Recently Mirriam Neal shared her process for writing, and a couple others of my Pack sisters joined in and did the same, so I couldn’t help but hop into the bandwagon myself. Even though I don’t really have a writing process. *cough, cough* This is more of a conglomeration of writerly things I do to get a book written, but my “process” is basically different with every book I write. So do not expect any great wisdom or organization from this post. My writing process is akin to a mad scientist experimenting with all sorts of different combinations of potions and making a terrible mess along the way (with some evil laughter in between of course).
Step One: Tell my story, writer person!
(a.k.a a character pops in my head and demands I write about them.)
There I am, minding my own business when BOOM! a character sneaks up behind me and insists I write about them. Rude.
For the most part, the first inkling I get of a story is via the main character. Some random character will wander over on my brain, plop down, and tell me stuff happened to their life and I’m supposed to write about it. And usually it’s a LONG story that wants to be a ginormous series I have no time to write. >.> Such happened with my Colors of a Dragon Scale series. I saw a picture of a white haired elf, she clung to my brain, and next thing I knew I had a humongous, 7 book, dragon rider series.
My steampunk, time travel trilogy, The Traveling Library, came about when I imagined a poor girl stuck adventuring in a wedding dress that wasn’t even her own.
Another series sprang to life as I was washing dishes and daydreaming about a girl doing some “Robin Hooding” and stealing from the king for the poor.
Sometimes the characters come with a full story, sometimes I don’t even know what genre their tale will be. But almost always the characters appear first.
Step Two: Pants, Plot, or Both?
Okay, so I have a story I want to write. Now what? This is where I decide if I want to just dive in and write or actually be responsible and do some plotting first. I used to be a major pantser, never plotting anything. I’ve been that way for years and still refer to myself as a pantser because of it. Just writing blindly and seeing what comes of it is fascinating and I’ll always love writing that way. But, really, I’m wondering if I’m switching over more to *le gasp* plotter status. Never thought that’d happen.
It started with my first NaNoWriMo in 2010 when I thought it’d be way easier to write if I had everything planned. Turns out, it was. I plotted and outlined to the point where I never had to worry about writer’s block. I always knew exactly what would happen next and I could just WRITE. That made something as crazy as NaNo waaay easier. So, ever since, I always do a super major plotting for each NaNo. Giant character bios, notes on the world, a map, long and detailed chapter by chapter outline of the book, the whole shebang. I found this method extremely helpful. Not only did it thwart any writer’s block, it also helped keep me focused. When I pants, I’m discovering everything along the way and thus follow allll sorts of random rabbit trails that lead to nothing and end up making the book a billion words longer than it needs to be, full of pointless adventures. Sometimes I need something to help me stay focused on the direction I’m taking.
But, I still love to pants. There’s something so magical about seeing a tiny inkling of an idea blossom into a full story with every word you write. The mystery of it keeps me on my toes as even *I* don’t know what will happen next. Some of that magic is lost in plotting.
Basically I enjoy both processes, and have a long list of pros and cons of each. So for every story I do it differently depending on the circumstances. If I just have no idea what the story’s about and it’s only a vague idea but I really want to write it, I’ll probably pants it because I can see the broad scope of a story so much better once I actually start writing. On the other hand, if I have a pretty good idea of the actual plot but a little lost on how it all happens, I might outline it to help figure it out and keep me in the direction of the plot. Such as with Burning Thorns. I already had the novella written, so I knew the plot, I just needed more happenings to turn it into a full novel, thus I decided to plot and outline it to keep focused.
But who said I had to do one or the other? Being a plantser is a thing, too. Both pantser and plotter. Sometimes I just feel like pantsing a novel but not going in completely blind. In this case, I’ll do a little plotting, such as making character bios, plan out some of the world, and maybe make a few notes on some big plot points. Then just pants the overall story without an outline or anything. It’s a good compromise.
Then of course there’s some stories such a Fallen Matter that came about from one single sentence that I wrote down and then just kept writing. Three chapters in and I still didn’t even know what genre I was writing. . . Let’s just say that was the most pantsed pantsing I’ve ever done.
Allllll that to say, sometimes I’m a pantser, sometimes a plotter, sometimes both. To this day I have no clue which of the three I like better.
