Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Process of writing a book

Despite all my real life aggravations, I'm feeling rather pleased with myself. I've just more or less finished the book I was (re)writing over the Christmas period. I have no idea if I'm
a) exactly the same as every other writer
b) fairly typical or
c) weird
but my books appear to develop according to a pattern - bearing in mind that I'm a novice and this pattern may well change radically. When an idea is buzzing in my little brain I'm never without a pencil and paper, in case words flit into my head and I have to capture them before they vanish into the frightening abyss and crannies of my memory. (It's so great to be blogging not writing - I can reiterate and repeat myself, and rabbit on without restraint - sense? what's that about then?)

This is my pattern (at the moment) -

1. Have what I think is going to be the main idea
2. Wiggle my fingers on the keys as the main idea writes itself out
3. During stage 2 find another idea/character develops along the way
4. Mesh the two ideas/plots/characters together
5. Realise something isn't working (1st panic)
6. Rewrite the whole thing, cutting out about half the MS
7. Fear that it won't be long enough (2nd panic)
8. Fill in the gaps and work out the details
9. Realise that it is going to work out after all
10. Polish

Amazingly, ten stages. (OK, I made it work out that way.) Rereading the 10 steps, it does look very unnecessarily complicated.

Question - is this how other writers work? Is every experience different or do you have a customary way of approaching writing, and if so, is it anything like mine? And if not, perhaps you can help me to find a better way?

19 comments:

Virginia Lady said...

Well, I'm a little more free form. An idea usually starts and I just start typing. I get about half way and hit a wall. I stew over it for a bit and then the characters and plot get fleshed out more. More story flows out of the free space that is my head. Eventually I find an end, though I really hate that part.

Then I go back and add, revise, edit, etc. on everything.

Then I let someone else see it.

Then I add, revise, edit etc some more.

and so on. I like your neat list though. Seems much more professional than my way.

Aggie said...

I generally have my plot idea, then the ending and I spend a long time thnking about how to get from the start to the end ... from that flows my side characters and plots to move the story along. Otherwise your 10 steps are pretty much it after the thought process is finished.
I over-edit btw.

Mel said...

Hi Leigh

I tend to splurge my idea in the first instance and am even considering a dictaphone as I find just as I am dropping off a character or paragraph will form itself in my head and by the time I have located a pen it has winked out.
Once the idea is out I tend to re-read and chop out excess and rework, then I have a couple of trusted friends who can be ruthlessly honest and they read it, another chop and change and back to the friends. When I am happy with this I print it off and red pen it for grammar, adding bits and cutting others and then generally happy with it. It could be endless so I usually try to only send it to friends three times, sometimes if there is a particular scene or character that is not working might leave it and come back to it, research, I also have two or three things on the go, novel, and short stories and a philosophy course. Good luck with the new ms.

Barbara Martin said...

I begin with a main idea and a couple of scenes that would fit. While I'm writing other scenes will pop into my head which I will jot down into a list I form for this purpose. Often I can be working on different areas of the manuscript that will be connected at a later date with a transistion.

Diana Gabaldon writes her 'Jamie and Claire' series this way. She has a patchwork of separate stories that can be attached together to make a whole.

Once I have most of the story down then I begin an outline for each of the main scenes and insert them into a chart with four rows where I think they should go: i.e. 1st column = Define Story Concept which consists of -Introduction of hero missing something -Call to adventure - Refusal of call; 2nd column = Obstacles consists of -Mentoring character/energy -Hero commits -tests, allies, enemies; 3rd column = Major Set Back - approach event, team building -ordeal -love scene/reward; 4th column = Have Happy Ending consists of -road back, hero finishes adventure - resurrection -return with elixir, everything at stake.

Then each of my chapters are listed under the corresponding column headings with one short phrase describing the main two or three scenes via bullets. By reading over this list I can see what part of the plot works smoothly and what doesn't. If there are bumps they are removed permanently or put in another location.

I never discard a scene completely. I save them in a folder where they might be used in another story at a later time.

My readers only read a complete draft of my manuscript, not bits and pieces.

Debs said...

I generally think of my basic plotline, then characters (and their names - very important for me), then get writing.

