Rowyn (rowyn) wrote,

My Writing Process, in Review

One of my Twitter friends, @AnaMardoll, did a poll for writers on "which part of the writing process is the worst":

I have a clear choice for this: editing. Definitely editing. At the end where I have to fix all the stuff I left notes for myself about fixing later. "I need to foreshadow this clever thing I thought of in chapter 15 somewhere in the first 7 chapters so that it actually looks clever." "I really should've come up with this historical timeline before I started writing but since I didn't, here it is now and I'd better make everything consistent." "Why do all three of these major characters sound exactly the same? I need to make them distinctive somehow." Etc.

Also, I don't have a good way to measure progress when I'm editing. I'm always jumping around in my manuscript looking for places to add foreshadowing or other details. Even when I'm reading through sequentially to edit for things like "make voices distinct" or "fix minor continuity errors", I usually can't hold the whole list of issues-I-need-to-look-for in my head at once, so I wind up making multiple complete passes. Editing just goes on and on until I give up. Writing is better because I can watch the book grow and see how far I've come. And once I have the thing written, I can read it, which is arguably the thing I want most out of writing. The edited version is important for readers-who-are-not-me, so that the book makes sense, but it doesn't make nearly as much difference to me.

I often wonder if the folks who prefer editing have a different process for "getting to the editing stage". Do they never come up with cool new things to add in the middle that effect the beginning? Or do they go back and add the stuff to the beginning right away, before they continue on? Is this a feature of good planning at the start? Is there a connection with experience? Because I used to hate writing a lot more than editing, but that was when (a) I hardly ever finished anything and (b) I thought the things I did finish were perfect and only needed a little proofreading.

It's not that the things I finished were perfect, mind you. They weren't even very good. It's just that I didn't understand enough to know what the faults in them were.

My writing process in general has changed a lot over the years. When I started writing in my teens, at first I didn't outline at all. I also never finished anything. My first attempt at planning a novel was supposed to be a five-book series, and it was an extremely simple outline: here are the characters, here is the conflict, this is the resolution, repeat x 5 with bonus resolution at the very end. I did finish the first book of that but lost interest in the project. It was also the first time I wrote fiction deliberately as practice-for-writing-fiction, rather than because I thought it would be brilliant.

I took a long break from trying to write either books or short stories, ten years or so, from the when I was 21 or so until I was 31. At 31, I was Very Serious about Writing This Book Properly. I decided to write Prophecy, a Serious Book with Meaningful Themes, and plotted out a detailed outline, and set day/week/month/year goals, and wrote pieces of the story in whatever order I felt like writing them. I called it The Master Plan(tm) and generally hated 95% of working on it. I kept at it until I was done, 2.5 years later at the end of 2004. Then I pretty much said "Welp, never doing that again." I hated writing that book a lot more than I hated editing it, but I didn't like any part of the process. The process looked like this:

  • Outline before writing

  • Revise the outline as necessary

  • Write in any order

  • Keep writing. Revise at the end

  • Have a plan for how much writing you're going to do

  • Write an intellectually and emotionally challenging story

  • Share it by email as it's written (with my one wonderfully enthusiastic beta-reader, ♥ jordangreywolf)

The second book that I "finished" (it's still not really edited) was The Warlock, the Hare and the Dragon (aka Silver Scales). I enjoyed writing it much more. I never plotted it outside of my head, or made any setting notes or character notes. Literally nothing except "wrote the story in chronological order as it went along". I posted each entry as I finished it for a small group of friends to read. I loved this book. I only disliked writing it about 25% of the time. It took about three years, but overlapped with the first book. I finished it in August 2006. I decided that clearly This Was My Process. The lessons I took away were:

  • Don't outline

  • Write chronologically

  • Keep writing. Revise at the end

  • Don't make a writing schedule (no "words per time period" quotas)

  • Share it as it is being written, with a small group of friends on LJ

  • Write cheerful, upbeat stories about lovable characters

Fast-forward seven years, to 2013. I'd been writing, but I hadn't finished anything other than short stories since my second book. I don't even remember if I was even theoretically working on anything when I decided to start A Rational Arrangement. *checks* Doesn't look like it.

