Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Writing Process Then vs. Now

I thought I would take some time today to discuss my writing process. I'll begin with a compare/contrast of the way I wrote when I first started out 6+ years ago and my writing process today.

Then: Sit down to write, knock out a few sentences or paragraphs, stop when "stuck" or bored.

Now: Sit down to write, know I have a minimum goal of 2,000 words to reach, break when I feel stuck, but come back to it an hour later with new inspiration.

Then: Write thinking it's the best ever.

Now: Write knowing it's utter crap but will get revised later.

Then: Longhand first, in a fancy journal purchased at Barnes and Noble.

Now: Longhand first, in a fancy journal purchased at Barnes and Noble.

Then: Derivative.

Now: Maybe not so entirely derivative after all.

Then: Hobby.

Now: Passion.

As you can see, not much has changed in my writing process as far as the physicality of it, but so much has changed in my mentality. Really and honestly, in high school I was so excited about Sunstone but it was for all the wrong reasons. Now I'm excited about it because I can see where I've grown but I can also see my weaknesses. I know where to find resources to help me strengthen those weak spots when it comes to revision, too.

And of course the most important one of all is that it's more deeply ingrained in my psyche to write now than it was through high school and most of college.

My first draft is never truly my first draft. Let me explain. When I write in my fancy-schmancy journal purchased from Barnes & Noble (weird, I know) it's my first draft. I'll cross some things out as I go along, sometimes as much as 1/2-3/4 of a page, but generally what is written is what's in my head. (Except for those glorious moments where a character takes over their story and you hear their voice for the first time.)

But the first draft anyone might ever see in printed form is not my first draft. It's the second draft. For whatever reason, my mind likes to revise as I transcribe my longhand version to the computer. Usually it's a matter of tweaking the word order in a sentence so it actually makes sense as opposed to the jumbled mess on paper that resulted from not knowing where the sentence would end when I began it. (Long sentence to explain that, huh?)

My senior year in high school I got to chapter 5, titled "Logan" (now currently chapter 6), and completely stalled. It took me months, most of the summer in fact, to finish his chapter. When I finished, I moved on to a completely new fancy-schmancy journal just to get past the mental associations I had with the one Logan's chapter was written in.

To show how much my process has improved, and how much my mentality has changed, I'll just say this: In the five days I've spent writing so far this month, I've written a prologue and 3 chapters. That's a far faster pace than I ever wrote before. Granted, it's probably because I'm really just re-writing from scratch what had been written previously, but it still feels like such a huge leap in my ability as a writer. I'm trying not to care about the quality of this first (second) draft because I know I'll spend loads of time revising in the coming months and years. Which is a vast leap over the chasm that separates my writing abilities from then and now.

This is a very long, rambling post, but what I'm trying to explore here is that I really have improved as a storyteller. I abandoned this series of novels once because it felt too much a conglomeration of books I'd read in the past. But then I struck gold and came up with a brilliant idea to fix the most prominent of these sorts of derivations. The rest, I'm seeing, are just my use of genre devices that are interpreted in various ways by a lot of different fantasy authors. Is this derivative? Maybe, but it's less so than I was originally thinking.

What do you find works best for you in your writing process? How have you improved now vs. then?


  1. For me it's one thing: Patience. I remember thinking I was going to crank out this book and land an agent with it. Now...not so much. :)

  2. Patience is the hardest thing to learn. And it's sadly a life-long process.

  3. I think the knowing it's crap vs. the best thing ever is the biggest change for me. It's humbling, but it allows for so much more improvement.

  4. I agree that patience is difficult. This is a business rife with rejection and long waiting periods. I'm hoping e-readers will change all that!

  5. Good things to think about. I laughed a bit at the similarity we all share in our journey of writing. It's fun.

  6. I definitely suffered from derivative disease early on. I still have to fight against that sometimes.

    I'm impressed that you can write things out longhand. I could never have the patience for that.

  7. It is comforting to know that we all go through a similiar process.

    I'm finding it easier now to plow through my first draft without going back to nit pick every single word and sentence.

  8. Lazy Writer, it's so true. Knowing that you need to revise makes the writing process easier, a little less bloody.

    Anne, I think that either this business helps us learn how to wait or the trials we deal with in life teach us to wait so we're prepared for being in the business. (Chicken and egg type scenario, I think.)

    Tess, everyone needs humor and I think we all need to see sometimes that everyone goes through a similar process and there's not generally some magic wand being waved at certain authors but not at others.

    Fiction Groupie, I only write longhand because then I can write wherever I am. On the beach in Ireland, on the plane, in bed at night. I'm not tied to a computer in order to let the creative juices flow.

    Strange Fiction, I can't tell you how many times I found myself in the early years revising what I'd already written instead of moving forward with the rest of the novel.

  9. I'm with ya. I also set goals for myself but how I do it is at the top of each hour, I sit down with a goal of 2-4 pages or so. Once those two pages are done, I can play for the rest of the hour but at the top of the next hour, I have to be in that seat again.

  10. That's a good way of doing it. I may have to try that sometime.

    I feel like it's a Saturday for some reason.

  11. I liked the Then: Think it's the best ever. Now: Know it's utter crap that will have to be revised.

    Sounds familiar.


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