The Fallacy of “The Process”

Some writers like to make novel aesthetics to help them visualize their story; others find making such collages a waste of time they could use to write. Some writers like to make extensive outlines so they are never lost in the story once they start writing and can crank out a draft. Some writers just start typing. Some writers scribble in notebooks on public transportation during their commute, others pound away at their laptops after their kids go to bed. Some writers dream up worlds while doing a million and one other tasks while others may stare at the wall but see galaxies instead of shiplap.

The point is there is no one single process. Everyone has their own. It’s important to figure out what works best for you. When you have a routine that fits you, it’s your process, but not the process. It might not work for someone else, even if that someone else is a gifted and ambitious writer.

There are some steps that should apply to everyone. Write. Edit. Revise. Repeat. But how those things happen is very individual in nature. I often do my best work after the rest of my house is asleep, but because I also dislike sleep deprivation sometimes I have to change things up. I know several people who keep a notebook in the bag they carry to and from work and handwrite their notes for each new story. I know still others who get up at the crack of dawn to run miles and miles and then write a whole chapter–presumably all before I ever have my first cup of coffee. It sounds nuts to me, but it works for someone.

I have tried making novel aesthetics. It mostly took up way too much of my time and didn’t accomplish anything. But I have a friend who is awesome with photoshop and the collages she makes help her see the world she’s building a little clearer. Neither of us is wrong. That’s the beauty of writing. It’s not about conforming to someone else’s standard–at least when it comes to a process. It’s about self-expression.

Don’t get bogged down in all the advice like “you have to write at least a few words every day” or “you must finish at least one chapter per week”. It works for some writers, but not for everybody. Even the adage of BICHOK (Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard) discounts the very productive time some people spend spinning worlds into existence while on the treadmill.

There is no one process. That’s a conceptual lie perpetuated by bad and/or blanket advice tossed about on blogs and social media accounts. There is only the process that works for you. Daydream. Plan. Type. Speak into voice typing software while scrubbing floors. It’s okay if what you do doesn’t match up with what other writers do. Write, in whatever way you can. Edit. Revise, no first draft is perfect so take the time to mold and shape it into something beautiful. Outside of those steps, the execution of which could look vastly different person to person, your process can include or exclude almost anything you want.

So when you see someone give blanket advice, keep in mind that what works for them isn’t required of you. If you can’t write every day because your schedule doesn’t allow for it, you won’t automatically be excluded from the club. If you can and do write every day of the week, great.

You’re a writer. You do you.

Getting to Know Your Characters

I used to think character interviews were a complete waste of time. I created these people, I know who they are. I know what they look like and how they sound. I hear their voices and the nuance in their language. They take up space in my head. We’re well acquainted.

However. As Rachel from the show Friends would say, “that’s just a fancy but”.

I did take time each time I wrote a scene to get into my character’s head. Yes, they take up space in my brain and now I have to take up space in theirs. Writing is a weird cycle of purposeful insanity, which is why it only works if you love it. Anyway, I realized that the time I took to shake off the world and put myself into the character’s shoes so that I could write in their voice and not mine was basically like a mini-character interview each time I started writing.

“Okay, I’m Livi. I’m overworked, my ex is an inconsiderate manchild who needs validation that I’ll give when Hell freezes over, and I’m in a fight with my best friend. How do I respond? Oh, that’s right. I’m going to down an entire bottle of bourbon, eat greasy foods, make bad decisions and then power through tomorrow like a champ because hangovers are for amateurs.”

That was my character interview. Instead of filling out pages of questions before I ever started writing a draft about backstory, likes, dislikes, hobbies, etc I would go over the highlights before every writing session. In my latest project, I’m doing the full character interview before I ever start. I may end up needing the mini-recap before writing sessions anyway, but if I struggle–as sometimes happens–I’ll have something to flip back to for help.

The point is, just because a character or a story lives in your head, doesn’t mean you don’t need to take the time to get to know them. Even if–no, scratch that, especially so you can understand the parts of the backstory you might not use in the draft. Just because I’m not going to write about the precise moment that Livi realized she needed to leave home all those years ago doesn’t mean I don’t need to know about it. It will affect her decisions and her relationships with other characters.

I need to know what happened to Scarlett’s parents and why she was living with her grandmother to begin with. I need to know about Eitan’s deep need to protect the people he cares about because of the one time in his childhood that he couldn’t. These moments shape our characters. It shapes their personalities, their voices, what drives them. When we come up with a character, they’re not fully developed. How you choose to fully develop them is up to you and your process. But I’m woman enough to admit that I was wrong. Character interviews are not a waste of time if they help you round out your character so they can be multi-dimensional.

Give a try. Google character interviews. There are tons of resources with lists of questions to get you started. Maybe it will work for you. Maybe it won’t. Maybe you’ll end up looking crazy because you’re talking to yourself and answering as if you are more than one person. That’s okay, too. You’re a writer. You’re like Alice in Wonderland. You fell down the rabbit hole the minute you committed to letting that first story out of your head.

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Plotter vs. Pantser

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If you are newer to the writing scene, you might have no idea with either of the words in the title of the posts actually mean. Or maybe you do know, but don’t know which one you are yet. That’s fine. Really.

For those still scratching their heads, a plotter is someone who likes to plot out their story ahead of time. Notes, outlines, character profiles, etc. A pantser has an idea and more or less just sits down in front of the keyboard and starts telling the story. They fly (or write) by the seat of their pants, hence “pantser”.

The first manuscript I ever wrote was a pantser project. I wrote one chapter per week and when I finished one chapter, I usually didn’t know what would happen in the next one. I finished the project, which was good. I proved to myself that I could finish an entire manuscript. It sounds like a small feat until you have to do it.

I didn’t sit down at the keyboard and decide to “pants” the project. I just didn’t know where to start, so I started writing. This works for a lot of people. I know some very talented writers who choose to write this way all the time. There is nothing wrong with it if it works for you. It…didn’t entirely work for me.

My next project, I plotted out a few things. I didn’t make a whole outline or character profiles, but I certainly had an idea of what would happen at the end of the story and all the major plot points that would lead there. A writing partner of mine calls working like that being a “plantser”. That project went better. It didn’t go perfectly, but it went better.

For my next project, I’m doing a lot of plotting. I have a lot of notes. I have character profiles. I have a road map to keep me from getting distracted from, well, the plot. I don’t know if this will improve my writing or decrease the time it takes for me to finish the first draft. Only time will tell. But I want to try it because I’m still trying to figure out what works for me as a writer. I’m experimenting with my process until I find my groove.

Let me know which one you are in the comments!