Friday, April 30, 2010

My writing process, aka Contolled CHAOS!

After a lot of requests from aspiring authors to divulge her writing process, my good buddy and agency sistah Tawna Fenske (whom you may remember from my interview here) came up with the idea to have some of us share ours as well, just to illustrate how different the processes can be.

So these fine writers--

Tawna Fenske (romantic comedy)
Sean Ferrell (literary fiction)
Cynthia Reese (southern romance/inspirational romance)
Nelsa Roberto (young adult)
Kiersten White (young adult)

--are also blogging today about the way they produce a book. Click on any of their names to check out how they weave their magic.

Take all of our methods for what they're worth...and then figure out what works best for you. :)

If I actually have anything organized enough to be called a "process," I suppose I would label it:

Controlled CHAOS!*

Because when creativity strikes, it
is a rather chaotic process for me. When an idea bubbles up** I chase it around my head for a while.

I purposefully do
not write it down, because I figure if the idea isn't compelling enough to stick with me in this embryonic phase, it's not worth the paper and ink. Or the hard drive space. (Yes, I have lost ideas this way. Would they have made good books? Huh. Guess I'll never know.)

If after a week or two the idea just won't go away, if characters appear, spinning micro-fantasies in my head at odd hours of the day and night, then I start to write.

At the beginning.

Chapter 1, page 1. Just as if I were reading instead of writing. In fact, that's how I like to think of my writing--as interactive reading. It's more fun that way.

And then I continue until I reach the end. Linear Linda, that's me.

See, I'm a "pantser." A writer who doesn't outline. Sure, I have a vague, big-picture idea of what's going to happen, but the details remain obscure until I reach them. I want them to surprise me.

(I tried to outline a book once. Very precise, very organized. As soon as I knew for sure what was going to happen, I got bored with it and quit.
Which was a pretty good indication the method wasn't for me.)

Of course, sometimes the surprises I run across with my process mean I have to go back and tweak the earlier chapters, but that's okay. Tweakage is fun.

Working this way also means it's tough for me to achieve a consistent output. My daily word count varies from -5000 (a personal best for hacking out stuff that just wasn't going to fit) to +3500 or so. Mostly it hovers between one and two thousand. Not blazing fast, but it'll get the job done.

Since I tweak as I go, as soon as I finish the "first" draft I'm pretty much ready to send it off to my fantastic critique partners and beta readers. They may have had a small taste of it along the way, but mostly I'd rather they read it whole, so they can give me an overall impression of the book as a complete entity before they start pouncing on what tends to be a prodigious number of typos. (Those beasties multiply in cyberspace, I swear.)

I take whatever they tell me to heart. They are that good. Now, I don't necessarily follow all their suggestions--for one thing, these amazingly brilliant women don't always *gasp* agree, so that would be impossible--but I give them all serious consideration.

After incorporating whatever changes I've decided will work, I do one last run to make sure no inconsistencies have been introduced. If they have, I fix 'em.

Voila! A book is born, and is ready to be kicked out of the nest into the hands of my totally wonderful agent, Michelle Wolfson. (Be sure to follow her on Twitter--@WolfsonLiterary--because her tweets are a hoot.)

That's it. Basically, writing a book is simple. But not easy.

Best of luck with yours. :)

*"Creativity Happening Again, Oh Snap!" (What? You thought I was going to use a different S-word, didn't you? Well, I can be polite. Sometimes. So there.)

**I actually get all my ideas from the Book Ideas-R-Us online division, but since I write paranormal mysteries I wanted to sound, mysterious.


LR said...

Ooh I can't wait to read all these. Yippee.

I agree with you about outlines, don't like 'em. I just vaguely divide a novel into three parts and think about how it will start, what happens in the middle and how it will more or less end. But no detailed outlines.

Pantsers are brave sailors. :)

out of the wordwork said...

I'm with you, Linda, on only sharing the whole book with CP's. Otherwise, I'd constantly be revising chapter one!

Elisabeth Black said...

Great post.

"In fact, that's how I like to think of my writing--as interactive reading. It's more fun that way." This is the best description I have read of pantsing.

Linda G. said...

LR -- Brave sailors. I LIKE that. It sounds so much better than "totally disorganized."

Nelsa -- Yes! And it's hard enough not constantly fiddle with the first chapter as it is.

Elisabeth -- Thanks! Glad you liked it. :)

Cynthia Reese said...

"I purposefully do not write it down, because I figure if the idea isn't compelling enough to stick with me in this embryonic phase, it's not worth the paper and ink. Or the hard drive space."

Oh, my. How RUTHLESS you are! But perhaps you're right. I don't start on one of my story ideas that I do consign to bytes on my hard drive until it nags and nags at me.

And you know, as I read these, even though we are different, there is a vein of similarities in how we do what we do.

Huh. Writers. More alike than you'd think. :-)

Off to check on the other posts!

