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 from 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) 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?