#navbar-iframe { display: none !important;} The Naked Page: Longest. Entry. Ever.

The Naked Page

Author Jamie Sobrato's Diary

11.20.2006

Longest. Entry. Ever.

Most writers at some point early on in their creative efforts, spend a lot of time angsting about whether they're writing the "right way." And if you happen to pick up a how-to book about writing, or attend a writing workshop, you will probably have your angst amplified by more experienced writers insisting that this or that is the proper way to write a book. Add to that the fact that writing a novel is an incredibly difficult and organic and confusing process that boggles even the sharpest minds, and you have a recipe for wanting to find the Right Way and cling desperately to it.

So here is the big secret of the writing process: whatever you do that works for you, keep doing it, and whatever doesn't work for you, don't do it.

Whew. There. The secret is out. Aren't you glad I enlightened you? What? You're still confused? (Don't be. It's as simple as it sounds.)

I actually believe there is great value in writers talking to each other about their processes, comparing notes, etc. Listening to how other writers write can give us clues about what we might or might not find useful.

It only becomes a problem when you let it convince you that because one successful writer writes for 8 hours each day, 5 days a week, always creates an extensive outline at the start, and never, ever suffers from writer's block, then you are simply fucked and will never make it as a writer. Or maybe your favorite author writes really fast, like 20 pages a day, and you are slow as molasses, and this leads you to suspect you should go ahead and take that assistant manager job at Walmart.

Everyone's writing process is unique, much like any other personality quirk, but it's not a set of rules for anyone else to follow. Just listen, and consider, and maybe once in a while you'll pick up something that helps you along your own path. Or maybe you'll just get a little sense of confirmation that you're not crazy after all for only being able to write from midnight until dawn, and only while downing espresso with Nirvana music playing in the background.

Also consider that at different learning stages, your process likely will need to evolve a little, and you should let it. The more flexible you can be about your process, the more work you'll probably get done.

My writing process is weird enough that it will probably make you all feel sane and normal, so I will share it. I tend to write in mad bursts, with dormant periods in between during which I like to think my brain is resting and preparing for the next writing frenzy. The closer my deadlines get, the faster I write.

I don't have a favorite time of day or place to write. Usually, "whenever I'm awake" will do, and I like to write in bed but will work anywhere that isn't too noisy. But since I have kids, I usually try to get all my writing done while they are in school. If I need to work more because of a deadline, I will write anywhere and at any time, and I occasionally pull all-nighters if I have to (but I try hard to avoid this, because it sucks).

I write most of my scenes totally out of order, just writing them as they come to me, and then moving on and writing another and another until I have what I can only hope is something resembling a coherent story (but sometimes not). Then once I can't think of any more scenes to write (this usually happens when I'm 50-100 pages short of a complete novel), I stop and put everything in chronological order.

After that, I have to fill in all the stuff that's missing, delete the repetitive stuff, connect scenes together and/or set them up, fix the continuity problems created by writing out of order, and format the story in chapters.

Because I'm usually writing books that I've sold on proposal (first three chapters and synopsis), I have the synopsis as a rough guideline of how the story should go. Sometimes I follow it, and sometimes my final story doesn't much resemble the original plan.

One of the first scenes I write after I've finished the three chapters for a proposal, is the final scene of the book. Having that scene gives me a destination, and my final scene usually doesn't change once I've written the rest of the book. I might need to fill in some details, but that's all.

Is this how you should write your book? Probably not. Does it make your approach any less valid? No way. But maybe the valuable thing you can take from hearing my process is to consider how your brain works and tweak your own writing habits accordingly if you're finding yourself frustrated.

I'm not a linear thinker, and I consider my writing process sort of circular. The story usually ends in a similar place as where it started, only the characters have been transformed in some way by their experiences. If you are struggling with getting a book done, it might help to figure out if you are a linear or non-linear thinker. Do you tend to move logically from point A to B to C, or do you jump around a lot and consider point Q before you can understand point D?

Linear thinkers generally need to write their stories on a logical timeline, starting with chapter one and moving along through the story as a reader would read it. Non-linear thinkers sometimes might find more creative synergy in writing whatever scene they feel like working on, regardless of timeline.

So let's compare notes here. What's your process?

13 Comments:

At 12:17 PM, Blogger SQT said...

Thanks Jamie!

This helps, it really does. I don't do well with trying to follow other people's process because it's not usually a good fit. I found it really helpful to hear how you do because frankly, it makes sense to me. I don't always work chronologically either and I like the idea of being able to go back later and fit things toghether. I think I would actually get more done that way and actually write when I feel inspired rather than feel as if I shouldn't bother unless I do it the "right" way.

 
At 1:09 PM, Anonymous Cindy Procter-King said...

Well, everyone who knows me claims I'm a non-linear thinker and I still need to write (most of) my books in order. So there I go again--being weird! However, my NaNo book I AM writing the scenes out of order, but only because I brainstormed a ton of scenes and wrote a very long synopsis first, so I have something to refer to. I find the concept of writing the last scene first and then writing toward it fascinating. I've never ever had that work for me, go figure! I never know the last scene until maybe two scenes before it. Oh, I know everything wraps up pretty neatly for a genre novel, but to me that's not the same thing as knowing where the scene will is set, what the characters will say or why they should care.

