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Confessions of an Author: Writing Process

Posted by Katie L. Carroll on March 25, 2014 in Books, Confessions of an Author, Elixir Bound, WIP, Writing |

Confession #8: No matter how long I write and how many stories I complete, I have yet to master my own writing process.

Ask a dozen authors about how they write their books and you’ll probably get twelve different processes. You might hear some similar terms (plotter vs. pantser) and techniques (setting certain daily word goals, for example), but ultimately how an author writes (and by writes, I’m mostly talking about writing first drafts here) is a highly personal endeavor.

Me, well, I’m never quite sure how to answer that question. Because every manuscript I have written has ended up entailing a different process. For some reason, the projects I have tackled have each required their own approach to drafting.

Elixir Bound, my published YA fantasy, started with journal entries of character sketches and world building. I drafted this novel over a period of several years, writing in spurts and putting it away for months at a time. It was my first attempt at writing a full-length novel and it was somewhat blissful being so ignorant about the writing process and the business of publishing. I wrote this with high expectations but without any real pressure. It presented itself in very chronological order, I think because it’s essentially a quest novel, and I just wrote it with little outside forces involved.

The second manuscript I completed is a middle grade mystery with a first-person male point of view. I wanted to write something very different fromΒ Elixir Bound. I did a lot of research before and during the drafting process. I read entire non-fiction books; attended a lecture on local history; and created maps, calendars, charts, and pages and pages of supplemental materials.

And the process for my current WIP (currently titled Black Butterfly)Β is, well, a hot mess. I’m writing it in scenes, but not necessarily in any kind of chronological order. And there’s an element to the story in which the main character can only know certain information at certain points in the story, and I haven’t quite nailed down the timeline for that (or for the main plot in general). So, yeah, this one is going to require a lot of rewriting and editing.

But writing this way has been incredibly freeing. I normally (for the most part) write a story from beginning to end in order. To be able to jump around in the story and to not have to worry about transitioning from scene to scene means I can just write the good stuff, the stuff that’s being persistent about being written. It means I’m writing this story faster than I’ve ever done before. I look forward to my writing sessions, even as I approach the dreaded middle of drafting (which is usually the point where I start to burn out and need a break).

I think it’s important to be flexible as a writer. Set goals but realize that it may take some experimentation to get there, and the way you envision achieving those goals may have to change over time. Have a commitment to writing, but realize that the creative process is not a set step-by-step process. No one can tell you how to best write the book you are writing (maybe you can’t even tell yourself that). Like in life, in writing be open to new ways of discovering things (like your own drafting process), and you may find the perfect fit for your manuscript.

Writers and non-writers, what kinds of projects are you currently working on? Is your process working for you?

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18 Comments

  • Dawn Malone says:

    My WIP is also all over the place right now. I’m not really comfortable with this process because I can’t see where it’s going yet. I’d have to call it prewriting at this stage, rather than drafting. I’m obviously not ready to write it yet, and this is the most frustrating part for me. My previous manuscripts were much easier to write in chronological order. Thanks for sharing your process! Learning how other writers work has always been fascinating for me.

    • Thanks for sharing, Dawn. I’ve been feeling a little uncomfortable, too, with my hot mess of a process. Sometimes pushing your own comfort level can be good, though. I think it’s pushing my writing to new levels. But, yeah, it’s going to make for a messy revision stage. Maybe all this prewriting your doing will make the drafting process go fast when you get to it. πŸ™‚

  • Hi Katie,

    My method is to write the first draft pretty much in order from the beginning of the story to the end and to stick to a daily word count. A daily word count helps me to write even when I don’t feel like it. I usually keep this quite low, no more than 1 or two pages, since that is equal to 1-2 novels a year.

    • Hi, Matthew! Sounds like a solid and attainable process. The writing in order has worked for me in the past, though I’m not very good at sticking to daily word counts. Unfortunately, I don’t always get to write every single day. I tend to look more at my word count on a monthly basis to keep me on track. Thanks for sharing!

