Every writer has a process. Sometimes it takes years to work out, at least in my case. It has changed for me over time, as my responsibilities have increased and my free time dwindled. That’s why it seems to have become even more important to streamline my process from beginning to end of a story. Now with the goal of completing a novel, it’s a somewhat new process. My first novel will be just as much a research project in what things worked and what things didn’t, so my next will hopefully be written more quickly. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.
Quiet is my key to creativity. Sometimes others’ conversations or background noise will generate ideas or stimulate my writing energy center, but more often than not I need quiet for my concentration. I’m easily distracted. My mind finds the beat of music and tries to pay attention to lyrics, even if I’ve heard them hundreds of times. White noise can be OK, but it can’t have any discernible rhythm or obvious looping repetition, or I find myself waiting for the break in the loop or bopping my head to the ups and downs. At work, I find my parked car is often the best place to write, at least until it gets too hot outside. At home, I have yet to find a place where noise doesn’t filter through, but I’m hoping some noise-cancelling headphones will help me there. Usually I can plan for some quiet time in the evening, if other responsibilities don’t take priority. Quiet also allows me to work out problems with my plots or hear conversations among my characters in my head. It’s essential for me to be able to space out. These out-of-body experiences are where my best stories have originated. I make more quiet for myself by driving without playing music, taking walks, and even while doing yard work. When I become rich from my first big novel/movie adaptation (please humor me), I’ll build a sound-proofed room, a fortress of solitude, where I can bang out thousands of words per day.
Outlining is my friend. I’ve started several novels over the years and never finished one. My current attempt started with general plot, setting, and character ideas which helped me begin the outline for the plot. Since it’s very character-driven, I had to immerse myself in the characters frequently to question how their decisions would affect the plot and allow the outline to gradually take form. I like to use a detailed outline. I do this because I frequently only have 45 to 60 minutes per day for writing, 4 or 5 days per week. The detailed outline helps me jump right back into writing my first draft, even if I haven’t looked at it in several days.
I write my first draft in long hand. This is a matter of necessity rather than preference. I would much rather write at my computer, but since most of my writing is done in my car, a notebook and pen are my tools of choice. Also I can type at home even if it’s noisy, so I never worry about finding time to type out everything I’ve written in my notebook. There’s also just something I like about ink and paper, scribbling out mistakes, and jotting notes in the margins. I definitely feel I write better with certain types of pens, too. If I use one that requires too much pressure, my hand tires quickly. If I use one with ink that takes too much time to dry, I spend more time cleaning ink from my hands than writing. I’ve tried writing on my phone, and it’s too frustrating to type with my thumbs. There are probably other gadgets to help me write electronically, but right now I’m content with my old-school method. Eventually when I can write full-time, I’d like to test and employ various writing tools, like Scrivener. Right now, I’d rather spend my time actually writing than familiarizing myself with such applications. I can use sticky notes, index cards and other old-school organizational tools when necessary. It can be comforting to have a little bit of detritus littering my desk.
Editing can get tricky because I need a computer to do it properly. For longer works, sometimes I’ll re-read sections to refresh my memory and edit during that process. This kind of editing is really just for confusing or redundant language I didn’t omit during my first, frantic jotting. I’ve read a couple of books and many online articles about editing, employing some of the advice that seems to make the most sense. I like to think that when I find my voice, there will be less editing necessary. I currently read my writing aloud to see if I can hear problems with dialogue and tease out confusing language in my sentences. I also can’t stress how helpful beta readers of my fiction have been. Often I’ve felt embarrassed at the mistakes they point out, but somehow I managed to miss them after three or four editing passes. I’d much rather suffer that shame than risk rejections from a publisher due to grammatical flubs or contextual misunderstandings.
Lastly there’s the stuff that serves to keep me in the frame of mind to write in the first place. Sleep is essential for my mind to work logically and choose fluid language. While my imagination has always been very active, even when exhausted, transcribing my ideas into something concrete, like an outline, is incredibly difficult for me when I’m tired. I’ll look back on my work and wonder what I was thinking, often having to abandon it and start again. It just works so much better when I can get my eight hours per day (maybe nine). Then I can even do with smaller amounts of coffee. Caffeine tends to make me write in larger quantities at the expense of quality, so I will only have to make up the difference in editing time. Being well-rested has many other benefits as well for my patience, sanity, and physical health. In fact I think I’ll get some sleep right now. OK, I’m back. Maintaining my energy level is also key. Though writing is one of the things that recharges my batteries, especially as a break from my day job, it’s necessary for me to eat nutritious food fairly often throughout the day. While some ice cream or donuts can give me momentary satisfaction, it wears off quickly. Dehydration can also make me punchy, so I drink lots of water through the day. While exercise often seems like time spent not writing, I put in my time on the treadmill. It gets the blood pumping and often stimulates ideas that help me later. It’s also a good excuse for me to watch a movie or TV show to review in this blog.
What’s your writing process? If you don’t write often, what generally energizes you and gets your creative juices flowing?