I thought it might be worthwhile to summarize my writing process. This is based on the two most recent stories but the process has been similar for many years.
- Envision a setting, situation, or character.
- Write a sentence.
- Write a second sentence
- Read what I’ve written
- Change a phrase
- Write a third sentence, extending the flow and increasing the breadth.
- Correct a typo. Fix a shift in tense.
- Get up and walk away, do something like get a drink while thinking about what I’ve written. Or if I’m in a formal writing prompt situation, stare at the wall for a minute.
- Come back and start the second paragraph with a new sentence that I’ve thought of while away.
- Remove an unnecessary comma. Realize I’ve used a word such as “clear” or “recent” twice, think about alternatives, go to an online thesaurus. Decide none are perfect but select one anyway just so I have an alternative. Change one usage.
- Read to see how it fits and flows now.
- Add a fifth sentence.
- Consider whether I’ve covered the opening material sufficiently and if it is time to start expanding the range by widening the vision or adding an action or another character. Ponder character goals and motivation, the back story of the situation, possible threats. Is there a theme emerging? Cut the second half of the second sentence and paste into the first sentence. Delete the second half of the first sentence.
- Get up and fill the pets water bowl. Put some papers into my bag so I’ll remember to take them to work tomorrow. Take some dry pans from the dish rack and put them away, and other things.
- Notice an awkward phrase and rewrite it. Add a missing article. Change the character’s name. Spit the fifth sentence into two and extend the second one. Delete the second and third sentence and reorganise and rewrite into one new sentence.
- Read to feel the new flow.
- Write another sentence.
- Read. Wonder if I’m writing too many long sentences or too many short sentences. Read the long ones for missing breaks, read the short ones for unintended emphasis. Look for overused words or descriptions but also to see if they hint at a theme.
- Change a word that is too intellectual for the scene. Consider whether the voice I’m using is consistent, and if it is appropriate. Make additional revisions to hype the voice or make the style more consistent.
At this point I have 150 to 300 words.
If you’re wondering why I keep stopping, why I keep reading and correcting it’s because I rarely plot any more. I only plot when I’ve already got a story going and then I might sit and write 200 or 500 words in one go but before I do that I have to know what and who I’m writing about. Even in time pressured situations like NaNoWriMo or the 3DayNovel competition I go through this same process. I have to correct and edit when I see the little errors and weaknesses because they snag my attention. They must be polished away so I’m not distracted.
And to write I need to experience the flow, as focussed and uninterrupted as possible. Much like when I compose, where I listen in my head to the music and then try to hear what might come next, the flow must tell me what the logical next sentence is. I need to hear what the story is telling me.
Since I’ve fallen into using this process my prose has improved. Or perhaps the reverse; because my prose and editing has improved I’ve developed this procedure which requires more editing and results in better prose.
But these pieces often fail to gain traction and to get to completion. I don’t think it’s because of the editing or stopping and starting, I think it’s because my standards have increased and I drop more ideas than I used to because they don’t seem to be leading somewhere interesting or to be worth my time.
I also get stuck, unable to find a satisfactory understanding of the story that will allow me to continue. In more than one case this block has come right at the end where I know what the essence of the story is but I can’t find an acceptable solution for presenting it. Other times the block comes near the beginning because I don’t know where the story is going. And even when I write to the end usually the story feels imperfect because I didn’t understand all levels of the story well enough to give it its full value.