Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Way I Write (aka A Portrait of the Tortured Artist)

The way I write is not very unique. In fact, it may be boring, or maybe that's just my perception and my technique is actually verging on insane, which is more likely. Despite that, I will share with you the basic steps in my process.

1. The Lightening Strike - An idea comes to me. I'm usually very vulnerable and reckless at this first stage. This is when I start writing. Yeah, right off the bat, ready, set, go. Actually there's no ready or set. An idea pops into my head, and if there is anything in the way between me and my computer, it is sure to be obliterated in my path.

2. Plotting Mania - When I get to about 2000 words, about eight or so pages, the ideas are hitting me at top speed, and my mind always works faster than my fingers. Every time I start something new, I tell myself that I'm just going to write, I'm not going to outline. But I always fail. In this step, I outline my plot, characters, and theme/symbol stuff, the last of which I always have a thorough vision of, even though most people don't like to do that. My outlines are not massive. I've got my list of characters, a general one or two paragraph summary, and some notes, like future quotes or passages that I will add in later and notes about why something is happening in a certain place, etc. It is at this point in my writing process that I feel most confident and optimistic.

3. The Brick Wall - You see, the reason why I tell myself not to outline, is because whenever I outline, I tend to hit the brick wall. In this stage, while I have a novel only about 5000 to 10,000 words in length, I can go days and even weeks without writing one single word. I reread what I have, look over the outline, ponder over every aspect of my characters, but I can't do anything. I drag myself around the house groaning and eating too much chocolate, feelings of ennui building up, and I have that general malaise and dread that I will never be able to write a word again. This is the step in which I know whether or not a story is going to make it. I've lost many a good story in this step, but alas, I suppose they were no good at all if they didn't make it past good old step 3. Some don't die completely though; I have a few hanging out there in limbo, fantastic stories that just need that spark again, and I know I'll be off like a jackrabbit on them.

4. Now if I manage to get past the brick wall, I start writing again. I get a nice pace going. It's about 500 words a day. Not terribly slow, but creeping along. I like to know what words I'm laying down, in what order, and if they sound good. This is the most productive step, and perhaps the most fun. I write for a while, and pretty soon...

5. I'm done! But not really. I usually wrap up everything I had in my plotline (which was growing and growing to about four pages in length during step 4) and exhaust my resources at around 40,000 words, a nice little novella. Then I print it out and do a line edit, even though I know it is nowhere close to being finished. Then I go in and make the changes, bringing me to around 45,000. Then I send it off to be read by a critique partner. I know that at this stage, my novel is only halfway done (seeing as it is half a novel's length), but I know I will not be able to write any more unless I get someone's say. As I read through it, I can't see any plot problems or holes, nothing that needs to be written, but I get that nagging sense that my characters' fates aren't completely fulfilled. There's usually not very much tension in my story. Not enough at stake. It's the bare bones of a novel. I've only ever had two stories make it to this stage. One of them is dead and gone, but the other is still on hold.

6. On Hold (aka Brick Wall Number Two) - The next stop for my novel is the waiting period. I tend to think that if I bake the thing for a few months, it will come out of the oven perfectly golden brown, even though I haven't touched it. No new ideas come to me here. Occasionally I'll read over what I've written, changing sentences or adding paragraphs here or there, but I don't accomplish much. My first story sat in this stage (while I lathered, rinsed, and repeated through steps 1, 2, and 3 with a few story ideas) for about a year and a half before it sizzled out and passed on to the next life. My current story has been waiting here for about six months, and the more I think about it, the more I think it has served it's time as well.

7.

Unfortunately there is no step 7 as I have never made it this far before. I am currently at the old brick wall with a story that seems very promising, and I'm clambering away on step two with another that seems slightly less promising. Step 4 is my favorite place, and I'm just dying to get there soon.

I figure step 7 is rewriting the whole thing, which I am much too terrified to try. 8 must be revising, editing, and the like. Then finally 9 would be the endpoint.

There is a perfect analogy I have found that fits my writing process, and that is pregnancy. I will not describe to you how it matches up because it is probably disgusting, offensive, and perhaps depressing (seeing as I've only had two novels reach the second trimester). But anyway...

What is your writing process? Are you as nuts as me? :)

Peace, Aimee

6 comments:

  1. My process sounds exactly like yours, except sometimes my brick walls turn into detours and I start something else entirely. And the whole process begins again...

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  2. So You've never actually gotten to 80,000 words and written the end?

    If I were you and stalled at 45K, here's what I'd do. Right before you end where you end, blow something up. the house, the workplace, the school, whatever makes the most sense. And then for the rest of the book, make the character(s) go through what she needs to get through to get her life back together. Fire, losing stuff, housing, friends, what happens when insurance won't pay, etc. etc. Make things as bad as possible before they can get better.

    See if that helps.

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  3. Identifying sticking points is a good start.

    I agree with Anne: now it's time to experiment (whether with your routine or the stories themselves). Collect failures until something clicks.

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  4. Jen, when I am on hold with something, I'm almost always writing something else too. My attention span is pretty short. :)

    Anne and Hektor, I totally agree. "Make things as bad as possible before they can get better." But sometimes I'm not sure what I can do to the characters to add conflict without messing up the main plot arc. I'll have to try blowing something up... haha

    Thanks for the comments!

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  5. My writing process has never been the same for each book I write, it's so weird. Some I start right away, others I think of for YEARS before I actually even legitimately start it.

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