If you pay much attention to writers talking amongst themselves, you’ll undoubtedly hear them mention their “process.” The way they write, the how-in-the-heck-do-you-start-with-a-blank-page-and-end-up-with-a-novel formula that works for them. Many of us HATE our process, but seems to be some sort of frickin’ destiny, as built-in as our tendency to overindulge on ice cream or see the world through rose-colored glasses, that’s really hard to break. I rarely talk about writing or how I do it (mostly because I really don’t KNOW how I do it) but I thought I’d give it a shot.
I’ve been trying to figure out my “process” for eight and a half years. How I write a book changes every single time (which ticks me off. I like routine for my creativity. Heh.) I want a checklist: “Okay, done with characterization, time to move on to turning points”…or the dark moment…or whatever. I want to be a plotter — someone who plans out all the events in the book before ever beginning chapter one. I want this because building a story is HARD for me, the hardest damn part, and I much prefer to let the words flow, the fingers fly, creating sentences and phrases that make me happy. If you have to stop and figure out WTF happens next, well, the flow is slow.
“Tis not meant to be, though. I can’t plan out a story from start to finish to save my life. Yes, I have to sell on proposal…which is the first three chapters and a detailed synopsis of what happens over the course of the story. I do my best to make the proposal, you know, make sense. I even try to make the synopsis be the WAY the story will turn out.
Ha. Never works.
I am not a plotter. I’m not a panster either — the opposite of a plotter, or someone who flies into the mist to write a story, spending very little time beforehand planning ANYTHING. *shudder* I can’t fly into the mist unless I know which mountain or tree I need to head for. I might not end up taking the route I planned, but as long as I know the general direction, I may eventually get there. Maybe.
So my process is currently what I call working in thirds. Once I sell a story, I start over from the beginning, with feedback from my editor. I wing it through the first three chapters again, sometimes just fine-tuning them, sometimes throwing whole chapters out and starting from scratch. And then I get to the dreaded Chapter 4, at which point I have to jot down some plans. I’ve tried to plot out the entire story from here (a second time, because it has undoubtedly already changed from what I wrote in my synopsis) but it just doesn’t work. So I shoot for the first third. If I can get myself to that first major turning point, I have hope.
After that, I write the scenes to get to page 100 or so. Sometimes I follow the plan, but sometimes…I still can’t. Good thing I only planned out the first third, right?
Once I hit page 100, aka the beginning of the dreaded, potentially sagging middle, I have to stop and do my planning thing again. Can I get all the way to the end with my outline though? ‘Course not. That would be too linear, too sensible. I can get to the second and final major turning point usually, though, and that gives me another 75-100 pages to write. The final third is then plotted out in vague detail (I always plan in vague detail…knowing too much is no fun) and then…written. I follow my map. It’s usually fairly in tact for the last third, though I veer off when necessary.
That is my heinous process and I’m happy to say I got through planning the final third of my current book this weekend. Just over 100 pages left to write, but I have a map. I know where I’m going. As they say, it’s all down hill from here. (Of course, “they” clearly weren’t writers and had no idea of the potholes, craters and big-ass bumps along the way.) I’m off to write a scene and get one step closer to the end. I hope.