Ten years ago I tentatively stepped out into this writing world with a simple intention:
Write a book
I didn’t care how popular it would be or what my name would look like on the cover. I said…teach me how to translate the stories in my head to words on paper. At the time my life was full of rules and regulations. My job was very demanding and detail-oriented (calibrating medical equipment like x-ray machines, lasers, and ventilators were like that).
I needed something to let my imagination roam free so I could sleep better at night and vent my frustration in a creative way. Drawing and painting were things I loved, but it didn’t quiet my brain the way writing did.
There were hundreds of resources if you knew where to look. Plenty of people who would tell you exactly what you needed to know to succeed in writing as a career. I listened and absorbed as much as possible and then tried it all.
Snowflake method for plotting, Morgan Hawke’s Writing the Novella layout, Lynn Viehl’s Novel Notebook, Holly Lisle’s plot workshop, countless RWA and online workshops and events were how I spent most of my non-writing time. I won’t even get into the thousands of dollars in “how-to” books I purchased.
For a brief period I followed a by-the-seat-of-your-pants way of doing things (Panstering). Pure Pantstering is like dropping me in a fog-filled bog without a map or light and expecting me to stroll home in time for dinner. It didn’t work at all for me.
I couldn’t follow any of their suggestions consistently. No matter how many times I was told it would get easier and easier with every use, it didn’t. Trust me, guys, I didn’t try it once and say meh. I forced myself to follow these strict guidelines. Now, I need to note that Morgan, Lynn, and Holly have all put up disclaimers stating you should do what works for you and discard the rest. What they teach is invaluable, so don’t think I’m talking smack. I’ll get to what I learned from each of them in a minute.
These three are authors I respect more than anything. It must be a total fail on my part. Right? A quiet shame. While people talked about muses and amazing word counts with perfect Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, I stared at my novellas and novels with agonizing deliberation and wondered what was wrong with me.
It was two years into writing and I was an active participant in a fun writing group where we had monthly picture prompts for stories and no limit to the genres. Most of us had decided to pursue publication and several, including me, had succeeded. They talked about muses and how wonderful it was to have one. I asked, innocently enough, what if you didn’t have one? Well. Let’s just say I got quite a surprise about how screwed up my writing way was.
Lectures. Oh, the lectures about why muses are important and how I should picture this individual in my mind and how they’re pushing me to write. I have a very vivid imagination, but this muse thing seemed a little too much like an NCO hovering over my shoulder while I did intricate calibrations. My biggest issue with the muse is that it takes away your creative freedom. By saying you’re at the mercy of this thing, you empower it to prevent you from doing what you want to do…when you want to do it. I started writing because I needed that control. I’m not knocking muses, guys. Stephen King has one but he puts him to work at the same time every day. 😀 Many other extremely successful authors have them. That’s cool…for them. Remember, we’re talking about the path I took and my bumps in the road. I may not have a muse, but that has NOTHING to do with your writing. 🙂
A weird thing happened while I was getting the lecture of my life on why being muse-less is a nightmare of wrong. I received an IM from someone else who said they didn’t have a muse either, but didn’t want to say anything because everyone else had one.
So then I started wondering. Everyone has an opinion on the “Right Way” of writing a story, but most of them conflict with one another. I knew it reminded me of something, but couldn’t remember what.
One day I was in the shop and we started up a conversation about holiday traditions. We had an extremely diverse group (religious and otherwise) from all over the world and every one of them had stories they remembered about Santa Claus. Each of them was an interesting take on the jolly ol’ elf and I was fascinated. Some of the stories had similar events while others were so far removed from what I know that I sat in stunned silence. Not once did anyone argue with someone else about how their version of Santa Claus was the wrong one. You should know this shop encompassed thirteen individuals, twelve of which were males. Our ages were 19-42.
No arguments about which one was right, but an appreciation that despite our religious and cultural backgrounds, we all knew SC. He was supposed to represent good will through giving gifts from the heart. We all agreed on that (though there was a jump over to commercialization of Christmas, but I digress).
Writing is like that. You, as an author, give the gift of story to your reader. Does it really matter how many elves (tools) you needed to build this story? How many times did you have to start over or discard the story because it didn’t work? The reader doesn’t care about the process. They care about the gift you give them (Take a second to see it from the eyes of a reader and you’ll agree. I know I’m that way).
So why does one person tell another that their process is wrong? I’m not talking about edits, mind you. I’m talking about the writing process.
Once I realized that others were feeling the same doubts and worry I suffered through, I started paying attention to those disclaimers I mentioned earlier. In order to really apply anything to my writing, I had to understand my OWN process first. How do you do that? Write a book. Document how you did, where you struggled. Then, once it’s done, look back at it. What do you need to do? Add words? Take away words? Overhaul dialogue?
Let me tell you what I found out about the way I write.
- I create short and sweet character bios, usually with a picture of who I think represents them. The ABCharacter Traits I’ve mentioned before is greatly influenced by Lynn Viehl. If I have a detailed world, I’ll set up some specifics in my notebook, paste in some pictures, and follow Lynn and Holly’s world building guides.
