Thursday, April 29, 2010

Process and the Writer


Like pretty much anyone who works in just about any kind of paid job, I get a lot of stuff about process, methodology, and of course "best practices". At the same time, the posts here illustrate that for a writer, these concepts just flat don't apply. It's not that hard to understand: writing lives very firmly with the arts, and each piece a writer does is unique. The only place for process, methodology and best practices is with the middlemen who do the job of turning that work of art into a whole lot of identical widgets (i.e. books) by the magic of file copy and possibly the printing press.

Or is it?

Fiction tends to fit one of a very small number of templates (depending on who you ask, anything from three to twenty), so there's a structure. Writers tend to fall into three broad camps - the plotters, the pantsers, and the plantsers. Each camp has similarities in how they work, and there are also similarities across the whole field: the general dictum that you have to plant butt in chair and write, the notion of setting targets for wordage, be they "something" or "five thousand words" or anywhere in between. (Would someone please pick up the fellow in the back? I think he fainted.) Writing routines are popular, too.

So is there a set of writing processes and practices that can help?

Actually, there's probably several per writer - because while they can fit into some broad categories, they're still going to change around a lot with each project. Or maybe not. Take two of mine (Please. I'll say really nice things about you if you give me lots of money for them). Impaler had plot and structure on it imposed by the history I was working with. The piece I'm working on at the moment, Wether Fakawi Blues, is completely different in tone, structure and may be different enough to need a different name on the cover.

Both of them started with minimal outlining: I had about three to four pages for Impaler, and for Fakawi I had a previous piece (unsold) that's getting ripped off and mostly recast, so the basic plot is more or less the same but a lot of the motivations, minor characters and so forth are changing around, and the final sequence is going to be nothing like the original. Both of them got "research on the fly" - which for Impaler was a heck of a lot more intense as I broke off what I was writing to go digging through my biographies of Vlad Draculea, Googling for old maps of eastern Europe and Turkey, and so forth - and both got written in the gaps between the rest of my life when I had a bit of brain to spare.

And both, as I got closer to any given scene, would get talked over with my first readers. I torment them with snippets, email them chapters as they're done (Yes, they get to suffer through my raw, unedited first drafts. You see why I value them?), and discuss the next scene or next chapter with them. And that is my process, such as it is. It works for me. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone else.

What are your writing processes? Is there a common thread to how you work through a book and get your plots sorted out, or does each book impose its own patterns on you?

13 comments:

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Kate, I think you are onto something here.

Each book demands its own process.

Some need a lot of research. You find yourself diverting constantly to feed the brain.

Others, you've been unconsciously researching your whole life and they just bubble up.

matapam said...

I think I'm still in the flailing away part of my writing career. Panser, plotter, researcher, zoned out scribbler . . . Maybe when I sell something I'll have an idea about what produces a salable work.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Pam
ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah! Sorry, I didn't mean to laugh out loud. But... er... my process is like yours. And you know what I've sold.

Kate my process consists of giving up writing every two weeks, crying because I'll never sell anything again, going insane and writing ten books back to back. rinse, lather repeat. You don't want my process. This is not the process you're looking for.

Chris McMahon said...

I think my own process tends to evolve. I tend to be plot driven, but now tend to do less work on deliberately drawing out the architecture before I start writing - I think either I have internalised it or I trust my instincts more. I also tend to spend more time thinking about the characters to provoke the story.

I don't think the particular novels have influenced me necessarily. Its more that the way I engage with the work and writing has evolved.

Stephen Simmons said...

Process? What is this this "process" whereof you speak? I just throw words at the screen, then erase them and throw different words, whenever I can find the time to sit and think about what the characters are telling me they want to do. Some weeks I end up with three new chapters. Some weeks I don't find time to even get through my email ...

Kate said...

Rowena,

I was surprised to realize how similar the way I approached two very different books ended up being. I'm going to have to keep notes on what happens, to see if that's "how Kate writes" or just coincidence.

Kate said...

Matapam,

There's flailing, and there's purposeful flailing. I kind of hope what I'm doing is purposeful. It certainly FEELS like flailing most of the time.

Kate said...

Sarah,

Er. No. I don't want that process. You failed to mention that all ten books sold, though :)

Kate said...

Chris,

I honestly don't know how it all fits together. I didn't expect to see a pattern, and there it was staring at me. Now I'm going to have to go looking to see if there actually is one.

Kate said...

Stephen,

If that's how you get a book, that's your process. There's one guy - honest to bog - who has some kind of weird arrangement involve a sawhorse? and a saddle, so he feels like he's riding when he's writing. (I think. It's been a while and the day job tends to eat everything else)

He... boggled a few minds and - according to some of those who were present at that panel - very nearly broke at least one author's brain while said author tried not to make any of the obvious feelthy jokes.

I wish I'd been at that panel. The version I encountered was much more tame.

matapam said...

:: Looks ta exercise equipment in middle of office floor :: Sneaks a look at the old tack in the corner . . . if it would work . . .

Synova said...

The saddle thing reminds me of someone who suggested a hat, or several hats, as a way to keep on task. The idea was that "marketing" was done in a business-like hat while "creating" got something flamboyant with a boa.

I've meant to try it but never have.

I've also meant to try the "my writing computer is not connected to the internet" process. I sort of tried with a laptop but it just increased the level of chaos and fragmentation. It's hard enough to keep what I'm working on and what I'm letting ferment where I can find them again.

Dave Freer said...

Kate -I was there on that panel. Carl Fredrick :-) Nice guy. Hilarious panel.