it a smidge. Outline the first few chapters more.
- Start drawing up some character sketches.
- Determine my narrator and how it will be told. This is vital, not just because the narrator determines how a reader perceives a story and is thus one of the most important and powerful tools in a writer’s toolbelt, but it helps ME get into the story. If I can get into the narrator’s head–even if it’s an omniscient narrator–that gives ME the feel of the story. Once I’m ‘into’ the story, once I can feel it, the writing flows much better.
- Then I write the first 2-3 chapters and work with them until I know I’m headed in the right direction. I know tons of people say ‘write first, edit later,’ and to a degree I agree, but when it comes to this, I won’t do it that way on the start of the book. If my story/protagonist/narrator isn’t working from the beginning, it won’t magically start working later, and it will be devilishly hard to even work on. Not to mention that if it’s going in the wrong direction, it’s not going to end up where I want it (if I can get it to end at all). So I pound on the first couple of chapters, rewrite and restart as needed, until it feels like it’s going in the right direction. It doesn’t need to be perfect. It just needs to be headed the right way.
- Then I really start writing. All of this is strongly peppered with research (though I do tend to overdo that bit) and side notes as I figure out future parts and the overall outline becomes more detailed and solidified in my head. One of the many, many reasons I love Scrivener is because it lets me do that, all from the same screen. I might be working on chapter 2, but if a powerful idea for a future scene, or a needed plot element, or a character quirk, or whatever, comes to mind, I just pop it into some notes without ever leaving my screen. Because yes, my writing process is generally about as ADD as it can get. 🙂
- If I get stuck, I’ve started to figure out that it’s usually because some core thing isn’t working. So the story bugs me, so I get anxiety about it, and I avoid it (some might call it getting writer’s block). I’ve learned that I have to sit myself down (sometimes call my sister), figure out what isn’t working, then break it down until I have an approach to figure it out/fix it. Then I get excited about writing again.
- some things I’ve found I CAN’T do: leave a character unnamed, or go forward without at least SOME research on story elements.
I am writing this down because I’m still working it out and it helps me when I analyze what I know so far. For instance, some of the details on determining narrator I’ve really just been working out the last few days.