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: http://www.michelle-douglas.com/ The Man Who Saw Her Beauty is out in the US now, Australia and NZ in June and the UK in July.