Once finished, I end up rewriting the entire thing and hopefully improving as I go as I know the characters so much better.

Leigh Russell said...

When I see that wall up ahead, Virginia Lady, I just keep on going! Seriously, I'm not prepared to acknowledge that "writer's block" exists - life's too short - although I do a lot of stewing. I'm stunned that I've managed to sound professional though. Not how I see myself at all! I'm very pleased to think that someone has that impression of me. If I could only see myself through your eyes...

Leigh Russell said...

Aggie - seems to me, with all my little experience, that as a writer you cannot 'over-edit'. In some ways, I'm dreading seeing my first book when it's finally published. I'm sure I'll read through it and see words I want to cut, or change . . . !

Leigh Russell said...

Mel - sounds great. I love the splurge part! but I enjoy the reworking too. My panic comes when I start cutting rigorously. Has to be done though. I think my friends tend to be too kind. There's no substitute for an experienced editor.

Leigh Russell said...

Barbara Martin - I want to spend some time reading your comment. Now that looks professional!

Leigh Russell said...

Debs - yes, names are really really important. I can't write a character until I have the name right, and sometimes I have to change the name. I've decided to avoid names that are also words - Will, Mark, Rod, etc - that way it's easier to Find, Replace them if I want to. (But if you read it, you may spot that I reached that decision after I wrote my first book.)

I have a feeling I wrote an earlier post about the significance of names - it's a discussion we could revisit. It's so interesting - I'm still not sure why.

Eryl Shields said...

Sounds to me like you've got it sussed. I've never tried to write a whole book, only short fiction (getting shorter all the time) and poetry. So I tend to work in short bursts, but everything gets redrafted at least twenty times.

Leigh Russell said...

Hi Eryl - I'm not sure I don't enjoy the editing process almost as much as the creative writing itself - it's nowhere near as exciting but it is quite satisfying. I suppose I'm revisiting the art-craft discussion . . .

Barbara Martin said...

The secret with the chart is something I found in a Writer's Digest article several years ago and incorporated it in my work. It's been a great help to keep everything organized, and a quick peek once in awhile shows you were you're at.

Leigh Russell said...

I will get round to trying my hand at it, Barbara . . . just as soon as I've finished my latest MS . . .

Bill Clark said...

Good post, Leigh!

I've now pretty much finished books 2, 3 & 4 in the Clark-King Chronicles. Now that my publisher's been bought out, I'm not sure how to put them in front of the world. Perhaps the universe is telling me the world isn't quite ready for them yet...?

Book 1 pretty much wrote itself, as you know, over an intense two-week period. Much polishing thereafter, of course.

Book 2 is the continuation of book 1, but told by a different narrator - a woman, no less. A new experience for me, writing as a member of the opposite sex. But again, I was basically taking dictation, and I'd like to think I got it mostly right.

Book 3 is the continuation of book 2, this time told by a fifteen-year-old boy. So now I'm doing YA (young adult)?! I'm all over the literary map, it seems.

And book 4, the last in the series, is narrated by a young women with an overabundance of hormones. It (well, she) gets pretty raunchy at times. Am I writing Harlequin romance now?

Long story short, each of these books was shaped by the narrator. My role was merely to query him/her about what happened next, and they proceeded to tell me.

So that's my M/O, for the moment at least. I'm resigned to being in the "weird" category in your post. I know I'm not "exactly the same as every other writer," and I doubt I'm even "fairly typical". Yup - "weird". Works for me. :)

Leigh Russell said...

Hey Bill, now you've written as a woman all we need is one more and we can call ourselves the 3 weird sisters . . . lots of toil & trouble in this writing lark, eh?

BernardL said...

I can write from a template if the subject is non-fictional, such as informational or research papers. When I write fiction, I need only three things: characters I like, idea of why I put the characters together; and the plot, as in how I wish for them to act, overcome, and interact.

Leigh Russell said...

Well done, Bernard - you make it so simple!

whiteshark0121 said...

I love writing and reading books. I love the notion that people can make things up in their mind and then make them real on a page, for the pleasure or utility of someone else. One of my favorite mentor on learning how to write a book is Mark Victor Hansen, co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul.