Writing

My Writing Process

This week’s post was inspired by Magen Cube’s newsletter, Notes on Monstrosity, where they discuss their writing process. Finding out how other writers writer is something I find incredibly interesting, to the point that I will watch Youtube videos of writers trying famous authors’ processes or daily schedules. It’s fascinating how what works for one author would probably trample my brain into exhausted dust. In my creative classes, it’s a topic my students ask about and how they can best streamline the process. I’d like to make it clear that you will need to figure that out on your own and try what different writers do or venture out on your own and see what your brain jives with.

Some of you are going to read my process and be mad. So be it. My process is not what is preached by many writers. I do not hurdle to the finish line as fast as I can because, frankly, I am not fond of cleaning up the mess after. That’s it. I’m lazy. I do not have the mental fortitude to clean up the same draft 6+ times because I decide to speed through it the first time and now have a 100+ things I need to remember to fix AND do copy edits and such after. That’s not how this is going to go, so if you’re looking for how to write a book in 30 days or write 5k a day or whatever else the hustle culture is pedaling these days, this is not the blog post you seek.

Consider, I have written and published 7 (going on 8) books this way, so it works for me *shrugs*

The Beginning

Typically, my ideas start off with two characters or a single character, and everything sort of grows out of that. I spend a lot of time at the beginning feeling out who they are, what’s wrong with them, what they want, what their core personality is. From there, I think about how these characters would meet and interact because that will be the majority of the story. Then, I get stuck for like 2 weeks trying to figure out the conflict/plot. How do I figure this out? Usually thinking how I can best traumatize these characters. At the same time, I tend to start making a Pinterest board because I’m a very visual person. Once I start throwing together what they look like and where they are, more concrete aesthetic and plot things start to gel for me.

During this part, I’ll often try to start the story to better feel out the characters and have a few false starts. This happens more often with brand new characters than when I’m adding on to a pre-existing series, which makes sense because with new characters, this is more exploratory writing, not word count writing. During this early stage, I need to remember to be kind to myself because my first month or so of working on a book is SLOW. There is a lot of feeling in the dark until things make sense. At some point during this process, I can mentally see the ending or something toward the end to work towards. With that in mind, we get into the drafting stage.

Drafting

I want to make it very clear that I am a “slow” writer. Slow in comparison to the people who can bang out a 60k book in 2 months and have it ready for publication 2 months later. My books are usually 90k+, and I only write 500 to 1500 words a day with the latter being a *really* good day or me playing catch up because I skipped a day or two due to not feeling good. My monthly word counts average around 15k with the first month or two of a new draft often having less. Early on, I tend to write in 20 minute sprints, something akin to the Pomodoro Method. It forces me to write and move forward when I’m feeling hesitant.

But here is my cardinal sin, according to other writers. I EDIT AS I GO.

Yes, dear reader, I go back and edit what I wrote during my previous session as a warm-up. I do this because

a) I am an underwriter, so I need to add more detail. Often, after I’ve written a scene, that detail becomes clearer, and it makes more sense for me to add it now while it’s still fresh in my mind than 2 months from now when I don’t remember what the hell the room is supposed to look like. My brain is like a sieve or a browser with 25 tabs open and you can’t figure out where the music is coming from. I try not to over-complicate it if I can.

b) It’s less work for me later. Future Kara doesn’t appreciate it when Past Kara leaves cryptic messages in a draft that make no sense. [ADD CHAIR] For what, Past Kara?? Why and for what purpose do they need a chair?? I know some people can do this, I cannot. It just frustrates me. Then again, I am not a perfectionist, and as someone is who at least somewhat full of themselves, as many artists are, I tend to read my work and think it’s pretty good and editing it is just tumbling that shiny rock further. Ego is key for this process to work. I am self-conscious about many things; my writing is not one of them.

Once I have reacquainted myself with where I left off, it is time to write. As I said, I tend to write 500-1500 words a day, and this is either done in the morning around 10 AM or late at night with little in between. It’s when my brain works best.

Outlining or the Lack of

You may have noticed I didn’t mention making an outline. That is because I don’t make a traditional outline before I start writing. I do make a retroactive outline covering what I’ve already written, so I can go back and reference it as I move forward, which has been VERY helpful to me. I have a blog post about it here. Something I have been doing with The Reanimator’s Heart is using Sarra Canon’s Three Act Structure outline, which is based off Save the Cat! Writes a Novel and a few other structure books. I have been filling in scenes I think fit into the general structure to help me figure out the order of things and where I’m going, but I do this one act at a time. Act 1, then Act 2 part 1, Act 2 part 2, then Act 3 and not a moment ahead of time if I can help it. It is a very loose outline that is subject to change, but seeing everything laid out helps me keep the flow going.

Ironically, if I’m writing a short story, I tend to make a loose outline, but I think this is because, at most, I can hold about 30k words worth of direction in my head. Beyond that, my brain gets overwhelmed and sort of melts. My process is avoiding the brain melting stage at all costs.

