Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Accepting Your Writing Process

First a reminder! A week from today is the Escape Reality book event at the Provo Library! Bree Despain, Elana Johnson, Jenn Johansson, and I will be talking, giving away prizes, and signing books. So if you can make it on July 9th at 7PM at the Provo Library, I *highly* recommend it. Should be a blast.

Also, I will be giving out five Pop Tart charms. These have been known to start riots, people.

Okay, on to the post!

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After writing seriously for about 8 years, I'm quite familiar with my writing process. I'm a pantser. If you don't know what that means, it's basically the dive-into-a-book-blind method. My first drafts are messy and exploratory. I get a lot of things wrong but somehow manage to find the heart of the story. I tend to focus on plot and character in my drafting, and often have to go back to flesh out the world/setting. I always get stuck at the end of Act I. I flounder through the middle until it all clicks and then the ending finally reveals itself. My revisions are usually quite heavy.

I know these things. I can count on them happening every time I write a book.

And yet, sometimes I still wish I could have someone else's process.

Why yes, I get envious of writers who can outline their whole books and know exactly what they'll be writing that day. I wish I had that kind of organization and, more than that, characters who would cooperate. Because I've tried on more than one occasion to outline, and the story never follows it not ever once or even close.

Because I'm a pantser. Whether I want to be or not.

You'd think I'd know better than to resist my own writing process, but I think it's something all writers go through. Writing a book is hard. And I often think, "There has to be a better, faster, more efficient way to do this. There has to be." So I try to do something new that I think might make it easier, and instead it only makes it harder and I end up going back to what I usually do in the first place.

When I accept my process, things actually do go better. Not perfect, but the writing gets done. I don't know why I sometimes forget this—I forget it way too often.

I'm saying all this because for the last 6 freaking months I've been trying to write a book. I usually finish a first draft in about 3 months, so this has been maddening to know that I'm still not done. But looking back, I know why:

I haven't trusted my process.

I've tried to make my draft perfect. I thought I could do this through outlining, and my story resisted it at every turn. I thought if I planned out everything before I got there the writing would be easier, when in fact it just feels stale to me because the discovery process is gone. And because of these things, I've doubted myself and this story and my confidence is severely lacking—I have a hard time writing anything in that state.

Hindsight's 20/20, right? I wish it'd taken me less time to learn the lesson this year, but I think I'm finally getting it again. Much like you can never write a story like someone else, you can never have someone else's process, either. You have to do what works for you, and it may seem hard but really all the ways to write a book are hard in their own right.

Here's to hoping I listen to my own advice come next draft. Because I'd really like to NOT do this again for awhile.

24 comments:

  1. Without wishing to sound distasteful or bizarre, I could use some of your pants right now.

    I tend to outline, believing that all I'll have to do once my master plan is hatched is to "know exactly what [I'll] be writing that day".

    Hmmm. Not happening right now.

    What all this tells us I suppose is that each new book is like a new baby hedgehog, and you have to learn each one from scratch.

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    1. It's lucky baby hedgehogs are so cute.

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  2. Yup, even pantsers have completely different processes :) mine hinges entirely on character's emotional arcs. My first draft scenes look very clean/fleshed out, but I stutter through them, often not writing for weeks at a time until I know what they want next.

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  3. I actually really needed this today. Thanks! :)

    CV

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  4. Yes! Thanks, here, too. Totally need to own my own process and stop wishing for someone else's.

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  5. So funny, because I'm the opposite yet struggle with the same thing. I'm a plotter, but sometimes I get a shiny new idea and want to just write and see where it takes me like a pantser...and it NEVER works. I either end up shelving it early on or have to stop and outline the whole dang thing before going on. Oh well, I've learned to accept my method, too.

    Do we need tickets to the Provo library event? I really want to go because I missed Elana's AND Jenn's launch this year. Plus I want a pop tart charm. :)

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    1. Ilima the even is NOT ticketed! Hope you can make it:)

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  6. Oh Yes! we need to own our writing process. I’m an outliner, I work by chapters, I need some points in advance, I need to brake chapters into smaller points sometimes in order for things to work, I can’t jump into a book without planning, it’s simply doomed to be thrown in the drawer, and still I need my space of exploration because I get bored easily AND my characters are VERY demanding and moody and-just like me- they must have their way, do I know this by now? yes. Do I follow it and save myself a lot of unnecessary trouble? NO! haha. Thanks for the post.

