Friday, October 5, 2012


Vladimir Nabokov's Draft of Lolita

Over at Quoria under Unusual Work Habits of Famous Writers there's a picture of a box of index cards, an example of just one way to work. I've been thinking about how I write as I continue to learn my craft and try to make my writing process more efficient. From old fashioned to new fangled, there are a million ways to get your ideas down on paper or onto a glowing screen and out into the world.

I don't usually start from plot, but I don't exactly start from character either. Usually a situation or a concept piques my interest and I have to grow that into a story. Here's what I've learned about my own process for capturing and growing ideas.

I read around a lot, both fiction and nonfiction. Most of my ideas come from a bit of news or a story element that suggests an interesting situation or even just a tone or emotion that I want to explore.

AKA the "idea bin." I have an actual journal that I keep close when I'm sitting on the couch and need to jot down an idea. I also try to practice FREEWRITING daily, sometimes I write without stopping on a story I'm currently working on, sometimes I do a random writing exercise, and sometimes I just vent.

Every couple weeks I try to read through what I've written, which is a fruitful exercise in itself. I also add to the hand-written index that I build in the back of the book so that I can access all those random notes and quotes and ideas that are scattered throughout the pages.

I then do a little research to flesh out the world and solve any practical/scientific questions that are part of the story. I try to limit this initial research to one day (not a solid day but whatever I can get to in a 24-hour period). This keeps my research from becoming a procrastination station.

I never used to do this, but I've started to write up a quick bio for the main character or characters. I use Nancy Kress' "Mini-Bio" (general) and "Emotional Mini-Bio for Key Characters." Sometimes I do this before I start to draft, other times I stop and do these bios after I've started building the plot. This not only helps me to create dimensional characters but also often sharpens the conflict and in one case entirely changed the direction of a story I'd been stuck on. Chuck Wendig tells it in 25 of my Personal Rules for Writing and Telling Stories:
"Plot is Soylent Green. Plot is made of people."
Yes it is.
Sometimes I draft by hand in my journal as this seems to give me more freedom to suck. I tell myself that I'm going to fix-it-up when I type it in anyway, so it doesn't matter that I'm flailing around trying to figure this thing out. Other times I just sit down and start banging away at the keyboard.

At this point I usually only have a rough idea of where things are going plotwise. I don't consider myself a seat-of-the-pants writer, but I'm not the outliner that I used to be. I've discovered that what I like to do best is outline as I go. I've been doing this more now that I have Scriviner on my laptop. If I'm in my journal I just keep a wide margin for outliney notes. For this reason, I think my next journal is going to be a larger format.

This is hard for me because I need to rein in my urge to tidy and nit-pick and force myself to read through my draft for the big picture. I try to fix glaring errors and plot holes, moving thing around and adding and excising whole chunks of texts, before cleaning up any mechanical and grammar issues. At this point I've usually got something that's ready to show to a critique group.

Okay, saying "first" and "second" revision isn't all that accurate as I often fit revising in here and there throughout the day and so the process is more of a spread out kind of tinkering that I group under those terms. After getting a critique I go through the story one more time to fix anything that other people caught or to incorporate any awesome ideas that might have come up during the session. I also go through sentence by sentence for grammar and style.

Off you go into the world, little story...

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