To be continued…

Originally, this was going to be one MASSIVE blog post, but I have decided to break this up right here before the editing process. Truthfully, the drafting process and editing process feel very different to me, so it’s a good place to stop for now. In 2 weeks, the post on my editing process will come out, so I hope you will come back to read it.

Writing

Fighting the Process

I love writing.

Now, picture me grimacing as I say it. I do love writing, but toward the second half of a book, I find myself fighting the process as it changes.

To me, there’s a big difference in how I write the first half versus the second half of a book. Think about the first half as laying down railroad tracks. I need to set everything up, I’m building, I’m adding. It all has to make sense and get me to a certain destination. Now, the second half is driving the train on those tracks. It’s more dangerous, it requires more focus, and I need to slow down around certain turns or I might run us off the tracks completely.

Every book I resist the slow down in the second half of the book. I know that the second half of act two needs the most careful attention because it’s where everything gets more complicated, but those complications have to rely on things I’ve already laid down in act one and the first half of act two rather than new things. Loose ends must be braided together, they have to make sense, and some mysteries even need to be tied up before the third act. It’s a complicated balancing act, and as someone generally lacking in forethought, it creates a bit of a problem because I need to parse out where I’m going before I start writing.

This leads to the bottleneck problem. I don’t want to just write anything to get my daily word count in, so I get stuck, stop writing for a few days, and fall behind. This leads to me freaking out that I’m falling behind and things are horrible. I start questioning the quality of the book or if I’m smart enough to figure out how to get it to the end. I become a mess. Sadly, this is also part of the second half of act two process. Don’t worry, I’ll think I’m brilliant again in act three when words pour forth with relative ease. But for about 20,000 words I’m very annoyed at myself because bridging the gap between all I’ve built and where I know I need to end up isn’t easy.

I would argue that the second half of act two is the hardest part of writing a book. It runs from midpoint to climax/final battle, and everything you build in the first half of the book needs to come to an emotional and physical head here while still making sense. The third act is probably the easiest for me. It’s all downhill from there. Everything I’ve written is coming to a crescendo, and typically, I know where I want the story to end up fairly early on. It’s the amorphous middle that causes me the most stress.

Something I’ve noticed with my last few books (because I’ve been trying to pay more attention to the process aspect of my writing) is that what works in act one and act two part one does not work in act two part two. At the beginning, I just sort of wing it, then tidy, then wing it, etc., at the halfway point I do a major edit, and while I write, I create some semblance of organization by creating an outline of what I’ve already written (I have a whole blog post on this). This helps me to avoid rereading my book over and over as I move forward. This is a process I’ve been doing since I started writing. It feels natural and works for me. The problem is that none of this works in the second half due to all the loose ends.

I struggled really hard with the second half of The Wolf Witch and Kinship and Kindness, and unfortunately, The Reanimator’s Heart is following in their footsteps. What I’m trying to do now is not fight the process and do what might actually help in the moment. There’s often a disconnect in my mind of what will help and what I think will help. I tend to assume I don’t need to make a small outline or I don’t need to take notes, I’ll remember (famous last words from someone whose brain is like a colander). What I’ve found that is helping is, shockingly, TAKING NOTES on what I need to make sure I incorporate in later chapters or things that I’ve introduced that need to be tied up later. My other go-to is making index cards with scenes on them because I find it difficult to figure out the order of operations with the major moments I need to hit.

I’d like to parse out why I suddenly become resistant to changing tactics in order to move forward. Part of it is I don’t want to admit that I am struggling with a particular part of the book. There’s a lot of internal chanting of “the words will come if I just relax, refill the creative well, and let them flow.” If it’s been more than a day and they haven’t come, they need to be forced out (unless you’re burnt out). The first step to writing more is admitting you are stuck. The other issue, I think, is a little more convoluted. Sometimes I think not changing tactics is almost self-punishment, like I can’t not be trying to write. How dare I take time away from staring at Word to do anything else! I catch myself doing this a lot.

What I’m trying to do now is when I feel myself getting stuck but pulling toward a certain tactic, I lean into it. Subconsciously, I must know I need it or that it might help, but I’m always afraid that I’m just procrastinating by making cards or writing out bulleted notes, etc. I’ve noticed that often when I get stuck, it’s because my subconscious has realized I messed up and my conscious brain needs to catch up. The problem is trusting that inner voice and actually listening to it because the part of my brain focused on productivity just wants to plow through.

This post is really me trying process what I’ve been dealing with these past few weeks as I dive headfirst into the second half of act two.

I must trust the process.

I must be willing to put in the time to create aids that will make writing easier.

I must understand that refilling my creative well and those aids are necessary for my process.

Finally, I must understand that the writing process changes depending on the stage of writing I’m on, and that I must be willing to be flexible and adapt to what is happening me in the moment.