My Writing Process
It’s Wednesday evening. It’s time to sit down at my favorite writing Starbucks and make some more progress on The Repossessed Ghost. At the rate I’m going, I may have the entire second draft done before November.
Before I get into it, I’m going to take a moment to talk about my writing process, and how my personality affects my writing process (thanks again for the suggestion, Lauren!). To talk about this subject, I’m going to break it into different categories.
Managing Time and Expectations
I’m writing part time. This is important, because my process would be completely different if I could write full time. As it is now, I never have enough time to accomplish what I want to in a single writing session. If I needed writing the way I need food, I’d be a gnarled, wispy figure, constantly on the edge of starvation.
Like a starving man at a banquet, I can’t indulge myself as much as I want to, even when I’m wealthy with free time. Occasionally I’m able to sit and write for 8 hours or more, feeling like I’ve utilized the time wisely. Most of the time, I’m exhausted after just a few hours. When that happens, I become disappointed with myself.
With all of my commitments, I’m able to dedicate every Wednesday evening to writing. Sometimes I write on Thursday evenings as well, and there’s usually some time every weekend. Wednesday evening is the only time I have truly dedicated to writing at the moment, however. Some weeks, that’s the only time I write.
I Need to Accomplish Something
I’ve talked before about how important confidence is to my writing. It’s still true. Sometimes I can fake it until I make it, but a really easy way to feel more confident is just to accomplish something. Sometimes that can mean meeting a goal, such as finishing a chapter or meeting an arbitrary word count. Most weeks, I feel accomplished by writing a blog post.
Most Wednesdays, part of my process is sitting down and writing a blog post like this one. In addition to exercising my ability to pull words out of air, it makes me feel like a real writer. Writing the blog post detracts from my time working on fiction, but it makes up for it by giving me the positive feelings I need in order to keep going.
Plotting, Planning, and Winging It
I’m a sporadically organized person. My car is clean, but my workstation in the garage is cluttered. My desk at work is impeccable, but the area next to my bed is a disorganized mess. I prefer to live in a clean, well ordered environment, but sometimes I can’t be bothered to make it so. My writing process reflects this.
Over a year ago, I switched from using Word to using Scrivener, so I have powerful organizational tools at my disposal. I store writing notes and character sheets in Scrivener. But often, there isn’t much information on those character sheets. I rarely look at my notes.
I believe this is because a lot of the “writing” I do isn’t in front of the computer. I still walk about a mile everyday, and I think about my stories while I’m walking. I think about scenes and characters and plot points when I’m between tasks at work. Sometimes, I think about my stories while I’m listening to an audiobook in the car.
Just like when I’m programming, I build the parts in my head before my hands touch the keyboard. I used to think that I wrote everything by the seat of my pants, but I’m starting to believe I’m more of a plotter. I still don’t want to spoil the story before I’ve written it, but I definitely know where the story every step of the way.
Putting the Words Down
My ideas come from various sources. Where my ideas come from is less important than the actual act of writing them down. I’ve established that I need time, confidence through accomplishment, and a mental road map in order to write. But what about the actual writing itself?
Over time, and through the benefit of receiving feedback from some talented writers, I’ve learned some of my bad habits and weaknesses. I’ve learned that I use a passive voice frequently. I’ve learned that I use adverbs like they’re going out of style. I’ve learned that I use a lot of unnecessary blocking.
Knowing these things helps me clean up my work as I go. With every sentence, I look back and try to find my common mistakes. Did I use the word “was”? How many words end in “ly”? Am I breaking up the dialogue unnecessarily, or providing information that is not critical to the scene?
I want each word to sound right in my mind. I want each sentence to flow into the next, without unnecessary or distracting repetition. I want the paragraphs to feel the right length. I want the chapter to end in such a way that the reader is encouraged to turn the next page and keep reading.
I see the words, and I hear them in my head, too. I think that’s why dialogue is one of my strengths.
Obviously, I should worry about these things while editing, and I do. But I also think about these things during the first draft. The benefit of this approach is that my first drafts come out relatively clean. The downside is that it makes the writing process a little bit slower.
I write in Starbucks often. It gets me out of the house and around disinterested strangers. It also provides the right kind of background noise.
Writing at home can be a challenge. At home, there are video games in the garage. In the living area, someone usually has the TV on, with Netflix playing. Random noise and quiet conversations are one thing. A coherent story taking place within earshot is something else entirely. I’m unable to block out a video, even if the video is something I’m not interested in watching.
Some people are able to listen to music when they write, but not me. When I’m listening to music, I’m unable to focus on my writing. I can listen to EDM or Pop when I’m programming, but music seems to drown out the voices in my head when I’m writing.
I’m not sure I’ve included much information about how my personality impacts my writing process. The last time I took the Meyers-Briggs, I was described as INFJ. I don’t usually like to be categorized, so I don’t usually spend time thinking about personality types, or how I can be broken down into basic parts. Sometimes, I feel like I’m working against myself. Other times, I feel like I’ve navigated the quagmire of my quirks and habits to great effect, and I feel clever.
Ultimately, I’m looking forward to the day when I feel like I’ve made it. That involves some sort of external validation, but I’m not sure what that looks like yet. I’ll know it when I get there. Until then, I’ll just keep going. I want to be a great writer, and great writer perseveres.