Monday, March 13, 2006

What's Your Process?

At the end of last week, I read an article in Inklings by Shelley Bradley reporting on a presentation given by author Candace Havens about her process. In a nutshell, she speeds through her first draft, getting it on paper as quickly as possible, ignoring everything else during this period of time. A few weeks later, she does the same with her editing. This article made a big impression on me because in some ways it is similar to the process I think I have.

I say "think" because I haven't actually written a book according to my supposed process, but there have been several clues as to what it is. I've always been the type to plan in advance, but end up working on whatever has the nearest deadline. Since I'm not published and don't have an editor to keep me on my toes, my books don't have a specific deadline. Thus they get moved to the bottom of the writing priority pile more often than not. This is always justified by the thought that I'm still writing, just not on my book. An article here, a short story there. Polishing up that synopsis for a contest entry. It's still writing, right?

In the middle of my last book, I went away for the weekend. This trip to a B&B was a gift from my husband for Mother's Day. Lovely man!!! Did I plan to relax while I was gone? Sure. But I chose to make that weekend a time to focus on my book. I wanted to jumpstart it and use that precious uninterrupted time to get as much done as possible (in between baths in the old-fashioned tub and naps). And I did. After a few rough starts, I managed to focus really well. That was my most prolific time ever-50 pages in 2 days.

When I came home, I continued to work on that book until the end. Amazingly enough, it was easy. I stayed immersed in the characters, allowing their reactions and interactions to come more naturally (or so it seemed to me). I finished very quickly, with less angst than I usually run into when I'm starting and stopping. This was a revelation to me. If I didn't have to spend time getting back into my characters' heads and refreshing my memory on where the story has been and is going, then the writing is much quicker. I'm not a fast writer by any means, so speeding it up is a good thing. Plus, when I do finally get a contract, I'll know better how long it actually takes me to write a book from start to finish.

This was my first inkling as to what my process is. And I knew that from two things 1. the positive impact it had on my writing and 2. it fit in with what I already knew about myself as a person and as a writer. My idea for my next book is to get any outstanding commitments out of the way, then block out a period of time to just work on this book. I'm not talking about holing up in the mountains for weeks on end. Real writers have lives. But I'm planning to use any and all writing time to focus on this project. And letting some things slide in the short term (like housework and extra commitments-especially ones that I dislike anyway). :)

Then I can edit to my heart's content. See, I'm one of those people who love to edit. Getting the initial draft on paper is like walking through sand for me. Hard and tiring. I have to force myself through it, which means I don't particularly like it. So why not get it over with?!?! Then I can focus on the good part.

This was one of those AHA moments that writers love, similar to the first inkling I had of what my voice really sounded like. A moment that comes not from what another has told you, but a self-revelation. It feels really good-and right. Deep down within.

So what kind of process do you have? Are you a plotter (like me?) or a panster (like all the other playfriends?)? Are you a mixture of both? Do you love to do the first draft or just get it down so you can move on to the good stuff? What is one thing that makes your process unusual?

I'm looking forward to hearing all about it.



Problem Child said...

Ahh, process. One of my favorite topics (and one I'll be presenting a workshop on in September).

I think I'm a Plotser--sort of inbetween plotter and pantser. For the current WIP, I have an outline (I know, the shock...). The first two just kinda happened--I knew approx where I wanted to go, and just enjoyed the trip there. (Hmm, maybe that's why noone wants to buy my books...).

But this WIP is harder...I'm struggling with parts of it, and it makes me lean heavily on the outline to keep me going.

But Process is more than just plotting and pantsing your way through a book...but it's way to early to go into that here.


Rhonda said...

I'm definitely a pantser. I have a good idea on the beginning, know what I want to happen in the end--usually--and the middle is the stuff I make up along the way. So long as your characters are properly motivated, I don't think it matters if you're a plotster or a pantster. :-)

Also, I think it depends on whether or not you write a plot driven story or a character driven story. Mine are definitely character-driven and, sometimes when Mars aligns with Venus and my muse is smiling down on me, I'll actually have a vague plot in mind as well. Those books tend to fly off my fingers.

