August 20, 2010

Method or Madness?

          I was recently approached by someone who is thinking about writing a book and wanted to know how to go about it. She had some specific questions, but basically what it boiled down to was that she was asking about my own personal writing process. It is not the first time I have been asked. Which I find somewhat amusing, because I don't think of myself as an expert on this subject.
          It is very common for writers to share their approach, and I think that can be helpful. I know I enjoy reading about it. So since I have been asked repeatedly, I figured I would share my method. Or madness, as the case may be. This is how I write:
  • Unload. The first thing I do is get all my thoughts down. I'm talking serious stream of consciousness here. I type like a fool to capture all my thoughts. I do not worry about whether or not they make any sense, or attempt to create order. I just sit at my computer and write. I also find myself jotting ideas down on paper or recording them on my iPhone, as they tend to come when I am not at my computer.
  • Organize. Now I attempt to make order from the chaos. I read through everything I have written and develop an outline. I start with a very basic, high level outline and build in detail as I move forward with the project. Not only do I find this to be particularly helpful in guiding my writing, but I happen to write nonfiction. For that genre you are expected to create a book proposal, and an outline is a key component.
  • Build. Now that I have a foundation for my work; it is time to start building. I reorganize my piece based on the outline I have created, and start to fill in the details. I do try to complete chapters in order. But sometimes one is speaking to me more loudly than the others, or the story is just flowing better at a particular point on that day. So I do often jump around.
  • Ignore. I find it is best to set my work aside for a bit and let it be. I discovered this by accident, because I was in a place in my life where I didn't have time to commit to my writing. When I finally got back to it, I was pleasantly surprised by the perspective that resulted from time away. So now it is part of my practice. I may wait until I have completed a draft before I let it sit, or I may take a break midstream.
  • Revise. This is the part of the process where I tend to get bogged down. I rarely reach a place where I truly feel I am finished with a piece. It's maddening. I don't think I have ever read my writing before (regardless of how many times it has been revised) and been able to resist making one more change. There is the kind of revising/editing that is helpful, and then there is just plain ridiculous. If you know of a 12 step program I could join, please let me know!
  • Share. Sooner or later, I have to release my writing out into the scary world and let somebody read it. When I share my work with others for feedback, I am specific and clear about what I am looking for. I have some people who are not writers but have great insight into my topic. So I don't look to them for a writing critique, but rather feedback about the subject matter. Others are excellent writers and I want them to be brutally honest. Still other people I know are fantastic proofreaders, and I look to them to catch every last typo. 
  • Repeat. I read people's feedback as soon as I receive it, but I don't act immediately. I let it sit (back to the Ignore stage). I need to allow it to marinade before I decide what I actually want to change. Some of the feedback will be valuable. Some of it will not be. The difficult part about asking people to review your work is discerning which is which. When I have figured that out, I go back to the Revise stage, and then Share my new and (hopefully) improved work again. I may cycle through these steps multiple times.
          Finally, I have finished my piece. Now what? For me, I'm trying to get my current book published through traditional channels. So once I completed the above steps, I began the query process. What will you do? It really depends on what your goals are. You do have set goals for your writing, don't you?
          I think it is important to remember that there are about as many writing styles/approaches as there are writers. There is no one way to do it. Nor one clear path to success. Some might find that frustrating. They would like "the answer" or a blueprint to follow to get published.
          I happen to find it refreshing. Writing is, after all, a form of personal expression. So it stands to reason that there would be many styles out there. And thank goodness for that!


  1. Basically you just stated the way that I write. Except step #1 I do that in my notebook. There are certain things that I want to make sure that I include or thoughts about characters, etc. Things that I just feel need to make it in there.

    I also write everything by hand (yeah, I'm crazy but that is how I am able to get words onto the page. Can't do it with the computer for some reason) then I just type away and continue on with the next steps.

  2. Awesome entry! I think I too often strive for perfection when writing. I'm a writer AND an artist so I am all too familiar with never feeling that my work is finished.

    This approach will help me approach my goal without feeling overwhelmed by the task at hand.