I find my process changes some for every book I write, and, even though I believe in my revise-as-I-go process, I also find not writing faster bothers me, because I DON'T KNOW the novel until I've written it. I'm hoping that writing a partial (3 chapters and synopsis) and THEN drafting scenes out of order, like I'm doing with the NaNo book, will become the model for future projects. But it probably won't. :)

I think I usually write scenes in order BECAUSE my brain is totally disorganized, not because I'm a linear thinking. Because this book has a mystery plot, I couldn't go with my usual way and expect to get it written any time in this decade, so I forced myself to change processes.

Cindy

 
At 1:13 PM, Anonymous Cindy Procter-King said...

In case that doesn't make sense, what I meant is, because my brain is disorganized (or feels that way) and is always connecting dots all over the place, writing in order gives me the feeling of being somewhat in control of the story. Like taking Ritalin might for ADD kids. For the NaNo book, I'm just drafting plot scenes. All the character development, the tiny threads of the larger overall mystery plot, will come in the slow, revise-as-I-go writing.

 
At 4:18 PM, Anonymous bethany said...

Cindy- I also have to write in order- or I'd only write the cool scenes and nothing in between. Getting to the "cool" scenes gives me the energy or drive or something. I'm lousy at transitions, and I have to really try on the scenes that are transitional to me- making them important (or ditching them). I get certain scenes in my head that I'm excited about and building to those scenes makes me finish the story.

 
At 9:00 PM, Anonymous melissa said...

I work well under deadline pressure. When I started writing, I tried to write things in perfect order and with the precision of a final draft. That got boring and unproductive very quickly, because I inevitably got stuck on a sentence or a scene and spent two months unable to write another word.

That sucked. So now I go with the crappy-first-draft approach, where I just get the thing on paper so I know what's going on and what the characters' issues really are. Then I go back and fill in the blanks, and then when I'm under real stress (like, say, sending out a requested full pronto), I'm able to go through and tweak all those last-minute things. So eventually I end up with a complete, polished version, but it takes a few steps and usually a deadline with something important riding on it. The self-imposed kind just aren't as threatening...

BTW, I had a dream last night (a whopping *week* after I mailed the full) that Wanda showed up at my house just to tell me how much my book sucks, and that everything she liked about the partial she now hates. LOL This is a sign that I should either give up writing, or stop drinking so much coffee before bed.

 
At 9:32 PM, Blogger Jamie said...

I'm glad it helped, SQT. I remember the first time I read Diana Gabaldon say she wrote in a similar way that I do, I felt so relieved, like...hey maybe I'm not a complete fraud after all.

 
At 9:34 PM, Blogger Jamie said...

Cindy, I do a lot of the weaving in of character development and stuff during the second draft too (when I put the scenes in order and all). Inevitably, I discover something hugely important about the characters in the late stages of the first draft that I have to go back and revise to show in the rest of the story...stuff like that.

 
At 9:39 PM, Blogger Jamie said...

Melissa, Another deadline junky like me, eh? Sorry to hear about the bad dream...I assure you Wanda has never, ever shown up at my house to tell me how bad my books are. ;-)

 
At 11:08 PM, Blogger Tim said...

I think one way but write another. I think more like you, james. I write linear. I have an idea of where the story's going and I see some of the important scenes between here and there. But it would drive me nuts if I wrote those scenes and then tried to fill them in later. Considering I usually have WAY too much description, I have to fight for dialogue and showing. Maybe that's one of the reasons I'm threatening myself with letting a moustache and goatee grow until I finish my NaNobook. (Which will be after nano, but the first 50 will be in. :-D!) Also, in this case, I've found myself listening to the song that got me thinking of the person I keep seeing as the heroine in my mind's eye (someone I actually have met, though I'd deny she inspires the person).

 
At 12:32 AM, Blogger Jamie said...

Since when did facial hair become a dire threat? Instead of a goatee, you should at the very least threaten yourself with a more embarrassing growth pattern--perhaps a giant waxed handlebar mustache.

 
At 7:58 AM, Blogger Tim said...

Lol... see the thing is, I could end up becoming like those Orthodox Christian patriarchs with a goat that reaches down to the bottom of my sternum. Also, you've seen the myspace pic... would you say I look better WITH or WITHOUT?! :-D! (I shall withhold my own opinion.)

 
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At 2:04 PM, Blogger Bethany said...

You have a PROCESS? Eek...

Each and every book I write comes out differently. Book 1, I wrote in 15 minute chunks over about a 9 month period (as my son grew from 4 months to 13 months before my eyes and I almost lost my sanity).

Second book has been started, and restarted, and restarted, and restarted about 8 times to get the *feel* right. And finally the beginning was right. And the end. Now I have to get all the middle stuff filled in.

So I guess my process, is *unprocess.* Is that possible?

 

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