truth: different writers have different writing processes. yes. i think most creative types will understand that. you can’t be completely free to explore your imagination if you are forced to temper your process to fit a “right” way and “wrong” way. and as long as the writing is getting done, does it matter how you get there? not really.
truth: creative types need some kind of structure or they scatter and flit about between different projects all willy nilly without actually accomplishing anything. the easiest process is not necessarily the most effective. i have had to change my process twice now before finding the best way for me to get it done.
okay, with “missing” getting ready to publish (don’t ask me for a date, i’m not ready to divulge that yet, but the manuscript is finished and cover art is done), people have been asking how i managed to get the manuscript finished. it would seem that there are a lot of people out there that start but just can’t seem to develop or finish their books. so i’ve offered to do a series of blog entries explaining my own process. to start, let’s talk about what didn’t work for me.
i have been writing since i can remember doing anything. couldn’t always spell, but i used to scribble nonsense on a piece of paper or a chalk board or a wall (sorry mom) and then “read” it like it was a fairy tale. so when it came to putting together a book, it seemed like it should be easy. i had tons of ideas, a couple of notebooks full of characters and titles and back cover blurbs i’d been keeping since middle school; i day dreamed about these stories constantly. i was even determined on most nights to dream about them so i could experience it “first hand” through the eyes of my characters. with all of this “experience”, how hard could it really be to simply write it all down?
well, i’ll tell you. it was easy…and yet, so terribly difficult at the same time. the creative drive was working very well, but my focus was all over the place! i’d have an idea for a scene and try to build the whole book around that. not the easiest thing to do when you start at the middle or end of a story. who are these people? how did they get to this point? and where are they going? then i’d get so bogged down in that climb to the only scene i planned that i’d get bored, feeling constrained in the limitation of getting to that one scene. then, somewhere a long the way, i’d have a great idea for another scene in another story! so i’d completely forget the other story and just work on the new one. and then another new one. and another. over the years, i have accumulated enough scenes to make about a hundred books…but none of them actually go together! not helpful.
so i realized that i needed a change if i was ever going to finish a novel, and i was determined to do just that. so i took a friend’s advice and started using an outline. there are rules to this. you must finish your outline before you start the writing of the book. this mean i can write my ideas and such down, but can not start planning my whole book around that scene. an outline brings a structure to my creative process that i was seriously lacking. it makes me plan out the story (and i do so by chapter) so that i have a clear map of how to get from start to finish. this actually really helped get my juices flowing a lot of times, as well, in that it got me thinking about the story as a whole and the potential it had to go in different directions rather than just “how do i get to the scene i had in my mind”. it also forced me to consider the questions that popped up before i hit them in the writing, such as “how would that happen?” or “why?” or “how do i make this more realistic?”. this would then give me a list of things to research. it made me have character bios for everyone involved in every scene, which gave me more rounded characters and motivations.
next rule: don’t mess with the outline once you’ve finished it! okay, i understand that there are times when you’re writing and it’s not working and needs a little change. fine, not a big deal. but if you start messing with it every time you start to write the story, you’ll never finish! obviously, make sure you’re happy with it before you start your manuscript. then leave it alone! if you have to do a rewrite, make a new outline to fit the new direction of the story. and then leave it alone again!
know what else an outline is good for? at least for this writer? kicking writer’s block butt. i have a cousin who is currently struggling with her writing and says she has been for a while, that she can’t seem to get it to flow like it used to. we’ve all been there. my usual advice is to just keep writing. something will come back to you. with my writer’s block, my outline already told me what i was supposed to be writing. i knew what scene was coming up and had already planned how to get there. it took some of the pressure off. i realized that i could just take it a little at a time, too, because, again, a lot of the work had already been done. writing isn’t work for me, the planning part is. and the outline has already fleshed all of that out.
next time, we’ll get to the fun part…characters; or as i like to call it: Pinterest Porn. 😉