  3. Best of luck with the query process! Remember, persistence pays. :)

  4. It’s an echo of the old adage: “How do you eat an elephant?”
    Answer: “One bite at a time.”

    This is something I can do…and your entry made me feel better about taking my time to work to a “complete” product.

  5. @ Ericka - Old style! I love it! That'll be a great story when you are a famous author someday. :)

    @ Anon - So glad you found it to be helpful!

    @ Linda - Thank you! Don't worry, I'm VERY persisitent!

    @ Anon2 - It is vital that you take your time. Rushing does not work well with writing. Or lots of other things, either.

  6. Great post! I really appreciated reading about your process. And I have to agree - Ignore is a very important step.

  7. Love it. I just started thinking through what my process even is, after being asked and I find I have a similar set of steps. Although, I suspect I should stick out the revise, take a break, revise cycle a little longer than I do.

  8. i really enjoyed that. ignore is basic (me thinks) what I have a difficulty with is the editing. I mean, you have chapters, and then the book, ... do you just do chapter by chapter? how often do you read the whole book through for edit? ...

    i also relate to writing the chapter that "feels right at the moment"

  9. @ Stacey - I'm glad you enjoyed it. And yes, putting your work aside for a bit can make a huge difference.

    @ anymommy - I don't think I even realized I HAVE a process until I was asked and started thinking about it. Writing it all down demonstrated that I clearly do. LOL

    @ angelica - I tend to edit chapter by chapter. It easier and you can do it a little at a time.

  10. I'm with you one the revision. Regardless of how many times I go back, there is always one more tweak to be done. What I do is that I also write my ideas down on my iphone. I happen to love words and whenever I hear or read a word that intrigues my ear, down it goes. My problem with writing is that once I'm doing it, I forget everything else. The hours pass so quickly. Since I get up early in the mornings, I dedicate one hour to it. And, then of course, here and there throughout the day because I'm in front of a computer all day and can't help myself. It's an illness really =)

    btw, this was a great post and you've won yourself a fan....i shall definitely return.

  11. Interesting ro read your process, since I have yet to make the leap into actually started a novel. THAT'S the toughest part of the process for me so far! ;)

  12. You know what I like about this, that we agree! I kid. I kid.

    Seriously, rushing through gets picked up by the reader. I"ve read a few things and I can tell that someone just wanted to get it done.

    You can't rush writing, ever.

  13. @ Rebecca - I'm glad I'm not alone in the revision thing. LOL And welcome! Happy to have you as a "fan." :)

    @ Cheryl - That is a very tough part of the process. Sometimes it's best to jump in head first and figure it out as you go along. Go for it!

    @ The Empress - I think many people don't want to hear that part about writing. It does take time. You have to be committed. And ready and willing to take the time necessary. If you're not, writing is probably not for you.

  14. This sounds like a fantastic system. I especially love the "ignore" part- I think that later perspective would help so much.

  15. I also love reading about others' processes, mainly because I'm still trying to figure out my own, or if it's even necessary to have a process, and what all this writing stuff MEANS. ;)

    Currently, my process seems to be somewhat similar to yours (although unfortunately a bit more haphazard). In the Unload stage, I also go hunting for magazine clippings, photos, and music that I pin up on my walls and use to create playlists. My playlists get very specific and often go through a story scene by scene. I use music from movie scores. Many times, I find myself unable to work on a scene unless I first have an adequate musical palette already in place for inspiration.

    As far as the revising thing, and how to stop, and how much is too much, I have NO idea how to help you there. I'm still trying to figure that out myself. At least we're not alone! ;)

    Great post, as usual. Thanks for sharing! :)

  16. Good stuff, this! I just tweeted ya.

  17. The ignore is my favorite,because sometimes you need to step away and revisit to see if your perspective holds.Sometimes I come back and think, what the hell was I thinking and other times i am pleasantly surprised by my own style!Love this post!

  18. I appreciate reading about how other writers go through the process. Although in the end I can only write the way that I do by doing it my way.

    Still, never hurts to listen.

  19. Great to find one who made the dream a reality! I found you via a link-up post on "Life Without Pink".
    Thanks for the info. For now I blog, but by night I dream of publishing...............


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