Monday, March 1, 2010
In search of a Writing Process
By the time you've hung around RWA (Romance Writers of America) for a few years, you've probably absorbed terms into your vernacular that confuse and vex your non-writing friends, like HEA, promo, author-loop, author branding, hook, contest slut, etc.
One word I've heard and contemplated quite frequently is the word "process." As in, "What's your writing process?"
When I first started writing, I figured I didn't have one. Or, if I did, my process consisted of painfully bleeding words into my laptop between periods of panic. I knew that couldn't be right. So, I began to explore other people's "processes." I tried so many different things: storyboarding, using various plot arcs and themes, collage-making, question-and-answer sessions with my characters and NaNoWriMo, just to name a few. However, not until I finally dropped the idea of a "right" process and relax a bit did my own personal process start to evolve.
Now each story takes shape in a similar fashion:
1. Inspiration. A line, a picture, a theme or character spark the bare bones of an idea. For Bound to be Mine, it was the thought of a man coming to grips with his Dom nature--when a therapist and 12 step program are telling him his urges are wrong.
2. Shake the idea. Next I shake the idea until I have a hero, a heroine and a few mental "movies" of them interacting. I note everything at this stage (if the original idea is a tree, the notes are like fruit falling). Most of the images I use, some get tossed as the idea refines.
3. Bare Bones Outline. Third, I write the barest of outlines. I hand-write images and scene progression in bare detail, just enough to jog my memory once I start writing. I think of it as a short-hand outline.
4. Rough Draft. I transfer the Bare Bones outline to Word, creating a story as I go. At this point I employ April Kihlstrom's advice and just write. No editing. No worrying about verb agreement or spelling or pesky cliches.
5. Rewrite. Rewrite, filling in and correcting some of those cliches.
6. Rewrite. Rewrite again, doing more of the same.
7. Listen. When I feel I've gotten the heart of the story down, I cut and paste the whole thing into Free Natural Reader software. I LOVE this software. It helps me find missing prepositions and misused words. But it also helps me see where the story flow is off or more description is needed. (I discovered this program AFTER Bound to be Mine was edited and scheduled for release). I listen and make changes as necessary.
8. Listen again. There is always something I miss the first time, like an adjective used twice on the same page.
9. Submit! Woo Hoo!!
If it sounds like a long process, well, it is. Perhaps I'll need less polishing as I become more experienced. On the other hand, whenever I think it's too long or too hard I remember the best writing advice I've ever read. I'm paraphrasing because I always end up giving away my copy of this book, but in "If You Want to Write," Brenda Ueland writes "don't think of writing as work, it's a privilege." (The Artist's Way says something similar: art requires enthusiasm more than discipline.) Without the thought there is a "right" process, writing can be fun.
So, if you are looking for your process, I'd recommend throwing out the idea that there is a right way, and accept your process as it evolves. Since I learned to trust what feels right, writing never feels like bleeding onto the page anymore.
Writing is world-building, and creating a world takes time. To remind me of this, I bought the poster pictured above and put it on my wall. You can't pit cherries all-at-once and you can only craft a story like you pit cherries: one small, juicy detail at a time.
Does anyone out there want to share their process? (or their advice for finding one?)