Writing is a very imprecise process for me, which surprises no one who knows me well. I’ve tried a gajillion tools in my quest to get a book off the ground and finished. Fast Draft, W-Plot, Snowflake Method. They all helped me be a better writer, but none of them got me to “The End.”
Those cool big picture methods aren’t concrete enough to get me to the end. My busy brain says, “Ooooh…GLITTER!” And I’m off doing something else, instead of writing the 60 scenes that make up a book.
The only thing that gets me to “The End” is putting my butt in the chair and writing one scene at a time.
If I don’t stay completely immersed in the moment and the scene, it’s an open door for “Ooooh…GLITTER!” That’s the way busy noggins like mine work.
Here’s my process in a nutshell:
1. Like many writers, each book usually starts with an idea or a scene that comes into my head fully formed. I write that scene to get it out of my head and onto the page. I keep writing until all the scenes are out of my head.
2. Near the beginning of the process, I bat some ‘what if’s’ around with my writing peeps and decide on the overriding theme for the book and the internal and external conflicts for the main characters.
3. If I’m really lucky, the turning points get decided in advance too. At the very least, I take time with my critique group to discuss what I think the turning points are to see if I’m remotely on target and if it all sounds believable.
Note: For a great summary of turning points, read this breakdown of Jenny Crusie’s talk at the 2009 RWA conference.
4. I make a list of all the scenes I know and I write whatever I can see clearly that day, until they’re all done.
5. I try to write at least five days a week as it keeps my brain open to receiving new scenes. When I let more than a week go by without visiting my story, I start to lose focus.
6. I use a timer. My deal with myself is I have to do at least 30 minutes of work on my fiction for those 5 days a week. While it doesn’t sound like a lot, it really makes a difference. If I’m digging it that day, I go way longer than 30 minutes. If I’m not digging it that day, I know “I only have to do this crap for 30 minutes.”
As an extrovert, online sprints help me a lot. Marcy Kennedy’s post on Twitter hashtags will help you find all the Twitter sprinters.
I didn’t know how to describe my writing process until one of my crafty relatives said, “Hey, you’re a story quilter!” It turns out, she was right. I read an article about Diana Gabaldon and how she wrote the Outlander series. Like Fae and I, she sees the story as a movie.
For Outlander, Gabaldon re-constructed the movie in her head, scene by scene, until everything she saw was on paper. Then she shuffled them all together into the books we know and love. While I won’t pretend to be anywhere near Gabaldon’s league, we both do books in short little pieces. Perhaps it has to do with being a busy mom.
When I read that article a light went on in my head. I finally accepted the truth: I’m a scene writer. I stopped trying to write from beginning to end like all my friends. Some of us are “story quilters” and that’s the way we’re made.
What are the Must-Haves for the “story quilting” approach?
You don’t have to have every one of these mastered, but it really, really helps if you at least have the first one. I use them all, especially in the editing process.
You must have a good grasp of 3-Act Structure.
Otherwise you end up with a pile of scenes, or “story blocks,” you can’t use. It also helps to know the 12 steps of the Hero’s Journey. Here’s the most helpful link I’ve found, which combines the two (this downloads a Word doc). I work with 3-Act structure because I can keep track of it better in my head.
Two words – Conflict Lock.
If you don’t have a conflict lock, you don’t have a story. So says Bob Mayer, author of Warrior Writer and co-founder of Cool Gus Publishing. Here’s a blog to tell you more.
Scene-dissecting tools like Margie Lawson’s EDITS system.
If you don’t have tools like the ones Margie teaches you, it’s difficult to figure out where you missed with a scene, especially if you’re a pantser. Invest in yourself with Margie…you’ll be glad you did.
Understand your story’s DNA (theme) before you get too far.
This is why I think hard about theme pretty early in my process. If you have a strong visual of your story’s underlying message, you automatically write to it. That DNA will inform every scene choice you make because it has to. John August, the screenwriter for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Big Fish, says it much better than I do in this post.
The advantages (and I know this is subjective):
- I never get writer’s block. There’s always another scene to write or edit.
- I’m able to write fast and stay immersed, because it’s “only one scene.”
- Scrivener allows me to store scenes separately and move them around.
- The story theme is naturally interwoven when you write this way.
- I’m able to move between fiction and non-fiction pretty easily.
- I need objective eyes to tell me when the story is “really done.”
- Continuity edits are a must for long works – I need to know that all the loose ends got tied up.
- Scene transitions bug the crap out of me (and I’m terrible at them). I need to be double-checked on these.
As you read about all our writing processes here at WITS, I encourage you to think about your own. Like underpants, process is personal. You’ll find out what fits you best by trying it on for size.
At the end of the day, it comes down to this: You must write your stories in a way that allows you to finish them. Period.
Where are you at in your “process journey?” Do any of our methods resonate with you?
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About Jenny Hansen
By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes news articles, humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 18+ years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.