  • Kai says:

    Hey Katie, I didn’t realize you’ve written an mg.

    While I was reading your post, something occurred to me. My writing process is never the same way for two books and I always thought it was my flighty-ness or lack of discipline or something. However, I think it has more to do with my growth as an author. I have a different goal for each book I write. Each book I go through the publishing process with teaches me new things and it will again change my approach to the next book. Maybe, just maybe, I’m not as distracted a writer as I’ve always thought! Thanks for the ah ha moment!

    • Yup, it was the second book I ever wrote. Currently seeking a home for it. πŸ™‚

      So happy you had an ah-ha moment! It’s been hard for me to realize that every book I write won’t, and shouldn’t, be written in the same way. And you’re so right that growing as an author means adjusting to the new goals (and skills) you have. Happy writing!

  • Mirka Breen says:

    You are right. PROCESS is about finding out what works for you. How YOU work. And it is an ever-evolving expedition, isn’t it?

    • How nice to read “You are right”! πŸ˜‰

      The process is ever-evolving. That’s one of the things I’ve grown to love about being a writer. It never gets stale because there are always new ideas to explore and new ways to explore them.

  • Lexa Cain says:

    Thanks for being honest about how hard and confusing it can be to write a novel. Even though I wrote my current WIP straight through (to the 2/3 mark), it’s such a hot mess, I have to go back and change A LOT or I can’t continue to the end. Argh. πŸ˜›

    • You’re welcome, Lexa! Thanks for sharing, too. I may get to point in my WIP where I have to go back and fix things before I can move forward. Until then, I’m moving blissfully onward without thinking about how to fix the mess. πŸ˜‰

  • I seriously think that writing is sometimes about the story more than the author. Every book I’ve delved into has a bit of a different process, not so much because of me (though that plays a role) but because the story needs to be told the way it is and nothing else really works. If I force it, then I burn out. This is just my take on things, but it works for me at least πŸ™‚ And I’m really happy to hear that your WIP is coming along well!!

    • Well said, Meradeth, “writing is sometimes about the story more than the author.” I am a very story-driven writer and so much of how I write is dictated by the story. Thanks!

  • Katie says:

    I started my first novel much the same way you did yours and it also took me several years. While writing my next two, I discovered Donald Maass’s WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL. I’m now officially done being a “pantser.” (What? I really CAN write a synopsis? First, even? And get it done in a day?) Although I suspect this attitude is suspiciously like going on a new diet… πŸ™‚ Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi, Katie! A reformed pantser! How I envy you, though I wouldn’t call myself a complete pantser. I usually have a pretty solid outline or synopsis in my head before I write a story (I like to think about my stories for awhile before writing anything out), but I don’t usually write it out. Maybe that will change for the next book. Good luck on your new “diet”. πŸ™‚

  • My first novel was plotted, then pantsed, then a mess. Then revised a billion times. I can’t do that again so I’m using the Snowflake Method to help me get organized. And building my characters helps drive my plot. Who knows how the novel after that will go…Writing is hard.

    • Hi, Kimberly! I’ve heard of the Snowflake Method but never tried it. Maybe I’ll look into it for the next book…I think I’m too far into this mess of a draft for my current WIP to switch it up. πŸ˜‰ Writing is hard!

  • I’m struggling with my current WIP, mostly because there’s not enough time in a day. Maybe your post will inspire me to get going. πŸ™‚

    • Oh, I do hope you are able to get going on your WIP, Marcia. Sometimes, though, I find a little break from a manuscript is just what I need to get back into it with renewed energy. The fabulous Laurie Halse Anderson is a big advocate of trying to do 15 minutes a day of writing when you’re struggling. It’s amazing how all those 15 minutes add up, and it’s generally easy enough to squeeze in even on a busy day. Good luck!

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