First things first. There will always be people ready to leap right in to tell you how it should be done. They'll natter on about what you should be writing and to whom. They'll tell you what your word count should be, how often you should write, and will pounce on what they see as defects in your process. Sometimes this is all a product of a genuine desire to help. Sometimes, I suspect, it is born of something far less flattering and benign, but let's move on...
I am of the opinion that the best kind of writing advice boils down to a variation of "write until you find what works for you." There's no formula for it. If I'm wrong about that, I would really appreciate it if someone would send it along. This discovery phase is really hard work.
So why talk about process at all? As long as it remains descriptive rather than prescriptive, I think it can be tremendously helpful. I am interested in writing, writers, and their works. It's fun and inspiring to get insights into process, even if it is something that differs from my own. And, you know, when you get in a rut, it never hurts to try something new.
Bottom line: I can only write about what I do, what I've learned, and what I've heard. It may be bollocks or brilliance. You decide for yourself. I'll decide for me. Fair?
Whew. Now that the disclaimer part is over, I think I'm ready to write my first post about process. My writing group discussed brainstorming at our last meeting and it seems like a fine place to begin. There was a wide range of processes to be found among us. There are plenty more to be found out there.
The main issue at hand is: What do you do with your first idea? How do you develop it into a story? The first step for a lot of us involves brainstorming.
I've heard about people who write down copious notes. Some focus by asking a lot of questions about plot, conflict, character, you name it. Some writers hold conversations with their characters. Some like to talk aloud or work collaboratively, bouncing ideas off a trusted sounding board.
My process varies, but I seldom talk about the heart of a work in progress. I'll hit the edges at most. I think it has less to do with a lack of trust than it does with the fact that so much of my process is internal that it feels odd to externalize it too soon. I always start to feel self-conscious and awkward about it. That is not a comfortable place to work from.
When I write a short story, I seldom write down anything past the initial idea. I like to record the line, the image, the spark or premise that starts me on the path to a story. I hate losing an idea to sleep, forgetfulness, or self-sabotage. Once I have the marker, I work it through in my imagination. I play through scenes, think about images and phrases, test plot lines. I daydream quite a bit. I try not to give myself too much time before I start putting words to the page, though. I tend to write these pieces more slowly and deliberately---and procrastination is a killer.
When I work on longer pieces, I spend a lot more time in the daydreaming phase. I don't actually talk to characters or anything. I just like to carry them around, try to put myself in their worlds and see things from their perspective. I try out ideas, and try to find fun angles, weird combinations, funky turns. As amusing as all that is, eventually I need to start writing things down.
I have a messy kind of mind so my first notes are predictably chaotic. I scribble down thoughts, doodles, research questions, and so on. I start to collect music, pictures, and other bits of inspiration. I don't like to keep meticulous notes during this phase. It feels too restrictive. I let my fancy take me wherever it wants. I fill in gaps with research and see where it all takes me.
Once the conflicts, character, ideas, and all that jazz start to come together, I start a new set of notes. I begin to clean things up. The mess starts to look like something. Once that happens I know it is about time to enter the next phase: the big plan.
That's about it for me. I don't make snowflakes or webs. I don't fill out questionnaires. I don't always follow my own process. When I learn about something or I'm reminded of something, I'm game to try it. Never say never, right?
From last week's talk with my group I've been inspired to push myself. I'm trying to resist falling right into the arms of my first or second idea. I'm looking for something just a bit better. It should help me to save some time in the drafting process. At the very least it should nudge me into some pretty weird places.
I love that.
I hope that anyone who reads this will find their own wild spaces. Good luck!