Writing: My Process

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WRITING WEDNESDAY: MY PROCESSES THAT AREN’T POOPING

WARNING: This post is more fun process-related ramble than educational, or even really about outlining. But I never tell you guys stuff about me, so here goes.

I would like to take this moment, random internet viewers, and lie to you.

I would like to tell you I wake up at five in the morning, so I have a few hours to drink coffee and let my day begin before work. I’d like to tell you I’m typing this in some super-fancy writing room (we’ll call it ‘The Solar’,) in a lovely Frank Lloyd Wrightesque split-level somewhere picturesquely deep in the woods.

I’d like to lie and tell you I’m wearing a smoking jacket and a fez, I have my life in order, and most of all, I would like to lie and tell you I use outlines.

However, none of this is true. I’m wearing a work dress and shoes that are, even by my approximation, shitty (and they’ve been broken down and shitty for two years). I am literally typing this up with tablet on knee during an hour-long inter-city bus ride into Raleigh. And I have never–never in my LIFE–seen any point to a fucking outline. Outlines are the devil. Outlines are a plague worse than diphtheria, malaria, and typhoid combined into one Victorian heart-of-darkness-style masterfuck.

Some people disagree. Some people–probably people who make dinner at night instead of throwing up their hands and going ‘eat whatever we have’–like them, even need them, to write a good story. And that’s all well and good. Different strokes and whatnot. I’m not saying everybody functions like I do.

However, in high school, I was that kid who groaned whenever I saw I needed to write an outline for a paper. I would do it–for the graaades, honey–not even save it, and never look at it again. Because it was a useless piece of paper.

Because I pants harder than Wrangler Jeans. (More on this subject can be found here).

I wanted to take a moment and discuss why it is this works for me, and why I believe in pantsing as opposed to the traditional outline-and-elaborate method. There are, as best as I’ve been able to figure out, two main reasons this works for me. And they are:

1) I am Pygmalion, and my characters are like hideous Galateas..

I approach writing more as a sort of sculpting than a linear a to b style undertaking. I slosh down my first draft with all the abandon of a frat boy at an end of year kegger. I get it done, more or less. I get the plot hashed out as best I can. And then, when I have the tangle of words that serves in this extended Pygmalion metaphor as rough rock, I start chipping away.

Because a story, I feel, is a thing best approached from both ends. When I’ve already written my ending, I have an idea of where I want the beginning to go, and how to flesh it out so it goes there better. I’ve a rough idea of all the little things that are going to make my Galatea lovely, and once I have the whole body of work to move over I can pay them proper attention.

When you employ this method, there are reasons for you to stop and think, even in the creation of your rough draft roughage. And outline, on the other hand, lulls you into the mistaken idea that you’ve already figured it out pretty well (you haven’t) and you know exactly what needs to happen (you don’t). It gives your characters a little room to take on life–I’ve had moments where my characters, instead of doing what I’d like them to do, what would make the plot turn out how I want it to turn out, decide to go do something completely crazy.

If you think this is pointless romanticizing of the writing process, you’ve not been writing for very long. It doesn’t happen because omg mysterious creative juices or anything: it happens because, whether you realize it or not, something you have planned for your plot doesn’t jibe with the way you’re writing your characters. I had this problem in Aurian and Jin, when Jin’s leaving Dern Darien for the last battle with the Bonemaker–in my first draft (and in my head) she let Aurian go along with her, and it just never worked, because Jin’s high-powered controlling ass wouldn’t do that.

It took me about three weeks to realize exactly what was wrong, and I was glad I did. Because it’s an important developmental moment for both Jin and Aurian (spoiler warning!)–Jin needs to learn that needing people doesn’t involve yeast and a floured surface, and Aurian’s passive ass needs to learn that he can be needed, and that Jin can be wrong. Without that developmental milestone, both characters would be flatter, and the climactic scene, where Jin and Aurian kill the Bonemaker together, would lack the emotional resonance of two people, one entirely too independent and one entirely too dependent, creating an equalized unified front.

Had I used an outline, I might never have caught that. Because, instead of writing the story to fit the characters, I would have written the characters to fit the story–which, if you want great characters, is a cardinal sin.

To generalize: pantsing lets your creation magnifique take on a life of its own. And that’s what you want in a story, isn’t it? Life.

2) I spend a lot of time thinking about this shit anyway.

When I say I don’t do an outline, that may not be entirely true. No, I never write it down. No, it isn’t color coded and appended like my grocery lists (I’ll say this for me, I write a helluva grocery list).

But when I’m doing something mentally non-taxing, like cooking dinner or cleaning the house or taking a nice long walk, I let my mind wander. And it wanders, invariably, to whatever I’m writing (a sign, probably, that I don’t have a very interesting life). And I think through these things. I picture my characters, picture what they’d be doing right now, what they wear, who would play Jin in the move (I’m feeling Tilda Swinton, but I think she’s too pretty). I visualize my scenes in living color, pick out scene music.

This might sound a little woo woo New Age write-and-do-yoga to you, and it probably is. But I’ve found light motion helps me think–even restless pacing, if I’m stuck in the house. This might be because I’m tie-me-to-a-jungle-gym levels of ADD. Or it might be because I’m overall a visual sort of person, and seeing the words on the page actually blocks me up a little bit.

In fact, the only thing that helps me with a big block is time to sit back and mull it over. Some people call this writer’s block–unfairly, I think (I’ll do a blog soon on why, precisely, I think the idea of writer’s block is stupid). You’re still performing the writing process, you just aren’t writing any words down. And, just like ninety percent of what you know about your world never makes it to your manuscript, ninety percent of your writing-thoughts never get written down.

This doesn’t make them any less important or useful. It just means they weren’t the best ideas.

If you have the sort of shaggy, visually-focused thought processes I have, an outline quickly starts looking more like a football play would look if Wilkie Collins vomited laudanum all over it. Not a terribly useful document for anybody, even the person who wrotedrew it. So you might as well cut that step out, right? Because The Moonstone, that’s why.

Anyway. This isn’t one of those posts where I give you good advice, or try and tell you what to do. This is just a little glimpse into my process, if there is indeed a process. I don’t need a lot of prewriting, fancy writing tools, etc., and I certainly don’t need Scrivener. What I need, for the most part, is a little bit of time and a repetitive task. And then, at some point, word processing.

Happy Wednesday.

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3 thoughts on “Writing: My Process

  1. God damnit, stop writing these wonderful posts. I keep telling myself that I will just read one more and then the next post catches my eye. I am definitely an outliner, but I just love reading your stuff even if it differs from my process. I honestly don’t think I have ever liked a blog as much as this. In all seriousness, keep it up. I’m never going to get anything done, but good job.

    1. I’ve always dreamed of making someone curse through blog writing. *single tear* Usually, all I have to do is be mean to make people curse, but this? This is special.

      Seriously, seeing this line of comments totally brightened my day. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

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