Know Your Process
My old friend, Kathryn St. John-Shin, recently posted about plotting. She added a great infographic flowchart for good plotting that’s totally worth the look.
Anyway, her post got me thinking. I mentioned last time that I’ve been having major writer’s block. At first I thought it was a plotting problem, so I super-plotted the story I was working on (“The Shot Heard ‘Round the Planet” from the 13 Colonies series). It turned out pretty well, and I was happy with it. So I sat down to write it, and…nothin’. Finally, I decided it must be a problem of confidence because the story was too big for me right now. I decided to set Shot aside for a while and started a new story. So much stress had seeped into my writing, I wanted to do something fun. What started out as a 99.99% unplotted YA/NA romantic paranormal serial story became a study in non-linear structure. Cool stuff, but not exactly without pressure. 30,000 words in, I hit a wall.
I’ve pursued every route I know of to get back to
Pooh Corner creative space. I’ve journaled. I’ve jotted. I’ve brainstormed. I’ve come up with new stories, looked up new words, read over old work. Read a book. Learned new approaches. Immersed myself in writing/publishing blogs and listened to podcasts. Nothing worked!
I’ve been wallowing in self-doubt and angst for the last week or so, until I finally hit the Black Moment. That point at which an artist looks at their work, picks up the towel, and prepares to throw it in because they ‘obviously’ don’t have what it takes to succeed. I thought back over all my stories and thought, “What’s the point? I’ll never be able to do this for a living. I need money, like, yesterday, and I have to choose between writing and a day job, and what if I get a job and can’t find a way to work in writing? What if I slip backward and become a wannabe writer again, unwilling to work hard to make it happen? What if it stops mattering??”
And then I read Katie’s post today and I smacked myself in the forehead (literally, facepalm!). I’ve been such an idiot.
With every book – long or short, old or new – I hit a point where I hate everything I write. I loathe every word I type, every character I’ve ever written. Nothing will EVER be good enough! The WOE! The ANGST! I curse the heavens, berate my inner muse for being too lazy and too sassy to be of any help, and cry over the keyboard. It’s pretty pathetic, and it happens with every. book.
You see, my Black Moment is part of my writing process. It’s been so long since I’ve had heavy writing time that I’d forgotten. But somewhere between the one-quarter mark and the one-third mark, I lose all hope. My momentum hits a wall. My creativity dries up. I question every choice I have made and was planning to make, and most of them come up wanting. And then, after enough time has passed, that Black Moment of self-doubt metamorphoses into something beautiful. I make the decision to keep fighting, to keep writing, to keep trying. Suddenly, I become possessed with a wealth of determination, perseverance, and fortitude. I know my story’s strengths and weaknesses; I know where I’m going and what I want to accomplish. And I write. And I write. And I write.
Without that End of the World, Write No More, Black Moment, I wouldn’t have the energy and commitment to finish the book. If I don’t face those feelings and work through them, I end up with Story ADD, unable to get into a story let alone finish anything.
If you’re serious about having a writing career (as opposed to writing a book, which is its own legitimate goal), you need to know your process. To do that, you have to write. A lot. And then write a lot more. Just as importantly, you have to FINISH things.
My process looks something like this:
1. Get blinded by an awesome story idea.
2. Percolate idea, let the characters settle into the casting office with a cup of tea.
3. Assemble, in my head, a variety of scenes and necessary turning points (almost always character-based).
4. Begin writing.
5. Remember how hard it is to shut off the internal editor, but try hard anyway.
6. Fall in love with my characters. Make myself laugh.
7. Shove it at the husband for a little external validation (and so I can see if I’m accomplishing what I want).
8. Cheer as I pass 20k.
9. Black Moment of Doooooom.
10. Days, weeks, months down the road, have an epiphany/surge of determination and get back to it.
11. Get lost. A lot. Write a bunch of really boring stuff until the middle is over and the story has transitioned into exciting territory again.
12. Write. Write. Write.
13. Cease being able to think about anything but all the threads coming together, all day long.
14. Ignore everything else possible in life to get to the end faster.
15. Suddenly discover 80% of my plot in two scenes during the climax.
16. Breathlessly write the last few chapters.
17. Discover more info than expected in the denouement (and possibly find the plot of book 2 buried inside).
18. The End (eventually…my denouements tend to go on and on and on…).
19. Sleep, laugh, and socialize – a lot – to make up for the near-total isolation and extreme concentration of the last few weeks.
20. Start thinking about edits.
Knowing your process means you can accommodate it. For instance, #9 is where I’m most likely to give up. #11, I’m going to need calculated spurts of limited distractions followed by lots of distractions to stay somewhat focused. Starting at #14, my husband knows not to expect me to do anything but work. I also know when that rollercoaster starts down the mega hill at #15, everything’s going to be okay; I won’t freak out about how to make all these ideas and threads and subplots work because I know from experience they’re already in the story; all I have to do is remind myself I can fix it in edits, and then put my hands in the air and yell “woooooo!” as it all rushes in.
Not remembering my process has brought me perilously close to giving up. It’s going to be a little different, now I’m a mom and now I have a professional side to think about. My blogs are going to be really long and rambly, and I don’t beat myself up (much) over it. I could write them more professionally, edit them better, but I know I won’t and cut myself some slack (this post has been written over the course of making and eating lunch and watching Tinkerbell: The Pirate Fairy, interspersed with potty training breaks and fights over how much he has to eat in order to keep watching). It’s going to be somewhat discombobulated, and I’m okay with that – at least the post got written. I’m going to read over it once while rubbing my son’s back and trying to convince him that naps are fun. Then I’m going to hit Publish and never think about it again. And all of that is okay. Not ideal parenting and not ideal writing, but workable.
Know your process. Embrace it. Work with it. It’ll make your life a whole lot easier.
What’s the worst part of your process? The best?