Wednesday, February 02, 2011

WRITER'S WEDNESDAY: Owning the Process

Mira Lyn Kelly talks about the trials and tribulations of her process, and owning it in the end...

I’ll admit it. When it comes to “my process”, I’m a fickle creature, constantly in pursuit of that singular system that will miraculously facilitate my knocking out the books in a timely, reliable, efficient fashion.

I mean who wouldn’t want that?

And just so we’re clear, it’s not that I have any delusions about writing suddenly becoming an easy breezy endeavor. It’s work. I know this. Like I know it’s the kind of work that I love.

The part I fantasize about is the ability to make it happen faster. I long for a process that streamlines my productivity. I would love to be the kind of plotter who can lay out their entire storyline at the beginning of a project, know exactly how long it will take them to finish. Adhere to the framework established and turn in a captivating, polished, finished project on time.

I KNOW there are writers out there who can do this.

And I’ve tried to become one of them. But alas, I’ve yet to find a way to make it work for me where I don’t end up writing something that feels vaguely detached. Definitely not what you want in a romance that hinges on emotional connection. Heck, not what you want in any kind of non-technical writing!

So, I must embrace what works for me. My process.

While I’m not a plotter, I don’t exactly fly by my seat either. But like many, I’m a mish-mashy, inconsistent blend of the two. I usually start out with a scene I can’t stop thinking about, a conflict to build from, and a few plot points that break down the major turns in the story. Once I’ve got that initial work done, I’m totally pumped and can’t wait to take off.

Only after that initial rush, I often find myself with so many ways the story could go—so many attitudes and reactions my people could take—I just can’t quite figure which is going to be right. Which puts me at the second stage of my process—one that I revisit frequently throughout the book. The wheel spinning stage. The part where I so desperately want to go, but every time I try to get hold of a piece of the road to take off from, it slips out from beneath me—ending up as a bunch of splatter littering my CUTS folder.

I try it this way. Then that way. Then another. Until something clicks. And by clicks, I mean reconnects me to the story in a way that’s almost physical, and is so totally better than all the rest of that splatter behind me, I can’t help but take off. And for a while I fly. The story flows. The road is smooth. I hug the curves, utterly enjoying the ride… Until I veer off track and end up in another gunky rut. And the spinning starts again and I pray it won’t take me too long to catch some traction and I just keep at it, trying this and that, until…click…catch…and aahhhhh. Time to fly.

It’s an imperfect system. Unpredictable. And at times, exhausting. So, yes, I’m always searching for a way to do it better. Faster. More smoothly. I get fed up and take it personally, and call my process all kinds of nasty names. But the thing of it is, until the day comes when I land on this ever-elusive “perfect” process, this imperfect version is what I have. And most importantly, it (eventually) gets me to where I want to go. A finished manuscript that I love.

So as frustrating as it can be, and as much as I wish I could make it better, this process is mine and I’m grateful I have it.

What works for you? Do you love your process or grudgingly accept it while eyeballing the horizon for something better?


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  1. Mira, the messy, mud-splattering-in-your-face process about sums up my method too.


  2. Mira, I have to say, that really sounds familiar to me too. I get to a point where my characters could do one of a hundred things/actions and I get totally confused. What I've learned to do is write the first draft very quickly and not second guess them, then spend a lot of time editing it. Does cut down the wheel spinning. Sometimes. And it's easier to view the ms as a whole (for me at any rate) rather than piecemeal so that their decisions etc remain consistent throughout.
    Of course, that sounds good in theory....:-)

  3. Aimee, lol, at least with all that splatter something usually sticks!

    Jackie, Agreed on the drafting. I'm always trying to find that better way because that second draft is MURDER. But I am coming to terms with the fact that so far it's worked the best. :-)

  4. chiming in with a repeating claaaaang. Yep, I'm a mish-mash of plotting and outlining and flying by the seat of my pants as my characters do and say stuff I never in a million years thought they'd do or say. Kind of like the ride off the top of the Stratosphere in Las Vegas - scares me to death...and then I wanna do it again.

  5. Hi! I'm working on my second book right now, and I really, really tried hard to plot out the ENTIRE book. But I only made it to Chapter 4 and then I had to start writing. The good news is that I started it a full 3 days before I originally planned too. The bad news is that although I have an idea of what's going to happen, I don't really KNOW for sure. And I guess that's the exciting part of writing, isn't it? :)

  6. I'm mostly a pantser, too. For me, being able to fly starts with the characters. If they've got issues that lead to conflict, the rest seems to take care of itself. It can be almost like channeling. If I miss the boat though, it becomes a struggle.

    I've been reading the Save the Cat! books which is supplying a piece I've been missing--story structure. I think it's going to be helpful when things get messy.

  7. I have made peace with my process. It has taken a lot of the pressure off, actually. Because like you say - it gets me where I want to go. Not that I'm not looking for ways to improve, and each book is different, but I work how I work. My mind works in a certain way. And the act of embracing it has actually made it go faster because I'm not fighting things anymore. Make sense?

  8. Kristina, lol, so long as you want to do it again, right!

    Dominique, good luck on that second one! Definitely, exciting!

    Jo, I'm reading SAVE THE CAT too, lol. I totally want to beat it out, but I get to fun and games and I'm like...ack. It just doesn't FEEL right when I'm trying to nail it down. Still, hoping to incorporate that structure system for when i get stuck too.

    Donna, I feel a little like my process has some bit of circuitry embedded at its temple and it's staring at me saying "resistance is futile". I strongly suspect giving in is the way to go. :-)

  9. I don't know if you've read STC goes to the movies, but I noticed that even though most of them follow the beats precisely, there is some leeway. Once in a while, a beat like F&G comes after the mid-point, or another beat will be out of the prescribed sequence. I wouldn't stress too much over F&G, the midpoint is the most important, followed by the break into 2 & 3. He goes more into these in the 3rd book. In the next couple of weeks, I plan to blog about the series, if you're interested.