Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Writer's Wednesday: The Writing Process plus giveaway

Harlequin Romance Author Michelle Douglas  explains how her fast draft process works and has a giveaway

There are a multitude of quotes out there about the writing process:

Writing is easy, you just open a vein and bleed onto the page.” (Red Smith)

The best writing is rewriting.” (E. B. White)

The art of writing is applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” (Mary Heaton Vorse)

You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” (Jack London)

You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.” (Saul Bellow).

This list could go on and on. I suspect, however, that there are as many ways of getting a story down onto the page as there are writers. After all, writing processes are not one-size fits all.

I have a picture in my mind—a vivid and rapturous picture—of my ideal writing day.

7am—woken with a cup of tea by best husband in the world

8am—at writing desk and write (longhand) till 11am

1pm—type and edit morning’s work till done

4pm—go for a gorgeous afternoon walk

Cue beatific smile and many happy sighs.

Now cue reality because my real writing day is nothing like that. And it’s not because I get interrupted by phone calls or by friends dropping in or by the lure and guilt of housework or the greater lure and pleasure of coffee with the girls. The reality is so very different for one major reason—when I use the above process I don’t produce my best writing. End of story.

You have no idea how I wish that wasn’t the case, and how I’ve tried to force the above process to work for me. Alas my muse cannot be bribed or bullied into submission on this particular subject. Rather than fight it, I’ve had to learn to accept it.

So…this is the reality of my writing process…

* Dream for a week (or two if I have the time) about the story I’ve told my editor I’m going to write, playing with various scenarios and possible scene and plot elements. Perhaps create a playlist or dabble with a collage.

* Take 10 index cards and loosely plot out my book into 10 chapters (NB: my books are rarely 10 chapters…and I may not fill out all the cards all at once. But I must have at least the first 5 cards plotted out before the next step. Nothing is set in stone, things can change, but I need a direction to get me started).

* Launch into Fast Draft. For more information about Fast Draft check out Candace Havens website. I’ve adjusted her method to suit me. Basically I write 5000 words a day for two consecutive weeks—5 days x 5000 words/day, the weekend to plot the second half of the book or make adjustments to the existing plot, and then another 5 days x 5000 words/day. This produces a rough first draft of 50,000 words. I do carpal tunnel exercises religiously and I try to fit in a daily walk.

* Spend the next 4 to 8 weeks typing the manuscript up, editing and polishing.

Why does this Fast Draft hell work for me when my gorgeous, dreamy writing day doesn’t? There are a couple of reasons.

First, I’ve discovered that there’s nowhere to hide from glaring plot problems when I’m writing at this speed. They jump out and slap me over the head. Rather than try to make lovingly-thought-out scenes fit, as I would if writing slower, I discard them. FD makes me ruthless (in the best possible way J).

Secondly, FD is hard. It is physically and emotionally demanding. Writing a book is hard too, or at least I’m beginning to suspect it should be. My dreamy writing day does it’s best to take the pain out of writing (therefore leaching said writing of it’s intensity and passion). When writing, writers (or at least this little fat duck) are angst-filled and full of doubt and uncertainty. They are also, at times, filled with love for their story and joy and passion. Cram all of that angst and passion into two physically and emotionally demanding weeks of writing and, believe me, it will translate onto the page.

Thirdly, there’s a kind of momentum that builds from writing this quickly. You live, breathe, dream your book. Yes, some days are HARD (Day 2, for some reason, is always a loathsome beast to me). But when you do soar (oh, how I love Day 7!) you soar high and hard and far.

I don’t know if this will be my forever process. And like I said earlier, this isn’t a one-size-fits-all beast. But I can honestly say that shaking up my writing process has helped me to produce better, more intense and more emotional books.

Is there something you do the “hard” way because that’s the way you get the best results—be it gardening, exercise or reading a map? Do tell, as one lucky commenter will go into a draw to win a signed copy of my May release The Man Who Saw Her Beauty.

To learn more about Michelle Douglas and sample her writing visit her website:  The Man Who Saw Her Beauty is out in the US now, Australia and NZ in June and the UK in July.


