Friday, March 21, 2014

Don't Mess with the Process

Today I'm going to talk a little bit about my process of writing.
I've been writing fiction seriously since 2009, and the way I go about things now is totally different than how I got started. In the beginning, I didn't plot SQUAT. I sat down in front of the computer and the muse breath took me away. It was fun, letting my creativity loose and seeing where the story took me. When I sat down to write, I had no idea what kind of story would fly out of my fingers. It was an adventure.
But then I finished something and decided I wanted to publish it. And therein lay the problem.
My muse breath didn't care about structure. The story I'd made wasn't satisfying because I didn't understand the way the story was put together.
Some people instinctively structure their stories well. They can pants their way through any book, no matter the length, and be totally fine with it. Those people are so not me.
Back in 2011, I attended my very first writer's conference. My friend and I split up and went to different sessions. I attended a session on characterization and colors and my friend went to one on the "W" method of plotting.
We sat down and exchanged information after the sessions, and I instantly realized I'd gone to the wrong one. I didn't go to the plotting one because I was a pantser, and I was proud of that. But as my friend explained the W, I realized that the book I was pitching was missing a huge point. The buildup to the black moment wasn't there, and without that, I couldn't sell that book.
On the plane ride home, I plotted for the very first time. And that book sold.
Now my process is very defined. And I've learned if I deviate from this process that things don't go as well for me. Every writer is different. But this is what works for me.
Public Domain from Wikimedia Commons 

Gina's Writing Process
1. Idea (this can be a conflict, a character, or even just a theme. A single idea that my ideas hang from.)
2. Blurb (I write a 3 paragraph back of the book style teaser blurb next. This gives me my main characters, my conflict, setting, basically the foundation of the story.)
3. W Plot (EVERY TIME. I started a short novella last month and said "pfft, this is short, I don't need to outline it." BIG MISTAKE. The story took a left turn at Albuquerque and I had to redo great swaths of it. I don't write without the outline, or I'll have to redo it. Lesson learned.)
4. Draft. (As I draft, I keep track of what happens in each chapter with my little notebook. I'll sketch out the idea of what should happen in the chapter, then write it. Then I'll sketch the next, then write it. I keep an eye on my W at all times. This helps me keep an eye on my target length as well as that all-important structure.)
5. Edit-As-I-Go (This is something that I try to limit, because if I let myself I'll tinker with existing words forever and not make as many new ones as I should. But I'm obsessed with keeping my drafts as clean as possible. I HATE doing different drafts, so as I go, I comb through what came before. So by the time I finish a draft, it only needs a quick once over before heading out to critique partners, beta readers, or agent.)

And that's it. That's my process. This is how it works for me. But everyone's process is different. And I do a lot of tweaking inside my process, so if you've got things that work wonders for you, please share them below!

Gina Lamm is a geek and an escapist who finds her joy in making stuff up. She tweets, books her face, and hangs out at her site. Stalk her online anytime!

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  1. Great post, Gina!
    Like you, I started as a pantser and had to grow into plotting. I storyboard. Whatever works for the writer is the method they should use.
    I have to do a minimal outline or I'd be lost without a map at that famous left turn. I can take a short detour if my characters demand it, but I feel more secure having a road I can go back to that will eventually take me where I want to go. Flying by the seat of my pants is terrifying when a deadline is involved.

  2. Someone once said that even pantsers plot, they just do it in their heads. I've always done that, and I'd never heard of the W method before (here's a good description I found, but it makes perfect sense. Thanks for the tip!

  3. Terrific post. I don't know how anyone produces a coherent book without at least a minimal outline. The thing to remember is that the outline can change if it has to.

  4. What a cool post Gina! I am an outline addict...I love to know where I'm going. My characters change it up a little every time, but at least I have a road map as I go :) Thanks for this...

  5. Let's see...process. Vague idea, start writing, write until the end, revise, turn in. Repeat. I don't outline or follow a synopsis or anything. I wish I would! But I've written a lot of books this way, so I guess it works for me. Maybe Cheryl is right that I plot in my head.

  6. I once wrote the first 100 pages of a book five times -- couldn't get beyond that until I finally took the time to plot the whole thing out. : )