Monday, October 6, 2008

It's The End Result That Matters, Not The Process You Take!

Every writer's writing process is different. I've probably said that statement hundreds of times by now, but that doesn't make it less true. I have a lot of writer friends, and we talk about our individual processes quite a bit. Some of my friends are "puzzle writers," and they write their first drafts in chunks, out of order, and then put all the scenes together later. Some of them are "linear writers," like me, but they can write the entire first draft without editing one word until they're done. Others are a bit of both. Others write the ending before the beginning.

The thing is, the only process that is right is the one that works for you. And even that might differ from book to book. My process for writing first drafts makes some of my writer friends cringe. But it works for me, so it's right for me. What's that process?

Once all my pre-writing stuff is dealt with (characterization, plotting (minimal for me), etc.), I begin to write. My first three chapters are really where I begin to understand my story and my characters. These chapters sometimes flow out easily. Other times, they're like pulling teeth, and I rewrite them, rearrange them, start over and over, until I have what I think is pretty close to what will remain at the end. This isn't always the case though! For example, with A Taste of Magic, I completely rewrote chapter one and half of chapter two when the book was complete--before I ever submitted it anywhere.

But normally, I can get really close with those first three. Then, I move on to the next three--editing as I go. I know lots of writers advise against editing as you write, but for me, I have to. It's part of my process. As I write, I edit, other things become clear to me, and then I can move on. So my basic process is: Write, Edit, Write, Edit, until I have three chapters done. Then I back up to the beginning of those three chapters and read clean through, making any additional edits or notes for me to pay attention to as I continue to write.

Then I move on to the next three chapters, and I do it again. And then again. Until finally, I finish the book. At some point, usually around the 50 percent mark, I read from the very beginning again, to make sure I'm still on track. I need to do this, so I can sense how the story is flowing at that it moving too fast? Too slow? Have I left anything integral out that needs to be added? And because I'm not a huge pre-plotter, this also helps me think about the chapters that will come next.

The negative aspect of writing a first draft this way is sometimes I get caught up in one chapter, one scene, that isn't right--but I'm not sure why, so I play with it a lot until I figure it out and can move on. Sometimes, this holds me up for longer than I'd like and causes a bunch of stress. But I've tried (Oh, I've Tried) to not do this. Again, though, this is my process, and rather than fight with it, I've finally learned to just go with it.

The positive aspect of my process is when I do finish that first draft, it's fairly clean. Oh, it's not perfect, but usually, any other edits I make are fairly light. In fact, usually I just go through the book one more time at this point, paying attention to the notes I've left myself as I wrote--making sure that all questions are answered and threads are closed. Sometimes I find a better way to write something, so I take the time to do that.

Then, after that read through, if I'm basically happy with what I have, I make use of the "Find" command in MS Word. I have words, phrases, and other things I tend to use a lot, so I look for those, change what I can, and move on. For example, when I'm in pure writing mode, I tend to use character names a lot in dialogue, such as, "No, Alice. That's not what I mean." So this is where I skim those names out, only leaving the ones that are necessary for clarification.

Once I finish with the "Find/Replace" portion of my process, I read through the manuscript one more time. Does everything flow? Am I happy with my turning points? Am I too repetitive anywhere? Can I tighten anything? Then, after that read through, and any changes I make, I do a spell/grammar check and consider the manuscript done. Well--done until I receive revisions back from my agent or editor.

That's it. That's my process! It's not perfect, but it works for me. So even though the first draft (meaning from page one to the very end) might take me longer than other writers who can write clean through, when I am done, it's takes me far less time to get it into submission shape.

My only word of warning if you decide to try my process out is to be sure you are able to edit and then MOVE ON. It doesn't matter how great three chapters are if the rest of the book never gets written.

And one of the greatest feelings ever is finishing a book. Looking at all of those pages, knowing you wrote them, and being proud of the story you've told. It's awesome! So--find the process that works best for you and stick with it.


Maureen Lipinski said...

Our processes are totally different! I'm more of a "just get it down on paper" kind of person. Which is why my first drafts are ridiculously bad...but more on that tomorrow! :)

Jillian Cantor said...

Interesting to hear your process, Tracy. I love to see how other writers get the first draft down. And I agree, there is nothing more satisfying than actually finishing the entire draft and knowing that it's something you created!

Lesley Livingston said...

Having just this very morning turned in my draft for book 2, I'm not sure I have enough brain capacity to comment intelligently. Only to note that - I totally hear you on the first 3 chapters-thing!

And - yeah - finishing is pretty darn satisfying. Also border-line crazy-making!

Tracy Madison said...

I'm not surprised Maureen--and yeah, sometimes my process drives me nuts, but like I said, what works is what's right. :)

Jillian: I love that feeling!

Lesley: Congrats Lesley! Yay!