I woke up this morning and found myself with an overabundance of thoughts. Writerly™ thoughts. So, I got dressed, loaded the dog in the car, and went for some iced coffee to drink about it. That didn’t cure me, so now I suppose I’ll just have to write about it.
First things first, I woke and scrolled through social media like every other mentally chucked Millennial I know. And no, I don’t know what “mentally chucked” means, but I liked it so much I’ve decided to keep it. So, I’m scrolling through the Pit of Despair that is Facebook when I stumble upon this post from V.E. Schwab.
In it she talks about how painful the drafting process is for her, and how she seems to continuously edit her own memory of the process. “The last book wasn’t this bad! I must be a fraud, or something’s wrong with this book!” etc, etc. Now, those of us who have followed her socials for awhile know that she has some sort of emotional outburst/meltdown during the drafting process of every book. That’s just how it goes. It’s part of her process.
Ah, The Process™.
And here we are. I woke up and while my brain was still all sleepy-eyed and unawares, we were forced to think about writing processes. It’s a popular topic. Invariably at every conference or reading, anywhere writers are to be had, they are asked about their “Process”. Nascent scribes ask in the hopes that they’ll be told the “secret” and some wizened storyteller will grant them the key to making it make sense.
There is no key y’all.
The Writing Process™ is deeply personal and unique to each writer. Often we share similarities or there are some common threads that make us all go, “ahhhh, yep. Been there.” But no two writers do it exactly the same (that’s what she said).
Also, and this was a much tougher lesson learned, no two stories require quite the same process. The Process™ can change based on the needs of the thing you’re writing. Which is deeply disconcerting when you feel like you’ve FINALLY got the hang of this writing business and now you’re starting all over again for the very first time. Which I think is what Ms. Schwab is talking about in her post. For her, drafting a novel feels like writing a book for the very first time. Every time. At least, to me, that would suck butts. Writing my first book was a big ol’ experiment in “I have no idea what I’m doing but here are some words on a page and I THINK if you read them in order there’s a story in there somewhere.”
And at the time, I loved that feeling. Mostly because I was so deeply proud that I’d managed to write a story that was more than 2500 words AND had a beginning, middle, and end. Up to that point the most I’d ever written on a single piece was 14k words and it fizzled and died on the page. That was when I learned that I couldn’t jump ahead and write the ending first. If I do that, then the story is “done” in my head and my brain just gives up on the whole project. Endings must come last.
I’d like to say that the subsequent books went differently, but deep down they didn’t. Sure, there’s a lot less trepidation and my gut instinct for when the story is working is pretty well honed now. But, no matter how much research or outlining I do, there’s always that element of “well, I have no idea what’s happening, but words are coming and I’m not about to pull this car over!” And I like that. It excites me. I get this whirlwind feeling in my chest that I’m being swept up in something that isn’t quite under my control and I’m not 100% sure where I’ll end up.
I guess it sorta feels like magic.
Then, of course, comes the revision process. This is where I have my meltdowns and emotional outbursts. Now, for short stories, revising is my favorite part. Cutting mercilessly and honing in on the themes and motifs? Tweaking and perfecting lines until they sing? Oh, yeah babeyy! That’s what I’m talking about!
But, content revision? On a novel? I’d rather vomit.
So, lemme just lay this out for the non-writerly folk who happen upon this blog and have somehow made it this far. Content Revision™ is looking at the book’s big pictures once the rough draft is complete (plot points, character development, pacing, etc.) and making sure they all do the things they’re supposed to. Making sure there aren’t any gaping holes and embarrassing missteps. Making sure the book makes sense and is, y’know, GOOD.
It’s hell in a word document.
My ADHD brain has a VERY hard time thinking this broadly. It gets distracted by little things, things that should come last in the process (like line editing) and then I have to stomp on the brakes and say, “wait… where were we?” There is a lot of stop/starting for me in this step of the Process™.
Thinking about the piece as a whole is… man. It’s just really hard for me. Even now, on the second revision for Tavi, I’m struggling to think of it as a whole book and not just a collection of scenes that need to be in a certain order. Ok, that makes it sound WAY less coherent than it actually is. It’s not just a collection of scenes. It is a whole book. A surprisingly whole book, I would say. I marvel that it came out of me!
Anyway, the point is that we all have different methods. It takes years to get a good handle on your own process, and even then it’s not something that ever really stops growing. The more you read, the more you study the Craft™, the more writing friends you make, the more prepared you are for when the story requires something more from you. Something new.
This is why writing is a skill. Art is a skill. You are constantly learning and experimenting, layering what you know with what you want to try. And sometimes it just doesn’t work. Sometimes, you reach too far, and you find yourself working on a story you simply aren’t equipped to tell yet. So, it goes in a drawer, literally, mentally, what have you. You put it away and you keep working on other stuff. You keep reading and writing and learning, until that story crawls itself out of the drawer, knocks on your skull and says, “Is it my turn yet?”
That’s the process. There is no universal secret. There is no magical key that makes creating easy. I’d say it does get easier, but I don’t even think that’s true. Creating doesn’t get easier, you get better. You just have to keep. going.