Best advice I can give? Don't compare your process to someone else's. Just as our books and voices are different, so are our processes. Learn what makes you the most productive and make that work.

Speaking of which, mornings are my best writing time, so I should probably get to work, eh? :-)

Smarty Pants said...

I guess I'm a plotster too. I outline enough so I don't wrap up my story in six chapters, then I go from there. Usually the story evolves over the course of me writing it.

As for process - I guess I'm weird, but I just write one draft. When I'm finished, I may go back and add or change things, but overall, the book is done. That means it does take me longer, though. If I could plow through one of my drafts in 6 weeks, that would be awesome. Try six months. A year and a half. Whatever.

Playground Monitor said...

I'm not sure what I am yet. And this morning I'm wringing my hands wondering what to write this week. I had a short story I was working on that's set around Earth Day. It's too late to submit it to the magazine for consideration this year (Earth Day is next month), so I had this grand idea to set it around something else so I could submit it for a summer issue. Well folks, that ain't working. It messes up the whole dynamic of the story.

So... I just put away the short story idea notebook and pulled out the novel notebook. Every time I've tried to work on this the last few months, I open the file that already has a chapter or so written and I just blank. Do you think if maybe I open a new file and re-type what I have so far that I'll get back into the story and be able to move on?

I know the book as I plotted it won't work for the new Desire guidelines, but I don't want to change the story or my hero and heroine to meet a new set of rules. So do I write a story I probably can't sell even though it's the only story on the brain right now? I'm not a creative genius like the rest of you. I struggle to come up with ideas and when I hear people talk about having all these stories in their heads clamoring to be written I just want to puke. I'm happy for them, but I wish I had a few in my head.

Stumped in the South

Anonymous said...

I'm a plotter but am pleased when new ideas strike me along the way.

I recommend Stephen King's book On Writing and believe no writer should be without it. In it, King says that it shouldn't take more than 90 days to write a book. After that, he says you lose the passion and love for the story that will see you through to the end. (That's why your book came so quickly and easily, Angel.)

While this is great advice, a writer would have to be consistent enough to get the job done and I guess that comes with creating a daily routine. Mr. King writes everyday from 8:30-11:30 a.m. or until he has reached a maximum number of words. Whether you like King's genre or not, his conviction to writing is something we should all aspire.

Now to apply that to my life while taking care of the grandson!

Instigator said...

Ah, my process :-) I have very definite ideas about my process which is kinda funny since I'm such a panster. Like Rhonda, I start out with the characters in my head and then build the plot and conflict around them. It does present problems now and again when I can't think of a brilliant conflict to throw at their feet but that's when I get together with the playfriends and brainstorm. It never fails I can find something out of those sessions that fits my characters, the story so far, and my vision for where I should be heading.

Incidentally, I take a shower or bath before my writing sessions (it helps to focus my mind), I write my first draft on my alphasmart in scenes and snatches and then piece them all together (although I do keep a mental timeline in my head of what happens before and after each scene). By all accounts this process shouldn't work - keeping track of my character's specific motivations and character arc at any given point in the story can be difficult - but no matter how many times I've tried to change my process I always revert back to this. So for better or worse, that's what I've got :-)


Playground Monitor said...

Day one of the new process/plan.

I've sorted through all the printed pages, scraps of paper, notes and files and put all of it together in one folder. I've changed the name of the story so that maybe I can fool my brain into believing it's a new story. I got a new notebook to put everything in.

I'm going to make a list (are you proud of me, PC? *g*) and list each chapter, the scenes that occur in that chapter and whose POV each scene is in.

Since my hero has to meet new guidelines, I need to re-define him. Therefore, another list or chart or whatever that has his age, occupation, hair and eye coloring, personality traits. And while I'm defining him, I might as well re-define the heroine too. Might even change her name as well.

And now that I've spent the morning and half the afternoon making a fresh start, I'm going to go settle back with a glass of iced tea and delve back into the book I started last night -- Mr. Perfect by Linda Howard. I read it about 4 years ago but I want to re-read and enjoy it all over again.