Monday, August 13, 2012

The Mystery of the Writing Process

Everyone has their own methods of writing, their own inspiration and strategies that work for them. I always find it interesting to compare notes and see the different ways of going about it.
Last week, I finished my current work in process a young adult fantasy set in a post apocalypse world called Dodge the Sun. It was a long time in coming as it took close to a year to write. All you writers know that finished is not an accurate term. What I actually finished is the first draft or the writing stage. Next will come the editing or rewriting stage, though I’ve been doing some of that in the Speculative Fiction Critique Marathon over the last eleven weeks. I’ve got a whole chapter to add in the middle, dealing with motivation and some missing odds and ends to make clear. Then it will go to beta readers and critique partners for more feedback. As you can figure out, this is a lengthy process. I’m not a writer than can produce a first draft in a month, but plod along at about a chapter a week. Even for me, a year to finish a first draft was a long time.
Dodge the Sun all started last summer with a single idea that evolved. I was editing my epic fantasy, Kindar’s Cure, which is schedule to be published in March 2013. It had been a few months since I wrote anything and I was afraid to get out of practice so I decided to try a short story. An idea had been bumping around in my head. A few years before I had bought a cheap ankle bracelet at a water park. I’m not one to wear a lot of jewelry, but it was summer and sort of made me feel less like an ‘old lady’ as my kids call me. I began to imagine what if a girl was held prisoner by an anklet with magic properties.
That’s all I had: a girl and an ankle bracelet that controlled her. I started to make a short story out of it and it grew. She lived in a post apocalypse world where a star had exploded and brought radiation to earth. She wasn’t a slave as I originally intended but lovingly protected even as the truth was kept from her. That short story ended up being published, for no money, in an online magazine. It was my first published piece.
Some months later, I thought I had Kindar’s Cure completely done, and I needed a new project. What if—what if I expanded this short story and made it full length. I took the ending of the short story and made it the inciting incident to kick off the rest of the plot. I wrote a couple of more chapters and expanded on the opening component of the short. Then I switched to a middle grade story with a lot of humor about hamsters in a classroom. Another beta read came in for Kindar’s Cure so I spent a month revising it. I went back and revised some chapters of an even older finished story. And so it went all fall and spring, working on this and that, not settling on anything.
In late spring, I decided that was a stupid approach. What worked best for me was concentration on one project at a time. Kindar was out there being read by small publishers. There was nothing more I could do for it. It was time to put aside the other projects and concentrated on Dodge the Sun. Life continued to happen as when Anna’s trip to Japan kept me too jittery to write for three weeks. Progress was still slow, but there was progress. As a pantser instead of an outliner or plotter, it took me a while to figure out the ending and the wrap up chapters, but it happened at last.
I can draw a big sigh and know I’ve got that first draft on file. And one great thing about taking so much time, it doesn’t need nearly as much editing. The plot holes are smaller, the writing is neater. I can do the editing, get the reads from friends, and then start on the scary journey of showing it to agents. I have to say that this main character has become my favorite character. She really grew on me. This long process full of side trips also taught me the writing process that works best for me. Soon, the whole writing process will begin over again with a new idea. Until then, it’s time to let the new ideas percolate.
What works for you? Do you stick with one story at a time? Do you write fast or slow?


  1. Woohoo!!! I'm so glad you've finished and I can't wait to read this, lol.

    I tend to work on the first draft until it's completed. Then, I let it sit for a few months while I work on a new project or a revision. Once that project is finished, I go back and to revising the previous project.

  2. One thing at a time, that's what works best for me. I wrote my last MS (114k first draft) in 4 months and 1 week. That's the fastest I've ever written a novel, and I managed it because I kept my attention focused on writing.

    This year has been a lot slower. I started my new WIP in March and am only 22K in. With submitting short stories, querying agents, re-writing my query multiple times, launching a blog, and working on a couple new short stories, my attention has been very scattered. I feel like I haven't gotten anywhere on my WIP.

    But that's the way it goes sometimes, and hey--if I have to skip a day or two of writing because I'm driving around town trying how to figure out how to best box up a full request? Well, I can live with that. :)

    Congrats on getting Kindar's curse published, btw!