Friday, September 11, 2009

The Way I Write

Lately, I've seen various blog posts and Twitter conversations on methods of writing. Most of those end up being discourses on how a writer can properly organize her story before writing with the end goal being a streamlined writing experience and the ability to produce a finished novel in a relatively short amount of time (varies by writer) with less revision necessary.

I took a peek at several of those methods and I don't mind telling you that a couple of them had me nearly in hives before I'd finished paragraph one. That doesn't mean they aren't wonderful, helpful, amazing tools for the right writer. It just means I don't write that way.

So, I thought I'd throw my hat into the ring and tell you how I organize my story before I write.

Remember the previous post? The one giving a blurb for Lilli Stone Book One? The one that had 5 paragraphs giving basic character intros and outlining the conflict and stakes?

That's it.

That's what I do.

Of course, I've spent months (in this case years) with these characters in my head. Getting to know them. To know the setting. The conflict.

I have no doubt that things will shift, grow, change, and surprise me as I write but that's part of the fun for me. I fully realize another writer reading that sentence might feel as close to breaking out into hives as I did when I read someone's process involved a 14,000 word outline.

The mere thought of an outline running past, say, five paragraphs makes me want to lock myself in a loony bin.

That doesn't mean I'm not organized. Or that I'll take exponentially longer to produce a polished novel. It just means I'm wired differently than those who find a comfortable creative outlet with detailed planning before they write.

I'll tell you this: The real work of writing is revising. It really is. No matter what you do to get to those glorious two words "The End" on your first draft, you aren't done yet.

My "outline" consists of knowing what major plot points hurtle my characters from page one to The End. What happens between those plot points is a delightful surprise. I keep character arcs, emotional conflict, plot conflict, setting the scene, sensory detail...all the bits and pieces that weave together to form a cohesive my head, for the most part. I jot some notes. Sometimes I can jot out a sentence or two for the next few upcoming scenes. Anything further out than that and I'm lost. I really am.

Because how can I know what happens next--what REALLY happens next--until I get there?

I guess that's the main difference between those of us who write with outlines and those of us who don't. Some of us can see what happens next before we get there and some of us need to see it happen in real time.

With all the available tools, methods, books, and advice out there, I'll only add this: Finish a book.

If you need an outline to do so, make one. If you need a story board with post-it notes, run to Staples and stock up. If you need to plow through your rough draft to find out what happens next, plant your butt in the chair and put your fingers on the keyboard.

It really doesn't matter how you get to The End as long as you get there.


  1. I'm really glad to hear you say you you don't outline. I've been starting to have strong feelings of inadequacy, which lead me to consider outlining, which then leads me to consuming copious amounts of Jameson's in preparation (or avoidance).

    I did try my hand at mindmapping. It was a great experience as far as identifying the main plot-driving forces and their motivations. But the thought of outlining even with colorful little bubbles has me reaching for a paper bag and putting my head between my knees, not an easy feat for this--aaahhh--well rounded girl.

    I shall go forth from now on with my head held high as a semi-pantser and will indulge in both mindmapping and Jameson's in limited quantities.

  2. I didn't outline my first book at all. That's why it's under my bed. My second book I *kind of* outlined halfway through, but abandoned it when I figured out a big twist at the end.

    I plan to try Scrivener on the next book, bc it's basically outlined in my head already. I might also try writing by scene instead of chronologically.

    But I'll always be a pantser.

  3. I couldn't agree with you more! I love to see the story unfold and have my characters decide what to think and do in "real time." I could never write an outline in a million years - it's just not my style. And, I think that's your main point. Figure out what you style is - what works for you - and do that! And, most definitely, the real work begins after you write those two precious words, "The End.";-)

  4. I have English Honors I, and the other day we had an assignment to write poetry or prose with context clues in our writing. We received our graded papers today and my final grade was a seventy eight. I didn't include context clues in the haikus I wrote, and my teacher had something similar to this to say, "Nice try, smart aleck, but presentation has no effect on your ability to follow directions, insert sagely advice here relating to your readers are imbeciles."

    And under her comment, I scribbled in pencil, "Then I suggest a dictionary."

    I say this because, context clues do not constitute, real writing, to me, if they are intentional, as you must plan to include these tidbits. Writing should happen on paper or a computer screen, with a pencil or keyboard, and your brain. If it does not come out that way, it's not right. I have nothing wrong with outlines no matter how long they are. It is the arbitrary, you must write in such a way because it is expected of you, that other people insist upon, especially teachers and the school board.

  5. I suppose you must digress to the behaviors and whims of your more mature characters. After all, if they've been contained in your mind this long, they've almost certainly grown roots.

    Fantastic blog entry.


  6. I believe I've said this before, but I am absolutely a pantser. I can't outline to save my life unless it's a research paper. My stories just don't work the same way. I've tried it a few times and what I write turns into sentences and paragraphs and chapters anyway.

    Now, when a new idea comes to mind, I do sit and think on it for a few days or so, trying to get to know the character who's decided to interrupt my sleep. I may jot down a few notes, but that's it. When I'm ready, I sit down in front of my laptop and start writing whatever comes out, and yes, it's usually in chronological order. That's how it works for me.

    Great post, as always, CJ.

  7. "It really doesn't matter how you get to The End as long as you get there."

    Nicely put. I love to read every writer's process. *runs to read previous post*


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