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  7. Great post! I can definitely relate to this, even though I'd describe myself as more of a 'plotser'. I work to a flexible outline, but I hate the outlining process with a passion, even though I know I need it otherwise my draft will be a meandering mess! Sometimes I wish I had the patience to do a full outline, but whenever I've done that in the past, the story's ended up going in a different direction anyway! But you're completely right that everyone has a different process, and it sometimes takes a while to remember that!

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  8. I'm an outliner, especially for what I'm working on right now. But there are times I wish I could be a pantser. I wish I could sit at my computer and just write, but that never works for me.

    I love this reminder that all writers need to do what works for them! Thank you!

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  9. I know what you mean! I'm always trying to improve my process too, but I can't help being a pantser (though I prefer the term "discovery writer").

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  10. I went through something SO similar last year. I spent months trying to write 2 books by outline and planning and organizing and...it all sounded so good to the type A side of my brain that wanted perfection! I tried to write a final draft instead of a first draft.

    Neither of those books are finished. I think I've so tarnished them it will be months or longer before I can go back. Then I finally scrapped my "write faster/better" plan and went back to pantsing. I'm so with you - I think I can beat the system or something. Really, I just have to trust that the book will be all right, even if it takes a sh*tty first draft!

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  11. If it makes you feel better, your pantsing process has produced at least 400% of the novels my super-structured outlining process has produced (and infinite% more published novels). Ain't nothing wrong with your process :-)

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  12. I'm a half-and-half. I wish I could figure out what DOES work for me, so I can stick with it. So far, I'm trying out all the different kinds and styles of writing, rewriting, plotting or not plotting. ;) It's messy. I always feel so encouraged after your posts!

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    1. Fortunately, Cait, the whole pantsing/outlining thing is more of a spectrum than an either-or. You'll find what works for you :-)

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  13. I love my process. I spend weeks before starting filling my playlist with specific tracks and imagining scenes I can use. When I start I dive in head-first, then as the story comes to me the more I write, I take notes of the things that I want to have happen later on, eventually building up to the climax.

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  14. I'm confused by everyone acting like diverging from your outline invalidates it. I've written everything from rough overviews to scene-by-scene outlines and I've never once written a story that stuck completely to the outline. I tend to see getting a new idea and running off with it as a good thing. So what if the outline breaks? I'll just make a new one. *shrug*

    Anyway, I see what you're saying here. I've been trying to completely pants something lately, and it has not been going well. Think I might have to give in and write an outline. Which means getting out my notecards and pens. *drools*

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  15. Can't agree more, I keep my outline loose enough to give me space for discovery, but if anything came up that demanded a change in my outline -and this what ususally happens- I just change it, no big deal. But I can't function without an outline :)

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  16. I seem to be able to do both, for the most part, but I am a pantser at heart. And I love the writerly abandon that it allows me. Of course, I quite enjoy revisions as well. Yep, I'm weird.

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  17. It's so comforting to hear someone else go thorugh this issue. I've been struggling with my pantser ways - feeling inadequate becuase I can't make sense of the third act. Somewhere I picked up the idea that I'm not legit if I don't plan it all out. But it's not true for me. It's not how I work. I love revising. That's where my stories come alive. I should trust my own process. Thanks for this post Natalie!

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  18. I'm more of a pantster than I'm willing to admit. If I showed you one of my outlines, you'd laugh because it's not an outline at all. It's a list of a few things that have to happen and that's about it. Yet, I insist I'm an outliner. I think I've been lying to myself for a long, long time.

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  19. Sounds a lot like my process, right down to getting stuck at the end of act one! Happens every time, and takes me a couple of days to move through!

    I also sometimes wish I could plan things out, and not have to revise so much! Good luck with your next novel, I hope it goes more smoothly.

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  20. THANK YOU! This is EXACTLY what I needed to hear. Maybe we need to start a club, Pantsers Unite!

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  21. I lean more towards the plotter side of things.

    In all things, I think it's best to accept who you are, and be that, to the best of your abilities.

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