- I create a very vague outline.
- My first draft pours out the words in quick, concise, and boring sentences without emotion and barely any description. I write down (in a notebook I keep handy) a couple of sentences about what I want out of each scene just before I write it. My attempts to try it any other way end up causing me heartache, headaches, and busted deadlines. The first draft (my roughest draft) is for me, and only me. It’s difficult to let even a writing/critique partner see it because it’s raw and uncut. I’ve only done this on a handful of occasions with the disclaimer that it’s my very (very) rough draft. Criticism, however, rears its ugly head here, and I’ve learned to keep this draft to myself. Only extreme desperation and absolute trust from someone who understands how I write this draft will let me show them my content at this point in my career.
- I take a few days off from the first draft and think about what emotions I want in each scene, the motivations I need to emphasize, and areas I want to make more vibrant. All from memory.
- I sit down and begin the second draft. During this session, I weave in emotion and tighten dialogue. The senses are expanded and sentence structure is strengthened. My word count jumps significantly despite nixing any scenes that don’t forward the story (this includes worthless subplots). Here is where I apply Morgan Hawke’s five senses and several other aspects of her writing way. Once it’s done, I’m comfortable sending the copy to critique partners.
- Again, the book sits for a couple of days while I review Holly Lisle’s editing workshops and a few of my personal notes on known bad habits with grammar, structure, and storytelling. My critique partners will get back to me with their notes, and I’ll jot down recurring issues in my notebook. Here is where rules and structure are important, btw. This part of the process is necessary. Editing. Is. Necessary.
- I then do a full sweep of grammar and content, tweaking it for submission. My CPs notes are invaluable at this point. I may have to overhaul a scene or two. If a lot of changes have to be made, I’ll send it back to my critique partners with notes on the sections I’m most concerned about. Replies come back. I do the final edits. Once I finish this, it’s sent off to Beta Readers for evaluation, or, if I’m on a tight deadline, it’s formatted and submitted.
This is my Santa’s workshop. My house. The way I do business. It’s en ever-evolving process, but it works for me. If my Writing Way (or anyone else’s) causes you to break out in hives, I urge you to see if some aspect resonates with you before dismissing it completely as something you can’t do.
Also, if you don’t like my Write Way…I don’t care. And you should feel the same way. Here’s why: that person who is telling you what you’re doing is wrong will NOT be sitting up at two in the morning with bleary eyes and a pounding headache writing the book FOR you. If anything, they’ll ask you what’s taking so long. LOL.
A note to make here…there’s no point in being angry with them because you took their advice on your writing process and lost valuable writing time. Own the way you write.
Does this mean you should ignore everyone’s advice and just blindly stumble on? Nope, but you should look at the advice objectively before applying it to the way you work.
For example, there is little point in me taking a workshop or searching for articles on how to cut down your rough draft’s word count. Remember, I have to add content. My rough drafts are nothing but skin and bones. On the other hand, if there’s an article or workshop on how to strengthen scenes with the five senses or expand on the emotional arc of a character, I’ll take it. Those are areas I work on between one draft and another.
Embrace the way you write. Love the process because it’s not going anywhere. For goodness sake, realize there IS NO RIGHT WAY. That’s why the blog’s title is The Write Way, My Way. Take whatever works from any of these posts and discard the rest. You’ve got stories to tell. Don’t waste time and energy getting fussy over someone else’s toy workshop organization.
- Final Frustration with Spirit Lake has me setting it off to the side. I just don’t have time to untangle whatever I’ve done wrong with it. My critique partner’s response to the rough bit I sent was that it seems like there’s a different story there and asked if writing an earlier event in the heroine’s life might work. So I’m thinking, maybe. It’s a genre I’m branching out into so I’m okay with taking it slow while I get my feet wet.
- The Collector is done. It was submitted, but I missed the deadline (my memory was off by a day). The editor’s quick response and sweet message was kind, but I’m kicking myself for not double-checking the date! So now I’m going to expand it a bit and send it elsewhere for consideration.
- Last Rites is a completed novella I found in an old WIPs folder. It’s dark, sexy, and fun. I’m a much different writer now so I have to overhaul it. A lot. LOL! It’s a fun project because I love the story.
- Hidden Confection is a short novella (around 10k words) with a looming deadline. It takes place in the Kitchen With world and is set for holiday release this year. I agreed to do it back in the spring, but T&R took away more time than I ever expected.
- Voodoo Carnival won’t make the August 5th deadline, but it was a personal one, so I’m not stressing it.
- Hidden Confection at 75% completion (7.5k)
- Last Rites at 25% overhaul
- Have some unforeseen editing to wrangle, but once it’s done, I’m done with it for a while.
- I’m following Kait Nolan’s advice this week and pushing myself 10% harder than last week by upping my writing for Voodoo Carnival by writing one scene a day.
I’m part of a fantastic group called A Round of Words in 80 Days, and if you’d like to see how everyone else is doing, check out the list HERE.
Would you like to be a part of our writing challenge? Check out the rules HERE.