Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Writing Book Two -- Remaining True to Your Process

This is the last in my series on beginning the second book.  I promised that I would post this on Tuesday, and while it's late it is still Tuesday so I actually got it in! 

Today (or tonight) I want to talk about the thing I struggled the most with when starting my second book, and that is, staying true to my writing process.  As I've mentioned before, I don't outline.  I don't plot things out.  I just dive in and start writing. 

Mostly because writing for me is about exploring what a particular person would do in a certain situation.  My fiction in character driven, so I'll often have fully formed people just pop up in my mind.  Not all the time, mind you, but frequently enough so that I'm not surprised when it happens. 

This is good, but it often means I have NO IDEA what my story is about until I'm more than half-way finished with it.  As you can imagine, this makes editing very messy.  So messy that I resolved to do it differently this time.  I read about writers who worked with outlines.  People who made character charts and plot graphs.  People who knew what their book was about before they wrote the first word.  (Me, I know how my second book will end, but I still have no idea what happens in it up till then.  Or how to get there.  Yet.) 

I was jealous.  Surely these writers knew something I didn't.  I imagined them typing merrily away, thousands of words flowing easily from their fingers.  Everything perfectly in its place.  I wanted to be like them.  I pictured outliners as people with note cards and flowcharts.   People who could get a Tuesday blog post up on Tuesday morning.  People who planned ahead.  

In short, the type of person I am not.  In fact, the exact opposite of me. 

I am scattered and forgetful and (if I'm truthful) slightly neurotic.  I'm the kind of person who buys note cards, intending to fill them with wonderful plot points, only to forget where I've put them once I get home.  Six months later, I'll find them in the utensil drawer next to the stove when I'm looking for the pizza cutter. 

When I started Book Two, I resolved to Do Things Differently.  I would outline.  I would plan.  I would chart and graph until I had planned out every single scene in the book.  I bought note cards (and lost them).  I bought special pencils (and gave them to my youngest son so he could draw during his big brother's swim lessons--no idea where said pencils are now.)  I researched outlining methods (the only one I can remember is something called the Snowflake Method.)  I did everything I could think of to force myself to write differently.  I sat in front of the computer and drew a blank. 

Nothing came out.  Not one single thing.  Oh, I kept pushing myself.  I was convinced that if I found just the right method, I'd blossom into an outliner and everything would be So Much Easier. 

That did not happen.  Instead of getting easier, everything got harder.  My mind locked up.  I couldn't think of a single thing to write about.  This went on for weeks.  It went on until I gave up on outlining.  Until I stopped fighting my own scattered, crazy process and embraced it instead. 

As soon as I threw out all my charts and just let my brain wander, I started writing again.  And it was fun again.  Yes, it is still messy.  Yes, I'm dreading the editing process for this second book.  But this is the way my brain works.  Learning to go with my own process, and not force myself to work the way other writers do has been incredibly freeing. 

You see, writing is such an intimate experience that I believe each of us has our own process.  That process probably reflects a little bit of who we are.  Who we are is, after all, the only thing we have to offer each other.  It's what makes your writing different from my writing.  Fighting who you are is not a good thing because it masks your voice.  It hides what's special about you.  And as I've said a thousand times before, our differences make us stronger. 

More than likely, you have your own process.  Your own way of doing things.  Embrace that.  Don't try to be someone you're not.  More than likely, it won't work.  It didn't for me. 

So I'm sticking with my ugly, messy process.  It's not pretty, but it is mine, and it works for me. 


  1. Stephanie - While I am not on my second book, my writing methods are much the same as yours. I do not outline. My writing is not organized. Lately, I have felt that I must be doing something wrong so I tried to outline. I tried to create character profiles and story boards. And nothing happened. I found that trying to be organized made my writing suffer. The only way that works for me is to sit down and type. As you said, it may be messy and it may make editing dreadful, but it is the only thing that works for me. I am so relieved when I read your posts and find that I am not the only one out there with all of these fears. Good luck writing your second book and also good luck on the publication for the first one!

    1. You're definitely not the only one with all of these fears! That's really why I write these posts. I worry about everything, and I figure others probably are too. Talking to others lets us know we're not alone in our craziness!