Monday, August 3, 2009

How does your writing process work?

Quote of the Day:
It’s like making a movie: All sorts of accidental things will happen after you’ve set up the cameras. So you get lucky. Something will happen at the edge of the set and perhaps you start to go with that; you get some footage of that. You come into it accidentally. You set the story in motion, and as you’re watching this thing begin, all these opportunities will show up. ~Kurt Vonnegut

For my first novel, I wrote in order (with a few exceptions). I started as close to the beginning as I could and worked forward. For my second novel, I just wrote as the scenes took me. I started somewhere in the middle, wrote forward and backward and sideways. If I got stuck, I moved on to another scene. Then I filled in the holes. It worked really well for me.

My mother thought my writing process was both interesting, funny, and totally confusing. I brought her my notebooks on our recent visit so I could show her how the book started out. She was amazed I could write like that. Yet, I know many authors who skip around.

I also know quite a few that outline their books. This isn’t something I’ve ever been able to do. Even when I try, things turn out differently anyways, so there really isn’t a point to it in my mind. For me at least.

However, my new project (brand spanking new, not much more than an idea right now) is one that, due to the nature of it, I will have to outline. And it’s torture for me. I know there will be some additions that won’t be outlined, but for the most part, I simply HAVE to know what will be going in the book. I need to know what each chapter will contain, in detail, or this project is never going to work.

I don’t want to say that this has taken the enjoyment out of it for me, because it hasn’t. This project is sort of a mix between fiction and non-fiction, so the preliminary research and outlining is necessary, interesting, and fun in it’s own way. But it isn’t the type of free “let-the-muse-take-me-where-it-will” kind of writing I usually immerse myself in. Once I start writing, I hope that part will come, but for now, it feels more like work than fun.

While I think this project will suck me in just as much as any other I’ve done, *sigh* I just don’t like the outlining which I actually find sort of funny. In real life, I’m a list type person. I go shopping, I have a list. We go on a trip, I make a list of what we need to do before we go, what needs to be packed, etc. My non-fiction book, I have my Table of Contents in front of me at all times and check off the chapters as they are completed.

But fiction…that is the one area of my life that ISN’T planned out ahead. I have the idea, of course, the basic storyline, characters, plot twists…but I like to fly by the seat of my pants and let things just happen. So it’s weird to try and enforce a structure where there previously hasn’t been one. I’m sort of interested to see how I handle this ;-D

How about everyone else? How do you write? Do you outline? Just let your fingers fly and see what they come up with? If you write different genres, do you handle them differently?


JStantonChandler said...

Hi Michelle!

First of all, thanks for following!

I usually start out a new idea by just diving into it. I get an inkling of inspiration and I'm off! Later on, however, I will usually stop, step back, and briefly outline the characters as well as where I feel the story is going. It always (ALWAYS) changes, but having that initial summary helps me along the way.


Novice Writer Anonymous said...

With my short stories I don't usually outline. I did with my novella, but I went so far afield in the writing that it's ridiculous. With my novels, I outline chapter titles and Points A and B. My poetry collections, I just write to fill. I know what I need and I write it when it comes to me.

But I definitely fly by the seat of my pants once I've done a rudimentary outline.

Tess said...

I have always worked in a chronological order...but I'd be open to other methods if they seemed right to me for the project.

don't you just love the rush of a new WIP? It's like when you're first dating....ah, so exciting :D Good luck with it all!

FictionGroupie said...

I usually make a very rough outline first. I'm talking one notebook page with lots of arrows and sideways writing. :) Then I start the story, which never turns out to follow the outline. However, without the outline, I can't start. Strange, I know.

quixotic said...

Ims a pantser. I have a general idea of where I want to go and I write from start to finish, giving myself a skeleton draft to work with. From there I edit and revise and re arrange as necessary. At times I think outlining would be the way to go, but I hate restraining myelf. I have to do what comes naturally.

Cindy said...

How funny, I'm a lot like that, too. I love lists! I make one every morning to map out my day. But in writing...I do a lot less planning than seems necessary.

I have a lot stored up in my mind and I count on that for getting through the story. With my last novel it was harder, though, because it was the third in a series and I felt like a lot was already mapped out beforehand. Also, I had to keep all my facts straight. That was hard for me, but I learned from it :D

Amanda J. said...

