Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Process of Developing a Writing Process

Awhile back, six rather talented authors did a blog chain to discuss their writing process. It was interesting, to say the least, to see the differences in the way Tawna Fenske, Sean Ferrell, Cynthia Reese, Kiersten White, Linda Grimes, and Nelsa Roberto all formulate their novels. Upon reading all of them, I found my own (current) process aligns more closely with Cynthia's than anything. She's a heavy outliner, and my Scene Development document kind of smacks of an outline without actually being an outline. Well, that and my propensity for research is so well-known around the Interwebs that certain people take advantage of me being able to find information quicker than a dog with its tail on fire runs to the well (I have no idea where that metaphor came from).

Anyway, reading that blog chain got me thinking about how my writing process actually developed. The answer? Rather haphazardly.

My history as a writer can be traced back to age 9, when I wrote my first (horrible) short story in a short-story series that never went anywhere. This would be the same short story series idea that stuck with me throughout high school (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but with Druids!), and I might turn it into a novel when I get a chance. After all, if the concept's stuck with me for this many years it's got to have the germ of something good there, right? (I haven't written anything with that MC for nearly a decade and I still remember her character history and the plot of her major story).

I started off as a hardcore pantser. I eschewed planning in any way, shape, or form in favor of just writing and seeing where the story took me. As time went on, and I started moving more into fantasy worlds, I discovered that I needed to do some research to figure out the things that I didn't know. The story that would eventually become SON OF MAGIC started off as one of those pantser tales where I made it all up as I went. But, as I got deeper into the story and started to write completed drafts of subsequent versions (I think there's a total of 7 different versions stuffed in a box somewhere), I realized there was no way I could possibly remember all the character arcs or plot points I needed to in order to keep myself consistent throughout the entire story.

So I started planning a little bit at a time. Notes here, an outline there. Until finally, last year, I read Susan R. Mills's series on Donald Maass's The Fire In Fiction. I also purchased his book, Writing the Breakout Novel, and discovered upon devouring both that "wait a minute, planning the thing out ahead of time makes so much more sense!" Of course, we've established previously that I like to think of things in a semi-logical manner. I say semi-logical because it makes sense in my head but generally doesn't do so when I explain it to other people ('course that could just be because I'm weird, but whatever).

Long post short (too late, I know), the development of a writing process or anything approaching one doesn't happen overnight. I don't write the same way now that I did when I was 15, or even the same way I did when I was 20. Of course the standards of my writing and the quality of it have improved through constant usage, but the process itself -- the background that allows the words to flow -- has also grown and evolved into something approaching what I can actually call a process. And I'll echo the talented authors linked to at the top of this post -- my process is not your process. What works for you, works for you.

But I am curious, dear readers, what stages did you go through before you found your process groove?


Cynthia Reese said...

Bless you! You're consorting with a known OCD geek! ;-)

I was like you -- thought planning was for the birds until I got well and truly stuck. It was when I had success planning (read that as I pushed through Chapter Three for the first time) that I realized I was so not a pantser!

Linda G. said...

I think the first step in any writer's process is to figure out what works for him/her.

Sometimes you might surprise yourself. I figured out I am so not an outliner, and Cynthia figured out the reverse. Different strokes, huh?

You make a very good point about not being the same writer you were at an earlier age. We all evolve, don't we? And we should all be open to change. Who knows? Maybe with the next book I'll find pre-planning more useful.

At the heart of it, I'm a pragmatist--whatever works to get the words on the page.

L. T. Host said...

Yes, I, too, am still figuring out my process. I tend to be a hardcore pantser, but I've run into some minor issues if I'm not writing obsessively like I prefer-- I forget stuff. So now I write down notes while I'm in the thick of stuff for things to do later. And if I come up with a plot point while I'm out and about, well, I have a notepad in my Blackberry and in it goes.

So far, that's my process. Haha.

Davin Malasarn said...

This is a great post, Matthew! Thanks! You're absolutely right, and I never consciously thought of it this way before. I do seemy own writing process evolving. I also see my writing interests evolving, which I think goes hand in hand. When I started writing, it was much more about being vivid and creating strong imagery. Emotional journeys were also important. Now, while I still care about those things, they aren't the first things that come to mind. I think more about complexity and vastness, and I'm sure that is also temporary.

Unknown said...

The closest thing I have (right now) to a process is to edit and write at the same time. That is, re-write the middle chapters, while I'm copy editing the beginning chapters and still working on draft one of the ending chapters. It sounds complicated but it helps me think about the whole story at once, keep things consistent and sometimes come up with interesting (to me at least) twists I wouldn't have if I hadn't been looking at two chapters so far away from each other in the story in the same day.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

My process is constantly evolving.

I'm actually a natural plotter, given my left-brain thinking, but had to let go of some of that to be a pantser and find my voice. Now I think I'm ready to swing back again.

Always learning, always changing.

p.s. I'm going to copy Cynthia's process with my next book! Just because she's cool.

The Daring Novelist said...

My process varies by the book. I tend to go back and forth between exploratory writing and planning until a certain point hits where the story takes off.

However some stories take more exploring than others. And I get better at planning as I go.

Matthew Delman said...

Cynthia -- Hey us OCD-types need to stick together!

Linda -- That's what led me to planning in the first place. I found it was easier to get words on the page that way.

L.T. -- Considering you write a novel is less than a month, I think your pantser process is pretty well evolved.

Davin -- I started out writing straight-up epic fantasy before finding my niche in steampunk, so yes my writing interests also evolved as I got older. I also find myself more focused on the why of character action -- their motivation if you will (and yes Cynthia and Linda, you can tell Nelsa I said that).

Taryn -- That's a very interesting way of keeping things in line in your head. I doubt I could do it, but it sounds like it works wonders.

Dr. Quinn -- Well you are a scientist. If you weren't a natural plotter I'd be slightly worried. And I debated copying Cynthia myself, but I like my own too much.

Daring -- As I've gotten deeper into writing off-earth stories, I've found that exploratory writing doesn't work as well for me because of my obsessive desire to have every detail ironed out. I'm getting better though!

Susan R. Mills said...

Your story pretty much sums up mine. Thanks for the mention, by the way.