  1. Wow - that's impressive Michelle. And as I read this post, I realized that's sort of how I write, too. I just slam the first draft down as fast as I can. It makes me feel very close to my characters, as though I'm living and breathing them.

    1. Oh, a fast first draft soulmate! Annie, you describe it perfectly -- as if you're living and breathing your characters! I find it intense but effective. And, frankly, I'm for whatever works. :-)

      Thanks for sharing your process too.

  2. It sounds agonising, but very impressive! It's not a great comparison, but I like sewing clothes by hand, rather than by machine. It takes about as long and means I can fiddle things to fit as I go along. And it's portable, too, whereas a sewing machine means you are stuck in one place.

    1. Hi Pageturner,

      Well, some days it is agonising, but some days you really do fly. And, hey, I used to work in a call centre for a bank and even my worst writing day is better than my best call centre work day.

      Ooh, interesting that you prefer to hand sew. I've always considered myself a major klutz at sewing, but I recently bought a sewing machine determined to teach myself how to make beautiful things. Wish me luck. :-)

  3. That is so interesting-thanks for sharing! I'm going to look into this-I'm thinking that with that speed, there's not a lot of time for the self-doubt that slows me down!

    1. Victoria, I wish I could tell you that this process completely annihilates those doubt demons, but I'd be lying. However, I do find that when I work at this speed I am giving myself permission to write a dirty first draft (oh, and, believe me, it's dirty -- needs lots of polishing). I tell my critical side that it can go to town on the ms once the two week is up and that does seem to help.

      Good luck with FD if you try it!

  4. This was a really great post, as an aspiring author I love to read about other writers' processes and experiment with how it might help mine.

    1. Summer, other writer's processes fascinate me too. If you want to learn more about Fast Draft check out Candace Haven's website and join her Yahoo group -- I found lots of interesting information there. She works on the premise that you can keep anything up for 2 weeks -- I mean, it's only 2 weeks, right? Yeah, it's hard, but it works for me. :-)

  5. Hi Michelle, thank you for this inspiring post.

    I love learning/talking about and studying author processes. I've often wondered why, but I think, basically, even after 17 or so years as a pubbed author, I'm still trying to work out the secret to making my working life easier.I.e. - wondering what I'm doing wrong; why I get so stressed and twisted up over every book (Until it's done...)

    Your words resonated... Actually, no they didn't. They sprang out and whacked me over the head. Our chosen careers aren't easy - and writing isn't for the faint-hearted, despite the cruisey image that is perpetrated about the writer's life.

    I needed to hear this - and I guess I just have to suck it up and get on with it. I am sooo going to try Fast Draft though. I'm intrigued by your experience that it deepens the emotional levels of your works - and the reasoning seems completely valid to me.

    Thank you Michelle - a thoroughly wonderful post!

  6. Great to see you here, Kaz. I think the reason I love talking with other writers about their processes is that I'm sure they have The Secret -- you know, the one to writing a totally fabulous and totally easy book. Am starting to think that no such secret exists, darn it all! :-)

    Good luck with Fast Draft when you try it! I hope it works as well for you as it does for me.

  7. Michelle, though I've heard about your fast draft before it really made me think, seeing it described in black and white. I agree, getting as much down in as short a time frame makes a huge difference. For me the two week period is pretty much impossible as I don't have full days to write all the time, but when I press on and try to get as much progress as possible as soon as possible it builds up such a momentum. Having said that, I noticed I had a day off recently and boy, did the writing flow the next day. I wonder if that's akin to your weekend of plotting? Thanks for sharing.

    1. Annie, the momentum does indeed build when one works quickly. That said, however, I do find the writing flows easier earlier in the week. Or is it just that my arm is so tired by the end of the week? :-) Thanks for dropping by!

  8. The winner of the signed copy of The Man Who Saw Her Beauty is...

    *drumroll please*


    Congratulations, Pageturner. Email me at michelle @ michelle - douglas . com (without the spaces) with your snail mail addy and I'll pop the book in the post for you.