I don't outline much. I might do a character bio or a short synopsis of the general structure so I have a loose idea of the big things I want to happen, but it isn't something I always do.

Most of the time I just sit down and write. I'll see where the story's going as it unfolds and if there's something I don't understand coming up I take some time and ask myself some questions. What is happening? Why is it happening? And sometimes I don't know the answers until they pop up on the screen.

So, I think outlining has its moments for me but for the most part I just write.

Great post! Thanks.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I nominate myself the world's worst outliner. I just fall asleep trying to do that. So I jump into the story, letting the characters run for awhile. Then I do exercises to find deeper motivations, characterization, etc. I'm fairly new at fiction but I doubt I will ever be at peace with outlines.

Scott said...

I let my fingers fly as fast as they can, and just hope the story makes sense in the end. Seriously, I don't outline. I just go with the flow.

I have been known to write scenes out of order and then insert them in the proper place as I keep writing. There are just times where, early in the book, I get the idea for what will happen five or six chapters later, so I write that scene then and there while the inspiration is slapping me on the back of the head. Whew, talk about a run-on sentence. : )


Eileen Astels Watson said...

I do a short synopsis, interview my characters and then I roll with it.

Stephanie Thornton said...

Right now I'm writing historical fiction on a real person so I had to have an outline. It's just the main events, things I know have to happen. Then my muse was responsible for filling in the blanks and getting me from Point A to B. There's something to be said for spontaneity, but also for keeping organized!

Lazy Writer said...

I'm a list person, too. But I refuse to outline unless absolutely necessary. Besides, I have noticed that sometimes I spend more time making lists than it would take to just do the stupid things! I'd rather be spending my time writing than outlining.

Jamie D. said...

I've become an outliner. I used to just write, but doing my blog serial, it quickly became rather obvious that I needed some sort of a plan in order to keep the draft from jumping around too much, and I discovered I like it.

My outlines aren't like a traditional outline though - I simply know what needs to happen at different parts of the book, and then write from one point to another without knowing exactly how it's going to work. If I write something that changes the outline, so be it - I just work the change in, and keep going. So it's very fluid, and not limiting at all.

I am writing cleaner drafts now though - which is the main thing that convinced me to keep outlining. Cleaner drafts = less editing!

Sharla said...

I did my first novel in scenes, out of order, and filled in the holes. And then spent 5 years editing it to death. So now I'm on my second one and I decided I needed structure. I had to outline it and know everything that's going to happen, so I can just relax and write and not worry if I'm putting the correct plot points where they should be.

I do like it better. And I don't chapter write anymore. I write it as one long story, and then after it's done and edited to within an inch of its life and there aren't any more changes to move around, I chapter it up.

christine said...

I don't write a strict outline - but I do write a plot sketch - something that give me the basic 12-point plot to make sure I have everything a good story should. After that, it is fly by the seat of my pants...and when I get stuck, or lost in my own words,I go back to the plot sketch - it totally helps me find my way again!

Anna C. Morrison said...

Douglas Adams gave the advice to work from back to forward, or something along those lines. Meaning that if you have an outcome you desire, work backward from it, and there's your story. That has helped me many times! If I had my way, and my characters were less unruly, outlines would work. I would love it if outlines would work.

Michelle McLean said...

I'm starting to be very much afraid that I may have to start outlining....not just a basic list of what I want to happen, but like an actual outline. The thought terrifies me :D But, it would probably save me some editing later on. *sigh*

Don said...

My first novel had a rough outline, which I pretty much ignored. I wrote the scenes in whatever order they came to me. It evolved so much that it turned into a romance, all on its own.

My current WIP is SciFi, and much more procedural in nature, so how people get from point A to B to C is very important. With this one I wrote a much more detailed outline, and have stuck to it much more closely, writing the scenes in strict chronological order.

I seem to do OK with either style. It's the book itself that seems to dictate how I write as much as what I write.

Sliding on the Edge said...

It takes me a long time to put anything on paper, well, into my computer. I live with the story and the people in my head for a long time. This causes a lot of near-accidents because I'm kind of . . . distracted a lot of the time when this process is going on.

When the story comes to the page I can write for hours without stopping. Drives my family crazy.