Linda G. said...

Cynthia -- Ruthless? *rubs hands together gleefully* Oh, I do like the sound of that.

And, yeah, I see that vein of similarities, too--it's all about getting the stories out of our heads in any way we can. :)

Unknown said...

Hi Linda! Thanks for sharing your methods. It sounds incredibly easy; you're an inspiration! I admire pantsers and wish I were one. In fact, I tried to be one and got an awful lot written about the antagonist -- good stuff that he just kept revealing to me as I went. It was magical. But I struggled with the protagonist and how to wind their lives together. In the end, I had to go back and outline the whole story. It was the best thing I could have done, and now the story's moving forward again.

This series is fantastic. Thanks for contributing to it!

Linda G. said...

Hi Nicole! Thanks. :)

It sounds like you've figured out a combo-method that works well for you--pantsing when it helps developing your characters, and outlining to give your plot traction. I think that's great.

Patty Blount said...

"Interactive reading"... what a great analogy!

I'm so terrified to try this pantsing thing. I outline obsessively and after reading this (the third post I've read in the series so far today), I'm starting to believe that's why I can't finish my current WIP.

Thanks for the insight!

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

I like to think of my story for a while before writing an outline or anything. I do share it with my critique group, but only when I know the beginning and ending. Great post!


Love this! I'm so enjoying seeing everyone's process, and I'm especially keen on your theory of not writing things down at the preliminary idea phase.

Thanks so much for doing this!

Linda G. said...

Patty -- You should definitely try pantsing and see how it works for you. Maybe your inner obsessor will find it liberating. :)

Kathi -- Thanks! :) And aren't critique groups wonderful? It's so important to get that critical feedback.

Tawna -- Thank YOU for coming up with the idea. I loved reading everyone else's methods. :)

Unknown said...

That's funny cuz I've always called my process "Organized Chaos" Much like you, an idea will pop into my head at any given moment, but I do not write anything down right away. I let it simmer, cooking away at the back of my mind for a while. When the pot gets to the point where it's about to boil over, I sit down to a work space that looks to the passing observer like the aftermath of a nuclear attack but to me is highly organized, hence the label "Ordered Chaos" LOL

Cynthia Reese said...

Should have known you'd get all gleeful over the appellation "ruthless." From now on, that's my pet nickname for you: Linda The Ruthless! :-)

Susan Adrian said...

HEE. I love it! Especially the CHAOS.

P.S. We don't all agree? What's up with that?? :)

Claire Dawn said...

Having read Tawna's and Kiersten's first, I thought my process started like Tawna's and ended like Kiersten's. Now I think it's more like yours. I'm a hard-core pantser. (Why does that sound illegal?) The only difference is that I don't tweak as I go along. So my first draft is actually kinda like an outline, because I have to run back through and fix so much.

Thanx 4 sharing.

Heather Kelly said...

Interactive reading--I SO LOVE THAT. Thanks for sharing!!

Linda G. said...

Karla -- Great (and chaotic) minds think alike!

Cynthia -- With an appellation like "Linda the Ruthless" I feel like I should be carrying around huge sledgehammer, or maybe a cutlass. ;)

Suze -- I suspect there as many variations as there are writers. Seems like it, at least. I can't think of anyone as speedy as you with a first draft, though. :)

Claire Dawn -- If not illegal, at least kinda dirty. ;) And sharing is my pleasure. Thank YOU for reading. :)

Heather -- You're so welcome, and thank you for reading. :)

Jayne said...

Hello! I came by your blog via Nicole at One Significant Moment at a Time. I also do not write down ideas at the very beginning. I like to let them mature in my head a while. If I am still embellishing and remembering them a few weeks later (or even months!) then I will write down what I have, and start developing it further. If I forget, then they weren't to be anyway!

Unknown said...

Oh Linda, I think I'm falling in love with all of you. Cynthia's post gave me something new to try, Sean's was a reassurance and yours...OMG, it's like reading my own process (with less chaos, if you can believe that). I, too am a pantser but three novels later, I've recognized that my pants get TOO many holes in them (much like Tawna's crotch holed jeans). I've got book 3, still waiting for a solid revision because it turned into an epic novel that has to be sheared down by at least a third. It kind of got away from me! However, this fourth one is Linear Misty too and I'm liking this road much better. I've stopped along the way and done some plotting and notes but if I make too many, I too get bored and use them to start campfires. So, I'm finding my way. LOVE THESE POSTS and I'm off to the next! Thanks again for doing this!!

Linda G. said...

Hi Jayne! Glad you found your way here from Nicole's blog. :) Sounds like your process is very similar to mine.

Misty -- Pantsers of the Writing World Unite! Glad you're enjoying all the posts--so am I!

Crystal Posey said...

Following the trail.... Nice post! :)

Linda G. said...

Hi Crystal -- Thanks! Glad the trail led you here. :)

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