If you’ve been a reader of WITS for some time, you’ve seen us joke about process envy on a number of occasions. What is it about writers that makes us so convinced someone else has the secret ingredient to the guaranteed-best-seller process?
Laura and I were brainstorming a couple of weeks ago and I mentioned how excited I was to be in the revision stage of the manuscript. I believe she said something along the lines of—and I’m paraphrasing here to protect innocent ears—“you’re crazy.” Anywhoo, that discussion turned into a process comparison between the 4 WITS bloggers and, voila, the "Process Throwdown" was born.
I’ll start. 🙂
A Pantser with Suspenders
I start with an idea. It could be a title, a first line, an object—something, anything that starts the creative pin-balling of ideas. For a few weeks the idea will bounce around in my head, I’ll mull and noodle and mull some more.
Then I start jotting down notes. Each project has a notebook of its own. I’ll write down character names and flush out character sketches; location ideas from city or state to what a room may look like; research notes; prop ideas (a teal 1957 Chevy pick-up for the current WIP, for example); phrases that inspired me from whatever novel I’m reading at the time; and, of course, plot ideas.
Somewhere in here I create a new word document for the manuscript. A shiny, white document (well, shiny and white in theory—my laptop screen is pretty spotty and smudged) that will become the first draft.
And I write.
I’d love to say I don’t look back once I’ve started, but truthfully, I’ll redo my first chapter two or three (okay, okay, four) times. But past that, I plow through the first draft. Plotting goes only as far as the next two chapters and usually happens on the treadmill or stationary bike (I had to dictate a note to myself once after a particularly exciting a-ha moment and then could barely make out what I was talking about from all the huffing and puffing, but that’s a story for another time).
Critiques on that first draft are filed until I’m done writing. That doesn’t mean I don’t glance through them to see if there are any major red flags, but I don’t stop to incorporate the changes. If I come across a plot problem or character defect, I’ll adjust moving forward and jot a note to fix accordingly in the earlier portions. But no looking back.
Now that I’ve pantsed my way through a first draft, I snap on the suspenders and … are you ready? … plot. [Note: There’s another post on plotting for pantsers here.]
Once the first draft is done, I do a beta read and take notes—no editing, just notes. Then I read a second time and write out the main points of each scene on color-coded index cards. Why color-coded? Glad you asked. One color for each of the different plot points. Those cards then go up on my wall where I can see the flow of the book and what’s missing. This is when I review all the critiques and feedback I’ve received and make additional notes on what areas need strengthening.
This is actually my favorite part. It’s a puzzle and I love puzzles!
And yes, I know … if I love this part, why don’t I plot before I start and skip the whole messy, why-the-hell-did-I-ever-go-down-this-hole first draft? Because that first messy draft is like standing and staring into the fridge or pantry and pulling out odd bits with only a vague idea what you’ll make with them. Then comes the magic—putting the ingredients together (plot points), adding the seasoning (layering details), and stir (revise, revise, revise) until perfect.
I’ve come to enjoy my process. Sure, there are times I wish I had a GPS to navigate through that first dark draft. But I love the adventure of wandering off on different trails and seeing where they lead.
Are you happy with your process or do you suffer from process envy?
After years of pushing the creativity boundary in corporate communications, Orly decided it was time for a new challenge. Three women’s fiction manuscripts later (plus a handful of picture books), it’s safe to say she’s found her creative outlet. When she’s not talking to her imaginary friends, she’s reading or at least trying to ignore everyone around her long enough to finish “just one more paragraph.” Orly is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association.
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