The Writing Process, or How I Bang My Head Against the Wall and Shake Out a Book

A friend asked me recently if my novel-writing process differed from what it was before, now that I’ve had more experience putting a book together.  My answer was yes and no.

Ambiguity.  I has it. 

Ambiguity.  I has it.

Image:  knowyourmeme.com

Every writer has a different method.  There is no one way to crank out a book.  Some people approach it in a straightforward manner like they’re on a mission, and others meander about like they have no idea where they’re going.  I can’t speak for anyone but me, so today I’ll attempt to answer my friend’s question in a bit more depth.

Yes, but it depends on the book

I wrote Rose’s Hostage in a mostly linear fashion, from the beginning to the end.  The fanfic that inspired it was written the same way.

Tunerville, on the other hand, not so much.  I started with a rough idea of plot and wrote scenes out of sequence as I went, much the way a movie is filmed.  If my mind was on a certain section of the book, that’s the one I worked on.  Then at the end, I edited it together and smoothed out the transitions.

Secret Book is definitely out of sequence.  I have a complete outline.  I also have two main protagonists, who have separate lives before they meet.  I’ve done a lot of Protagonist 2, and now I’m working on Protagonist 1 and some of the scenes they appear in together.

A clue?  Sorry, this is all you’re getting.  Muwahaha!

A clue?  Sorry, this is all you’re getting.  Muwahaha!

Actually, their lines should converge slightly before you get to the heart, but I screwed up and I don’t feel like drawing it again.  And I ended up writing an ending scene before I was ready, to discharge some of the bruises I had when the Universe socked me right in the feels (didn’t work, BTW).

Yes, and it’s more efficient

I mentioned the outline.  Some writers avoid these, because they feel an outline locks them into a set path for the book.  That makes sense.  But I see it as a fluid thing, something I can change as I go, that keeps me on track.  The only book you can’t edit is the one that is printed and on the shelf.  And since I haven’t published any of them yet, anything goes!

It took me about six months to write Rose’s Hostage, but that was mostly because I was learning how to tie the story together as I went.  It took another five to edit it into a cohesive narrative, again thanks to the learning curve.

Conversely, I finished the first draft of Tunerville using NaNoWriMo 2012 in a month, not counting the bits I already had.

No, because I still think it through in the same way

Sometimes it starts with a plot, and sometimes it starts with a concept.

  • Rose’s Hostage: plot (bank robber takes hostage and keeps her; serial killer turns vigilante to find them)
  • Tunerville: concept  (man invents remote control that tunes up ghosts)
  • Secret Book: title (no really, I had the title first and nothing else)

No matter what I start with, I make notes.  Lots and lots of brainstorming notes.  Pages of them.  Secret Book started with the title, and later I attached a different idea to it.  Then even later, I thought of something else that married well with the original idea, and off we went.

Notes happen throughout the writing process, too.  I make character lists, notes on settings (this is especially true for Rose’s Hostage because I want to make Detectives Pierce and Rossberger series characters if I can), and anything else I might think of.

Especially troublesome when you think of it at nearly four a.m.

Especially troublesome when you think of it at nearly four a.m.

Image:  sleepcouncil.org.uk

No, because no matter what the preliminaries are, I still have to sit down and write it

I use music geared toward the mood of the book to help me write.  Only instrumental—no songs, because then I’m tempted to sing along, and I can’t concentrate when the music has lyrics.  But whether I’m listening to Ludovico Einaudi (Secret Book), Hans Zimmer (Tunerville and Rose’s Hostage), or Beethoven (because he’s awesome), my butt still has to be in that chair and my fingers must be engaged with the keyboard.

Incidentally, it is Beethoven’s 244th  birthday today.  Happy birthday!

Incidentally, it is Beethoven’s 244th  birthday today.  Happy birthday!

Image:  Joseph Karl Stieler (1820) / Wikipedia.com

There is no other way to write a book.  Chuck Wendig in his book 500 Ways to Tell a Better Story points out that while the old saw states that everybody has a novel in them, lucky for us writers, most of them can’t be arsed to drag it out.  (I’ve paraphrased a bit there.)  You simply cannot do it without actually doing it.

One thing my friend hit on without actually saying it is this:  every time I write something, I learn something.  I would add that every time I read something, I learn also.  From plowing through a self-published bag of rat droppings and seeing mistakes I shouldn’t make, to consuming the exquisitely rendered prose of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ The Yearling, every book contains a lesson for the writer.

I can only hope that someday mine will hold value for someone else, but that won’t happen if I don’t actually do the work.  So I’m doing it.

If you do not get this book and read it immediately, I will disown you.

If you do not get this book and read it immediately, I will disown you.

 Image:  Wikipedia.com

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