By Dame Toni
When writers meet, there’s a question you will hear them ask one another. It’s “So, what’s your process?” It’s a question I often ask guests on my TV show (click HERE to see a recent episode) and I’ve found that there are as many answers as there are writers.
For writers, the term “process” covers a lot of ground. For example:
- The amount of plotting that is done in advance
- The degree of character detailing
- The order in which the manuscript is written
- The times of day the writer is most productive
- Where the writing takes place
- The format: hand written vs. computer, software used, etc.
- “Anchoring” used, such as soundtracks, special fonts, etc.
- The revision process
- Critique partners and beta readers
- Pacing – how much, how fast?
- Physical tools – charts, books, story boards, etc
Some writers are really attached to their process. Like the professional baseball player, who must always perform the same series of movements when approaching the plate (have you SEEN Nomar Garciaparra at bat?), they’re afraid that if they alter one tiny detail, they’ll lose the magic whammy that makes them writers.
Others are looking for that magic pill—if Bestselling Authoress handwrites all her books with a quill pen in violet ink while wearing bunny slippers, they’re off to buy pens, ink, and slippers.
Like all writers, I have a process. I like tweaking mine from time to time. When I hear about something that works for someone else, I add it in to see if it has a positive impact on my productivity or creativity. Sometimes it helps. Sometimes not so much.
Also, I find it oddly comforting when I find out that an author I admire has a really whacked out process. Jessica Andersen, the author of the really excellent Novels of The Final Prophecy, impressed the shit out of me with her description of how she researches and then builds a world. Then, she admitted, that for each of her 150k-ish novels, the actual writing always follows the same pattern. In her contract, she has a six-month window to finish the novel. She starts the manuscript multiple times, writing as many as 200 pages, before she stops and throws them out. All the way out, not saved in a file to use later. <<Shudder>> She says it takes her that long to get the primary character voices firmly established in her head. Then, she sits down and writes the entire 150k novel in the final month. Her husband has learned not to mess with her in this 30-day period.
I can’t imagine doing this, but there are some things about her daily writing process that I do like, notably the way she structures her schedule, and her use of anchoring.
Here’s my process.
- I use Microsoft Word for everything, making up my own charts and grids as needed.
- I start with a Character Grid—I use a slightly modified version of the one from Discovering Story Magic, Robin Perini & Laura Baker’s popular workshop.
- I think about the actors who would play the characters if the book was made into a movie, and go online and find pictures of them, and paste them into my Character Grid.
- I make a Plot Grid, figuring out the major turning points and the black moment.
- I get a group of fellow writers together to do a plotting session, to tweak the Character Grid and fill in the plot grid more thoroughly. This usually takes a whole weekend, because everyone walks away with a plot.
- I update my Plot Grid based on the results of the plotting weekend. It’s color-coded, so I can make sure I have a good balance of characters, internal conflict, external conflict, and romance plotting.
- I take the Plot Grid and write a detailed synopsis, which I send to my editor for approval (and payment!) that this is the book for which I am contracted.
- Once we’ve agreed on the plot, I write linearly, starting with chapter one.
- If, while writing, I come across something that requires research, I make a note in a separate file, but keep writing. I’ll revise later as needed.
- I do my best writing in the morning, and usually do so sitting at my desk next to the window overlooking the lake. I try to play some non-intrusive music in the background but, when I’m really into it, can ignore just about anything. Except the cat.
- I drink entirely too much coffee while I’m writing.
- I try to take a walk after lunch, to stave off the afternoon sleepies. I am shamefully ready to find excuses not to do this.
- When I’m having a hard time with BICHOK (Butt in chair, hands on keyboard) I may go to a coffee shop or bookstore to write. There are some other area writers who do the same thing, and sometimes I will meet up with one or two of them.
- If I am having a hard time ignoring the internet, I turn off my computer and write my first draft on my AlphaSmart. Click HERE to see what that is.
- I write the first draft in first person, even if it is a third person book with multiple point of view characters, a chapter at a time.
- After I have completed a chapter in first person, I do a primary edit, in which I change it into third person (unless it’s going to be a first person story) and do a general cleanup.
- I no longer print pages out to edit—all edits are now done “on the screen” and I am completely comfortable with this. (Saving lots of paper, too.)
- I send the completed chapter to my beta readers.
- While waiting to hear back from my beta readers, I start on the first person draft of the next chapter.
- When I get the chapter back, I make corrections based on what my beta readers have found. I usually do this in the afternoons, saving the mornings for writing new pages.
- I then send the edited chapter to my critique partners.
- Once a week, I get together with the critique partners in a face-to-face meeting, and we tear one another’s stuff to shreds. (This is where I get the BEST ideas, by the way.)
- I make corrections based on the critique sessions. Again, this is probably done in the afternoons, after I am done with new work.
- Once all of the chapters have been edited, I do a full manuscript read through and cleanup. At this point, there are usually no substantial changes.
- I now send the completed draft to my editor (Payday again, yay!) and wait to hear about edits.
- Waiting for edits can take a long time, and I’m well into the process for a new book before they come back, at which point I stop everything and get them back to the editor ASAP.
I’m always tweaking the process. Sometimes it works. During NaNoWriMo, I tried to alter my process by writing a complete rough draft without going back and doing any editing. It was a dismal failure—I stalled out about a third of the way into the book. The write-a-chapter, edit-a-chapter, start-a-new-chapter method just works better for me.
What about YOUR process? Any unusual aspects? Steps you’re really attached to, or some you think need tweaking? I’m always interested to hear how other writers do it.