I’ve always chuckled a bit at the term “writing process.” It sounds so . . . predictable. Dictionary.com defines “process” as: “a systematic series of actions directed to some end.” Systematic, hmm? As in, repeatable? As in if you use the same process each time and you achieve the same result? If that’s the case, then I can categorically say that I have no writing process.
Some people have a very well-defined process for writing a book. Maybe they start with writing an outline, or they do character sketches, or they do storyboards, or they just sit down and start writing by the seat of their pants. Whatever that process is, these writers stick to it, and it works for them. I, however, am not one of them. My writing process varies wildly from book to book, because, dammit, nothing ever seems to work the same way twice.
I started my writing life as a pure seat-of-the-pants writer. Maybe I knew a few events that were going to happen during the course of the book. Often, I knew what the ending was going to be. But as for all that stuff in the middle? No clue. I’d figure it out when I got there. Sometimes, I still do that. It’s the “process” I used when I wrote The Devil Inside. That book started out as an experiment to see if I could write in first person, which I’d never had much success doing previously. But once I sat down to write it, I kept finding that I knew exactly what I wanted to happen in the next scene. (Not necessarily the scene after that, but at least the immediate next scene, I had in my head.) I figured I’d keep writing until I didn’t know what happened next, and then I’d stop and plot out the remainder. But I got all the way to the end without stopping.
After many years of being a pure pantser, I decided to try something different, which was to write a synopsis of the whole book before writing the book itself. Often, I’d write a few chapters just to get my head into the story, and then I’d plot out a synopsis. The finished book would resemble the synopsis in tone and theme, although the farther along in the book I got, the farther from the actual plot of the synopsis I’d get. Sometimes, I still do that. It’s the “process” I used when I wrote Glimmerglass, the first book in my upcoming young adult series. I wanted to see if I could actually sell the book before I devoted the time and energy into writing it, which required me to write a synopsis first. So I wrote about seventy pages of the book, and then did a synopsis, which the final product ended up being reasonably close to.
Once I joined RWA, I started hearing a lot of different writers talking about their processes. Whenever I’d get stuck with a book, I’d try one of these other processes I’d learned about to try to get myself unstuck. I learned one of those processes in the Discovering Story Magic course taught by Robin Perini. I learned how to plot an emotional arc for each major character, and then use those emotional arcs to drive the plot. That’s the process I used for Shadows on the Soul, the third–and most difficult to write–book in my Guardians of the Night series. I haven’t actually done that one since, but I’m sure sometime in the future, there will be a book that isn’t working for me, and I’ll try this method again.
By now, you’re getting the message that not only is there not one “right” way to write a book in a general sense, but that even for one particular author, there may not be a “right” way. What works for me on one book will leave me stumped in the next. Recently, on the “sekrit project” some of you may have seen me talking about on Twitter, I did something entirely different. I wrote a few chapters and an outline–enough to make a proposal I could at least show my agent–and then, I plotted the book out scene by scene to approximately the midway point, putting a brief summary of each scene on an index card. When I got near the midway point and was running out of scenes, I sat down and plotted out the second half of the book, again with scenes on index cards. Don’t ask me what moved me to do it that way with that book–it just seemed to be the method that would work. And it did. I wrote the whole book in the couple months of free time I had between contracted books, and I’m happy with the end result. Who knows if the same thing will ever work again?
I wish I had a writing process, something I could return to each time I start a new project, something that’s tried and true, sure to work. But it’s become very obvious that for me, there is no such creature. Each book is different. My first task now in tackling each new project is to figure out which of the many possible processes will be the right one for me for this project. One thing I can almost be sure of, however. It won’t be whatever worked for the project just before it.