Step Three: Let’s Procrastinate and Pretend It’s Working
This step often happens during the step two stage. So I’ve either started plotting, half plotting, or just decided I’m going to dive into the thing. Either way, I have decided I’m going to write this book. That means I have permission to get myself really pumped for it and can start having fun. And by having fun I mean making mock covers for it, finding actors that could play my characters, putting together a Pinterest board, building a suitable playlist, etc. etc. All for inspiration of course. *nods seriously* Really, anything that isn’t writing. These things do help get me even more excited for the book and gain some good visuals on it. Totally working. Not procrastinating at all. Noooo.
Step Four: Oh look, words.
All right. So I do actually have to start writing eventually. I know, crazy. Once I find myself sufficiently pumped (and well procrastinated) it’s time to make a new word document, put the title at the top, type “Chapter One”, and *cue scary music* write out that ever elusive first sentence. And so the hard, but most rewarding, part begins. From here on out there are multiple other little substeps (we’re pretending that’s a word) that I do to keep myself writing and actually make it to the end.
Music: I actually put to use some of that procrastinating I did in step three, such as the playlist I made. I have to write with music. It’s essential. (But instrumental music only, lyrics usually distract me.) If I have the right song going it sets the mood of the scene and takes me out of the world around me and into the story. Which means of course I have to have a fitting song for whatever the scene is. I do make a playlist for the novel, but I also have other little playlists for specific scenes. Battle scene going? I’ve got a playlist for that. Sad scene? Got one for that, too. But if it’s just a general scene with nothing too emotional, I go to its main playlist.
Pinterest: I’m a visual person, sometimes I can’t picture things well without actually seeing them. My imagination can be a little restricted when it comes to the look of things. I think my story worlds have become much more interesting ever since I discovered the joys of Pinterest. And yes, I procrastinate there a LOT, but it really is extremely helpful. Looking through hundreds of hundreds of pretty landscape pictures really gets the brain storming. And if I’m feeling unmotivated to write, perusing the story’s Pinterest board brings back that inspiration and love of the story I had at the beginning.
Drink Coffee: Do I really need an explanation for this?
Goals: This is the biggest, most helpful one for me. I feed off goals. Nothing would ever, ever get done without goals. I work with big and little goals. Whether it’s planning on getting 2k words in a week or finishing the whole novel within a certain date. Give me ALL the goals! I kind of get obsessed with goals and feel like I have to make them, no matter what. Which may not always be a good thing, I should probably be a bit more flexible, but at least it makes me finish things. And that’s why NaNoWriMo is one of my favoritest things. It’s actually what taught me how wonderful goals are. Basically, if I’m not working toward a goal I won’t get anything done, but if I do have a goal I’ll stop my life to make it. One day I should figure out a balance. . .
Step Five: Ignore Life and Write Like a Mad Person to “The End”
Once I’ve started chapter one, I usually set a vague goal for when I’d like to have the story fully written, then I just write and write, putting in mini goals in between to keep myself going, all the way to the end. This often results in ignoring life in favor of my story. My characters are very demanding. >.>
There are lot of magical people out there who can write their stories out of order. I am not one of those people. Some go ahead and write scenes as they come and then fill in the gaps. I think that’s pretty awesome. Since I do get ideas for scenes later on in the book it’d be good to go ahead and write them while they’re fresh on my mind. But I just can’t. It’s probably my OCD side but I absolutely have to write everything in order. Maybe one day I’ll branch out and try this mysterious out-of-orderness, but for now my brain refuses to write anything beyond whatever current scene I’m on.
I also only ever keep one writing project going at a time. I’ve tried to do multiple but I always end up favoring one and dropping the other. So if I want to finish a book I do not under any circumstances allow myself to start another one until the first one is finished in fear of dropping it for the new, shiny one. This also means if I get a new story idea I don’t go off and make a Pinterest board for it and things because that gets me too excited for it and too tempted to write it. I solely focus on my current project, even as a plague of plot bunnies attack me. Because they do so love to attack in full force when you’re busy with another project, don’t they? Mischievous little bunnies.
Unless it’s NaNoWriMo, it usually takes me a few months to finish a book. Then after a writing break, I excitedly look into whatever plot bunny was attacking me the most while I was trying to write my current one. Back to step one it is, and repeat. Which is a problem itself because I have a computer overflowing with first drafts, practically nothing rewritten and polished. Whoops.
But hey, one step at a time. *grins*
So now you know how my novels come into being. (Probably in waaay more detail than you wanted.) I know, it’s a mess. Maybe someday I’ll find that perfect formula.
But probably not.
What about you, dear writer? Share any of my strange methods? Are you more of a pantser or plotter? What system works for you? Share away, I’m always on the hunt for ideas!