Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Your Writing Process

Welcome to my new blog series!  In these posts, I plan to share what I've learned about writing in hopes that it will be useful to anyone who shares this crazy writing dream.  I'm calling this series: "Stuff I've Learned."

I know, I know, it's not the most original name.  Kind of like naming your cat Fluffy... which I did.  Twice.  (In my defense, I was three years old when I named the first cat, and the second cat was named in the first one's honor.)

Anyway, to start things off...  If I had to pick the one most important thing I've learned in the last six years as a writer, it would be: label your leftover pizza with the date you ordered it so that you don't accidentally eat too-old pizza.

Second to that, though, is: learn your own writing process.

Stuff I've Learned: Learn Your Writing Process

Before I was published, I had no idea about one of the coolest perks of being a writer: meeting other writers.  At bookstore signings, conferences, conventions, festivals, library events... I've met a lot of authors, and I love, love, LOVE hearing about their writing processes.

Everyone's process is different.  Some write a little every day; some binge-write for a few weeks then lie fallow.  Some write in long stretches of time; some write in short bursts.  Some outline; some don't.  Some revise as they go along; some do lots of drafts.  Some write at home; some write in cafes.  Some write standing up.  Some write nude...  Okay, I haven't personally met anyone who writes nude but there are anecdotes.

Point is: what works for one person might not work for another.  You have to find what works best for you and disregard the rest.

Once you do, I promise that it gets easier.  Not easy.  But easier.  You can write faster and be more efficient because you know what works for you and what doesn't.  You can do the latter and avoid the former.

I consider myself living proof of this.  It took me two years each to write my first two novels, Into the Wild and Ice.  The next few novels took one year a piece.  Now I'm writing a novel every six months.

This change isn't due to having more time to write.  (In fact, the opposite is true.)  It's due to figuring out how I write a novel.  Not how Joe or Sue or Fred writes a novel, but how I personally write a novel.

In future posts, I'll talk about (amongst other things!) what specifically works for me.  And I'd love to hear about what works for you!

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At 11:28 AM, Blogger kathleen duey said...

Well said and True true, true!

The only thing I want to add is that sometimes,for me, different books require different writing patterns.

At 11:29 AM, Blogger E.C. Myers said...

Important question: How old is "too-old" for pizza?

At 11:40 AM, Blogger Stephanie said...

I used to beat myself up so much about not being an outliner...this was a great reminder that it's ok for people to have different processes

At 11:45 AM, Anonymous Rossana said...

I am an avid reader and I've always felt that it would be extraordinary hubris to think I could do a comparable job. Secretly, I've always fantasised, and that yearning is picking up momentum now. It's a bit like religious calling is described, whatever I do, there it is, like a crescendo hum in my mind, that I have to write, I have to write. But I have the same problem, I sit in front of my computer and I just seize up : how could I possibly add anything, I couldn't measure up to what is there.
What I trying to say is that I'm looking forward to your new series, I hope you can walk me through it. As one of the authors that I admire and wouldn't hope to come close to, it feels great to learn about how you work. Maybe I'm doing the " in front of the computer in a silent room" thing all wrong, I'm off to start exploring processes ! Thank you so much.

At 2:19 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Kathleen: Absolutely true! Of course, for me, there are a few constants. For example, revisions always require chocolate...

Eugene: I'm tempted to say it's a personal decision, but really, if your pizza looks like a fuzzy mouse slept on it, it's too old.

Stephanie: Absolutely okay, especially when it comes to outlining. I have had so many conversations about outlining versus not-outlining over the years! I think writers are split 50/50 on whether they do it or don't, and everyone feels strongly about it. Definitely going to devote a whole post to it sometime.

Rossana: I'm so happy to hear this will be useful to you! And you've given me a bunch of ideas for future posts, so thank you!! One thing I'll talk about more in the future but want to mention now... It sounds to me like you're comparing your first draft to someone else's final draft. Be kinder to yourself! I can guarantee some of your favorite novels started out as total chicken scratch.

At 3:07 PM, Blogger Jazz Sexton said...

The Pomodoro method works really well for me. I work for 25 minutes, take a five minute break, work another 25 minutes, and so on. I also ring a bell at the beginning of a writing session, and strike a Tibetan singing bowl at the end.

If anyone is interested, I go into more detail here: http://www.jazzsexton.com/2013/01/when-i-sit-down-to-write-i-dont-just.html

When I stick to that method, I'll write at least 500 words a day, five days a week. Sometimes I'll break for weeks, and write up a storm in one day. I don't think I have one writing process, just one that I know works best because it keeps me consistent.

I recently discovered I LOVE outlining. It helps go into writing with much stronger scene structures.

At 2:13 AM, Blogger Sarah Golden said...

My writing is very sporadic. I try to write each day, but I find it isn't genuine when forced. It took me a few years to discover when I should write. Some books mentioned a specific time of day while otthers mentioned a kind of meditation process in order to write anytime. Neither of them worked for me at all. Finally, when I stopped worrying about it, I was comfortable enough to write again. Although I'm still working on finishing two stories, I have finished one, but editing and revising has been getting in the way of writing. I think discovering my writing process would be a great idea. I look foward to following this blog. Thank you for sharing your writing expertise :)

At 4:29 AM, OpenID sarah-painter.com said...

Before I wrote my first book I assumed I couldn't because I had no ideas. Then I just started writing and the ideas/plot came... So, my most important discovery re. process was that I'm not an outliner! I'm just starting my fifth novel and I still feel total blind panic that I don't have enough story/don't know what is going to happen, but I know from experience that if I write (every day, ideally), in six months or so I'll have a terrible first draft. Then I can spend a year or so rewriting it over and over again... I never claimed my process was efficient!

At 9:35 AM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Jazz: Thanks for sharing your process! I hope you'll post more about how your process evolves over time and whether it changes book-to-book. I'm curious as to whether at some point you'll internalize the singing bowl. I'm betting yes.

Sarah G: I've tried specific times of day too. And I do write better when I'm not falling asleep upright in my chair, but I've discovered that sleepy and even forced writing is better for me (both for my soul and my deadlines!) than not writing. So I do it at off-times anyway... usually with plenty of chocolate nearby.

Sarah P: I do a terrible first draft too and then spend the bulk of the writing time on revision. I love revising. For me, that's when the story really comes alive.

At 11:56 AM, Blogger Kaye M. said...

This post gave me a bit of comfort because I am such a slow drafter right now. I'm hoping this is the last draft before I start querying, but is there a way to try and become faster without waiting for the writing process? (It seems to be a rather slow, lumbering creature in its approach.)

At 4:10 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Kaye: Nothing wrong with being a slow drafter, if that's what works for you. I know plenty of wonderful writers that write one beautiful draft very slowly because they are, essentially, revising as they go along (whether they call it that or not). They look at me like I'm crazy when I talk about writing thirty fast drafts. I guess the question to ask is: is it working for you? If not, what parts of the process are slowing you down? Can you identify your sticking points?

At 9:51 PM, Blogger Kaye M. said...

Thanks for answering my question! Um, I think that revising as I'm writing is the main problem - I want the language to feel right the first time, I feel like I'm over-describing and have to stop to cut back in order to compensate for it. I'm basically just worried because I want to query soon and I know that once you're under contract, you need to write fast.


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