Things that are never the same: snowflakes, fingerprints, and a writer’s process. While surely there are more one-of-kind instances, process is the topic I’ve popped in to chat about today. It’s a good choice, since I flunked meteorology back in the eighth grade and my fingerprint knowledge is limited to a thorough Google search.
Right or wrong, I know a little about how to get words on a page—or not. And I’d love to hear your wordsmith habits at the end of this post.
Process, like those snowflakes and fingerprints, is individual to each writer. The sphere of process encompasses everything, from the cup you take your coffee in to things more specific to writing, like editing—or maybe that’s the other way around. I bet more writers would be willing to toy with their editing process than how many cups of courage it takes to get going on any given morning.
Here’s difference number one—I don’t drink coffee. And while you might call it crazy, I can promise that I’m off to a better start if that simple Tetley brew is served in the ugly blue cup from Pier One. I think I paid $2.50 for it about a dozen years ago. It has a nasty chip in the side, and those who live here know never to touch it, unless unloading it from the dishwasher, in which case it’s handled with the care given to heirloom china or fairies’ wings.
Before starting this post, I perused my Facebook newsfeed. (How else would I procrastinate?) It didn’t take long for spillover process to turn up, writing triumphs and tragedies: “OMG, I hit 100K mark! This book is officially done!” “Kill me now. Without a doubt, this draft is the worst POS I’ve ever written!” Somewhere in between kvetching and celebrating, fill the blanks with writer-rich thoughts and you’ve got process.
Are most writers morning people? Show of hands, please. For me, it’s a rare day that a decent sentence shows up after lunchtime. I’m more flexible about where I write. I prefer my dedicated desk in my dedicated writing room, but I’ve been known to work well in crowded airports and other bustling venues. In fact, I wrote most of my first book sitting on the floor of Children’s Hospital in Boston. My middle daughter was ill for a long time, which turned out to be a lot of down time—sitting, waiting, if you’ve ever been in that boat. Sometimes I imagine if I were to journey back to Longwood Ave., I’d find the characters from Beautiful Disaster wandering the halls.
Whether you are a multi-published author or cranking out the first draft of your first novel, we’ve all read books on craft. Important stuff, like double-space your manuscript and how to make those first five pages work the room. Many offer common sense advice and some (quite successfully) offer detailed blueprints for penning the perfect novel.
I’ve indulged in process improvement concepts over the years. For Unstrung (out February 2017) I produced the much touted index card outline. For this book, the methodology worked. Unstrung was on a tight deadline and I had no idea where the story was going or how I would get there. The self-supplied prompts proved invaluable to the process, and I thought I’d found the Holy Grail of book writing.
Not so fast. Enter Ghost Gifts II, which I literally started the day after turning in Unstrung. Not my ideal scenario for book writing, but tick-tock, deadline looms. I quickly found the index card system wasn’t working. Then I compared the two set of index cards and realized why—Unstrung notes were about characters I didn’t know, a story that had no roots. These cards were a roadmap to hardcore facts that already exist in Ghost Gifts, the mother ship to what will be book two in a trilogy. So, aside from spit and a prayer, how will I write this book?
Default to the ill-organized notebook with diagrams that could pass for medieval witchcraft rituals and the scribbling of thoughts that, hopefully, will result in just one “ah-ha” moment. In the end, perhaps all this handwringing over expert advice on how to write a book only leads back to Stephen King’s thoughts in On Writing: “This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit.” In the wake of my near manic book-writing rituals, I have to agree.
Editing is the final piece of process I want to expound on today. How do you edit? I know the drill—get the story on paper, go back and fix it all later. I’ve battled bad habits on this front for years. I’m a serial editor. Not long ago, it dawned on me: editing is my process. That’s how I write. Getting the story down isn’t my key step; it’s the one I fumble through, all fog and headlights. Massaging what’s there is how I push a story forward. I know. It sounds completely counterintuitive. But so far, it really is how I’ve gotten six books to publication. As for number seven … Well, I’m off to procrastinate a bit more, log my Facebook post on the gut-wrenching stops and starts, highs and lows of the writing process.
What's your process? Has it worked from book to book?
Laura Spinella is the author of the #1 bestselling novel, Ghost Gifts, soon to be trilogy. Her other titles include the RITA nominated Beautiful Disaster and Perfecting Timing, as well as the Clairmont Series Novels written as L. J. Wilson. Her next Laura Spinella title, Unstrung, is out February 2017.
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