Monday, March 24, 2014

How I Write a Book

About five years ago I thought my book was done.  It was the first draft, and being a cocky sort of amateur writer, I was sure it was ready for a quick final proof and an agent (followed quickly by a 10-figure book deal and millions of screaming fans, of course). 

And then…oh, yes…the pain began. The realization that I had so much to learn and edit hit like Thor’s hammer.  I tossed the book out on its backside, tried another story idea, killed it, and just stopped writing in general.  Then my parents kindly told me they would disown me if I didn’t go to a writers’ conference.

At first I rolled my eyes at the suggestion.  How could the problem be me?  I was just fine doing things the way I always had (remember: cocky).  My process from age 5 to age 23 was consistent and very simple:
  1. A brilliant idea springs to life in my brain!
  2. All the characters! All the problems!
  3. Writewritewritewritewrite
  4. Oh, my gosh.  I am so good at this.  I rock! I'm the best!
Going to RMFW completely changed how I approach writing.  Thankfully, it also taught me a few lessons in humility.  As a kid I had no idea that there was more to writing a book than having a way with words and knowing where to put quotation marks.  In college I knew it took more work, but even then my perceptions of the publishing industry weren’t what one might consider “accurate”.

Now my writing process is a bit more involved:
  1. I see a piece of a scene in my head.
  2. I work backward from that scene and figure out how a person could get there.
  3. 3/4 of the cast is born.
  4. 10,000+ words manifest with no road signs, outlines, or planning.
  5. The other 1/4 of the cast appears and reminds me that I should write with them in mind.  
  6. Hark! A plot, a plan, an outline, and motivations for everybody.
  7. I go back to the beginning and send chunks to my critique group until the whole thing is done.
  8. Edit, edit, edit. Oh, and cut.  There is lots of cutting involved.
I’ve found that outlining from the very beginning makes me feel cramped and uncomfortable, but forming an outline in the first quarter of the book feels just right.  Coming up with an opening scene proves futile – I always change it the second, third, or even fourth time around.  I want a story that develops naturally.

My writing process parallels my approach to any creative project, be it knitting or building a chandelier out of felt. I practice a little, get my feet wet, and experiment with ideas before I go gung-ho and dive fully into a project.  I rely on my critique group and beta readers like some people rely on black coffee every Monday.  And who knows?  In a year or two I might invent a totally different method.

What about you?  How do you approach your creative projects?

Michelle's childhood novels involved a lot of dolphins, many wolves, and more than a few white tigers. She has the folder of stapled papers to prove it. 

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