Because the process that I'd taken away from my second book had not worked for me since then, I'd been gradually modifying my process. I'd experimented with different kinds of "scoring" systems to track my progress on writing, editing, and completing projects. For A Rational Arrangement, my process involved a weird scoring system, and an outline that I didn't worry about adhering to or revising as things changed. It took me 11 months to finish the first draft of ARA, and then about 16 months to finish editing it, My process:

  • Outline

  • Make character & setting notes

  • Write chronologically

  • Keep writing. Revise at the end

  • Don't revise outline even as the book changes; just keep going.

  • Keep score on progress

  • Share it as it is being written, with a small group of friends on LJ

  • Write cheerful, upbeat stories about lovable characters

Then I published ARA with greatly unexpected success, and everything changed.

Over the next six months, I wrote and edited a three-novella collection, Further Arrangements, as a sequel to ARA. The collection is book-length; one of the three novellas was 2/3rds written already.

Then there was 2016, where everything changed again.

I slogged away at the start of this year on Birthright, the sequel to The Warlock, the Hare and the Dragon that I'd been writing on and off since 2006.

Near the end of March, I stopped slogging on Birthright and started The Moon Etherium, where my process looked like:

  • Outline

  • Make character & setting notes

  • Revise the outline/make it more detailed if stuck

  • Write chronologically

  • Keep writing. Revise at the end

  • Write as fast as possible while in friendly competition with haikujaguar to see who can finish first. ♥

  • Don't share it as it's written

  • Write cheerful, upbeat stories about lovable characters

I wrote TME's first draft in six weeks, and edited it in about the same amount of time (finished edits 2.5 months later, after letting it "rest" for a month while I didn't touch it).

After that, I finally finished Birthright's first draft, and then wrote the first draft of The Sun Etherium over the next three months. That brings me to where I am now. My process going forward will be ... whatever I think is most likely to work.

I have some elements of my process that I will probably keep using, because my results with them over the last year have been so good:

  • Outline

  • Make character & setting notes

  • Revisit/revise/refine outline if stuck

The rest will vary.

I have complex feelings about "share the story as it's written", for example. On the one hand, I love positive feedback that encourages me to continue. On the other hand: I only want cheerleading while the writing is in progress, and thus I'm asking my best beta readers to either (a) read the story twice or (b) not provide critical feedback. (A) is an awful lot to ask. On the gripping hand: I think sharing the story in progress might actually slow my writing down, as I wait for feedback before continuing.

I am pretty sure that my insistence on "writing chronologically" is tied to negative feelings about Prophecy. I may try writing out of order again some day. We'll see.

I think the "write cheerful stories" is a permanent part of my process, but I don't want to lock myself into that. I do have some sober, thoughtful, heavy ideas that I might yet explore someday. It's not likely. I both read and write as escapism. My tolerance for reading or watching grimdark is very low at present. Writing happy, fluffy novels is like going off to live in a happy, fluffy world for several months. Writing grim material is the exact opposite. "How long do I want to live in this world?"

I have done the "Keep writing. Revise at the end" thing for all of the last fourteen years, though when I was a teen I was much more likely to keep going back and revising earlier sections. "Don't revise until you're done" is a common bit of writing wisdom, and it certainly make the "get words down" part of the process faster. I expect it makes the "edit the final draft" process slower, however. But I am currently pretty happy to write on and on and on, while I hate editing so much that I have three complete unedited drafts that I am ignoring to start writing a fourth book. It's quite possible I could do with exchanging "fun while writing the first draft" for "less hate while revising it".

So that's me. What are your experiences with process like? Do you keep changing your approach, or parts of your approach, while other parts stay static? What parts do you like or hate most, and why?
Tags: writing about writing
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