Thursday, January 8, 2015

My Writing Process

I want to be a writer. That is what I'm jumping for. And I don't want to be a journalist, I don't want to be a corporate writer, I don't even want to be a blogger, despite what I've written on here or my other blog. I want to be a storyteller. And I don't care if that's unrealistic--that's what I want to do, and that's what God has placed in my heart to do.

I've written and rewritten many stories, and yet never actually finished anything major. As of now, I have written many short stories, and one novella, which I am very proud of, but I have never finished a novel. I've written the first part of a novel--60,000 words of three parallel storylines that come to satisfying conclusions, but only if you have another 60k or 100k words to back it up--and the first few chapters of dozens of novels, but I've had a problem with finishing things. With the book I'm on right now, To Look Skyward, I plan to change that. It's going to be a massive undertaking. I'm already 50,000 words in, having finished NaNoWriMo with it, and I have barely even scratched the surface of the story. But I'll do it, and I'll revise it until it's a great story, and then I'll submit it. And then I'll start a new book. Because that's the life I've chosen for myself.

But enough about that. Let's talk about my writing process. It's changed considerably over the years I've been writing, and I continue to learn new things about how my brain works, and how I can best equip my mind to make quality stories. NaNoWriMo, especially, taught me many things about how I write.

I’ve been told there is a sliding scale to being a writer—on one end you have the discovery writer, who makes it up as they go, does what the story demands, what the characters want, rather than sticking to an outline. They do multiple drafts of one book, and some say their first draft is really just an incredibly extensive outline. On the other end you have the outliner—the guy who details what’s going to happen in every chapter, step by step, before he even puts his hand to the keys. The story doesn’t get away from him, he knows where he’s going from start to finish. And though something major may change during the course of the book, he usually has a very firm ending already in mind when he starts writing.

I’m somewhere in the middle between those two extremes, as most people are. I tend to spend a lot of time thinking about a book, envisioning key scenes and characters, listening to a specific film score I pick out for the story, helping me see certain events and set them to music in my head. I have a basic idea of what the story is going to be about, who is going to be major players, and what the ending is going to look like.

Then I write—I start with the first chapter and go. Beginnings are usually easy—since I’ve been thinking about this story for a while now, the beginning and the ending are usually firm in my mind, as well as a few key scenes that I want to happen in the middle. After that first chapter, though, I take another step back.

And then I outline the second chapter all the way through, figuring out what will be the goal, conflict, and outcome of each scene, trying to end with a satisfying resolution for that mini-arc of story. Then I write that out all the way to the end of the chapter.

But, I really don’t end up sticking to the outline very much. I’m probably more of a discovery writer than an outliner in a scene by scene basis. I let things fall where they may, writing myself into the story and the characters and letting them take it where they want it to. I make up characters on the fly when I need a specific person to be there, I change key events to make a better flow. And I usually end up changing the climax I had in mind considerably. Though I may plan out when a chapter ends, it almost always turns out to end sooner than I thought. I tend to end chapters when I feel the climax has come, a satisfying resolution has been accomplished. And I love to end a chapter (and a scene) on a great line that sets the tone and leaves you with a sense of completion, yet looking towards the future.

With To Look Skyward, my standard process has stayed mostly the same, though I did outline much more heavily than I ever have before. During the actual writing, I've realized dozens of things that have changed the outline and made it better, and I'll realize dozen more things as I continue to churn out the story. And though I have a basic idea of what my ending will be, and where I want to end up, the second half of TLS is much less defined than the first half. If I reach the halfway point and still don't quite know where I want the last half to go, I'll sit down with a few friends and brainstorm some ideas based on what I already have. But I'm getting ahead of myself. I still have a long way to go.

One of the things that I learned during NaNoWriMo that I'll add--I have to edit. Some writers talk about turning off their internal editor and just writing without any restraints, but I just cannot work that way. I am constantly checking and rechecking my writing as I go, making sure that the scene is cohesive and it's headed in the right direction, the continuity is consistent, and the wording is how I'd like it to be. Not to the point that it takes me forever to write something (I write fairly quickly anyway), but enough to make the completed first draft of a scene of mine pretty workable by the time I'm through.

One of the main things that went wrong during NaNoWriMo for me was when I got behind. I knew I couldn't do my normal checking and rechecking of the scene, and so I was forced to barrel onward when I knew the writing I was leaving behind wasn't good. It frustrated me so much. I ended up finishing a chapter just to finish it, and sent my character in a completely random direction simply because I had no idea what to do next. Once NaNoWriMo was over, I took a step back, deleted all of the text after the point I had gotten stuck, and tried again. I was so much more satisfied with the new version of the chapter than the old, because I got to take some time to truly think about the scene and what it needed, rather than writing it simply to be writing.

For some people, that works, and they could write a bunch of scenes that they know they're going to throw away completely or rewrite the heck out of, and they can do a dozen drafts, but I just don't work like that. I like to be neater than that, and have my first drafts make as much cohesive sense as possible.

To close this slightly rambly entry, I'd like to talk about one of my favorite podcasts, Writing Excuses, with some of my favorite authors--Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Howard Tayler, and Mary Robinette-Kowal. They are on their tenth season, and are the main reason I know how to write a story. Their tips and tricks have been so unbelievably helpful to me, and have helped me shape my writing process, and now, for their tenth season, they are structuring the entire year of podcasts as a master class! And that has me super excited, because it means I get to learn more about the art of writing in a way that'll be super informative (not that it hasn't already been informative...)! So, if you're at all interested in writing science fiction, fantasy, horror, or any other kind of genre fiction, check out Writing Excuses, and get in on this awesome master class thing they're doing. You won't regret it.

That's all from the guy who likes to fancy himself a storyteller.

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