We hear a lot about pantsers and plotters, so much so you’d think those are the only two approaches to writing. Every writer needs to figure out the writing process that will work for them. It doesn’t have to be the same as their favorite writer. Mine isn’t.
Last year, I subscribed to MasterClass and have enjoyed listening to writers such as Neil Gaiman, David Baldacci, R.L. Stein, and Margret Atwood describe their writing processes. And while there were some similarities, each was unique in their approach, which leads me to believe, there are as many approaches and processes as there are writers.
After analyzing my own writing process, I realized my approach is different than what is typically described in writing books. Most writing books talk about getting the story on the page and then editing out all of the unnecessary words. From these books, it looks as though even plotters overwrite their story. However, my process is the opposite of this.
My Writing Process
I fall somewhere between a plotter and a pantser. It may sound cliche, but a lot of my story ideas come from dreams. These aren’t always a string of events, sometimes it’s a feeling or a single moment in time that I then weave into a larger story.
Then comes the fun part. Daydreaming the sparks into something more. I character and plot develop in my head for a few months (or years) before it’s time to put it to paper.
When I sit down to write, I know the beginning, the end, and a few scenes in between. I write chronologically. So after writing the beginning scene which I’ve developed in my mind, I hit a crossroads. It’s exciting when it’s clear which way to go. I’ve had moments of “Wow, I didn’t know that would happen,” when I’m in the zone and the characters are leading me down the path they want to go. But more times than not, I hit the crossroad and make my turn and drastically slow down.
Avoiding Writer’s Block
In these slow moments, all I can think about is getting to that next scene that I created in my head. The one I’m passionate about. It’s like I’m on a straight road and can view the city up ahead, but in order to get there, I have to keep driving on the straight road. I know if I skip ahead, those straight areas won’t get written.
So I write. It’s bland and boring and awful, but it’s me writing about what’s happening on that road leading up to the city. Strange thing is, once I get to the city, and back in the zone, when I look back, I can now see the things on the road that I missed before. At this point, I go back and fill in the blanks.
Basically, I write like one of those learn to draw books where three circles turn into a cat. In these videos, the person draws a little bit at a time and fills in and erases until a complete picture emerges.
Editing While I Write
Most books I’ve read advice not to edit while you write. But I don’t listen. Unless I’m starting a brand new project, I always reread the last page and edit before writing any new scenes. And then, before I quit for the evening, I read over and edit again.
Reading the page helps me get back into the tone of the scene. And since I write sparsely, when I reread and edit, I’m usually adding more dimension to the scene.
Always on my Mind
While I’m developing and when I’m writing, my story is always on my mind. At odd moments in the day insights about plot come to me. Little ah-ha moments.
When I’m not writing and have time to think, I ask myself questions like did I give enough detail about the character’s life to make an emotional impact at the resolution? Or how can I change that ending to make it more meaningful? Are the character motivations realistic and clear?
When I was a kid, I wrote a story and that was the end. Now, I spend as much time, if not more, on those after questions as I do writing.
I’m a slow writer. But after analyzing my process, I’m grateful for being slow. I enjoy rolling it over in my mind. And it makes editing the end process easier. Yes, I still overwrite and delete scenes, but my biggest weakness in my first draft is not enough description. And that’s okay. The important thing is to get it on the page. You have to start somewhere.