Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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August 27, 2010

THE Right Way to Write a Book

by Laura Drake

I read a lot of newsletters, ezines, podcasts, and blogs about writing. One of the most popular subjects is how to do it – not craft, but process of creating a book. Pantster? Plotter? Start on page one? Start with scenes and fill in the blanks? Start at the end and plot backwards (I understand this works for mystery writing.) I can never resist these articles, because frankly, this is fascinating stuff.

In this busy, structured world, we have instructions for almost everything you’ll run across. Writing is pretty much the same. You can take classes or buy a book for almost every aspect of craft: grammar, POV, show don’t tell, editing. Even how to find inspiration, or conquer writer’s block.

But nowhere can you learn how to actually write the darned thing! I’ve struggled with this, like every other writer. I believe it’s the major reason most people don’t finish books – not because they don’t have ideas, or characters, but the function of actually getting it out of your head and onto the page the way you pictured it is complicated.

There’s a reason there aren’t any books about this: there’s only one right way – yours. The problem is, you have to discover it! To me, it’s like trying to put a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle together blindfolded. . . it can be done, but it’s not fast, and it’s not efficient. You learn by fumbling around, trying what works for others and stumbling onto ways no one else uses!

I’ll bet if you talked about this to Nora, Linda Howard, or others who have written many books, they'd tell you that they’re still finding their processes as they go along. It sure would have helped me when I started to know this!

MY way (as of today):

•Mostly Pantser – need an idea of where I’m going, maybe a theme and an ending, and that’s it.
•Write a couple of pages in one sitting (on a good day), then the next, begin by editing yesterday’s work and moving forward
•Music – Classical and in the background
•Writing desk – organized, but crowded (usually with a cat sleeping on the desk or in my lap)
•The room – reference books, magazines, plotting board, bulletin board with photos and writing memorabilia.
•Plotting – on a bicycle, with a digital voice recorder. Something about the distraction of riding loosens my brain. I could sit in front of a blank screen forever, and nothing would come.
•Final Editing – one name – Margie Lawson.

What about you? Post a comment about your process!

0 comments on “THE Right Way to Write a Book”

  1. Laura, I was tickled to read this. No one ever does it the way I do, either. I'm going to try to imitate your list format:
    *Mostly plotter, but with the ability to be surprised by what pops into my head
    *Write a few pages every day using 750Words, and do editing in large swaths once I make sure things are going smoothly
    *Music: Classical, definitely, but also Spanish guitar and electronica. As long as it doesn't have words, it's a contender.
    *Writing desk: Right now? So crowded it's embarrassing. It's in the large rear room upstairs with the futon and the guest bed, and the great view of the park behind the house.
    *Plotting: Notecards augmented with yWriter5. I haven't used the software for an entire book from beginning to end yet, but I like it.
    *Final editing: Well, we'll see 🙂

    Have a great weekend!

    1. Kim,
      You and I use a lot of the same tools! I use 3X5 cards a lot too - I write out rough scenes on them, then try to put them in some kind of order. This seems more flexible to me than outlining.

      Your website is cute! Thanks for reading - stop back soon. Laura

  2. I admire pansters, but I can't go that route. Before I start, I need a pretty detailed plot outline from beginning to end (well, maybe my middle is a bit vague), character sketches, setting sketches, etc. Actually, for one book I tried to follow the very structured Wiesner's First Draft in 30 Days. When my first draft was on day 245, I decided something wasn't working. I would love to just sit down and get it all out, but I have the overwhelming need to edit, edit, edit as I go along. I guess that's why I was at day 245! Anyway, you are right - everyone comes up with their finished product in a different way and no one can tell YOU how to do it. I'm really trying on my current WIP to turn off my inner critic and keep going. Butt in chair is difficult, too. Writing isn't easy, but must do it. It's in the blood!

    1. I admire you Barb - being an accountant, I really thought I'd be a plotter, but found that it just takes all the fun out of it for me.
      Love the organization, but I just can't do it.

      Kill that 5th grade teacher in you! Kill her dead!

  3. I've written three manuscripts and each time it's been a different process.

    Book 1: Had an idea and started writing. Critique partner would ask me why something happened in the story and I'd have to come up with an answer and put it in the book. This process took a long long time.

    Book 2: Using tips from Lisa Gardner's website, I got myself a lot of colored 3X5 cards and plotted the book as best I could. The cards gave me a feeling of control and I do think the book was better for it. However, it still took a very long time to finish.

    Book 3: I'm half way through it. Another book where I had a vague idea and sat down and started writing. The difference this time - I stopped writing what I thought I SHOULD be writing. I selected two authors whose style I love, and emulated what they'd done. I'm writing the book in about 1/3 of the time it took me to write the other two. The bonus is, the feedback I'm getting is, my voice is jumping off the page.

  4. Laura, I am intrigued by your method of plotting while riding your bike. I may try that. Another good place for me to plot is in a steaming tub of water, with notebook, clipboard and pen at hand. The liquid heat seems to open up not only my sinuses but also my brain cells. Once I get an idea cooking, as it were, I then like to start an outline. Sometimes I write short scenes as I go, then develop them later. Of course the outline is just a rough framework that often changes, but it helps me keep on track with an eye toward my end goal. Lynda

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