As promised, here is my analysis of my creative writing process.
I will cover ideas, how I attack ideas, outlines, character development, building, editing and all the little facets of the writing process. To really think about the way I try to complete my stories, I will be using the book I am currently writing as base, though I will not reveal anything about said book. Spoilers! — (Doctor Who anyone?)
Also, I believe it is also important to note that I have over 40 starts to novels that are sitting unfinished in my hard drive, on my desk and in a filing cabinet. I say this to make it clear that my writing process is still in development, however, now that I have found my story, and I am closer than ever to completion, this is a good time to start analyzing my writing process. It is also important to note, that I have yet to finish my book and I am currently working on draft two. With all of this in mind, it is understandable that when I get to editing I am strictly referring to my book and the process I am taking with it. This is my first experience in editing for a full book.
And again, remember that I writing this late at night / early in the morning, so it will be a little less edited than usual. Hopefully my abundance of errors will not be too much for you to get through, but also, I have read and re-read every section to the best of my current ability. THANKS!!!
Now, here we go…
Ideas come to me in the strangest way. I hear a conversations, see one word or phrase, someones expression, I see a sign, I walk alone down a sidewalk or maybe even the color of the sky is a trigger in my brain that thrusts a story into gear. It is that moment that if I stop a story will come to me. It may be as long as a few paragraphs or it could end up being nearly 300 pages in its first draft. The most important thing for me to do in this moment is write it down. Being cursed with a horrible memory, or maybe I’ll call it a wandering mind, states that it does not take long for me to forget. Everywhere I go I bring a little notebook. It is battered, stained, covered in stickers and stuck with post-it notes, and somewhere between the unaccomplished to-do lists and forgotten shopping lists, are pages of ideas. I take down notes of the ideas that appear in my mind. Everything from a basic outline to the descriptions that came with the thought. Literally every piece of that idea goes into this outline. This is so I can ensure that I will later be able find the tone and the key memory triggers to put myself in the right mind-frame to begin writing. It is very helpful for later in my creative process.
PREPARING TO WRITE:
Before I even begin to write, I need two things with me. First of all, I always write stories on my computer. My handwriting is atrocious, so to save the trouble of decoding my hieroglyphic letter later on, I keep it 21st century and write on my mac. (Have I mentioned that I am also a graphic designer? Hence, the mac). But while I keep the actual story on my computer, and backed up on my external hard drive, I keep two ways to record with a pen next to me.
- A notebook. This is not my beat up notebook that I keep with me at all times, but one of over 10 old notebooks from when I was a student. Trying to be environmentally friendly as a child, I never threw away the unused pages and instead piled them up in my closet. While typing, I jot down ideas of things I want to happen in the future, what can be added to the past and even note places that will need changing as my story develops. Any extra thought that pops into my mind as I am writing, I make sure to jot down in my notebook. No thought or idea ever goes unrecorded, no matter how small. In the end, it makes the editing process simpler.
- A Sketchbook. I am an artist, I see things in visual terms. If you read my creative pieces posted in this blog, you may note the descriptions of scenes, and how my characters are moving themselves about the setting, are created with solid description. My whole goal in writing is to paint the scene with words so that my readers will have the setting be absolutely visual in their minds. While typing, and jotting down tiny notes, I also draw out developments. These are not small notes, this is a detailed map of what is happening where and how certain events are connected. The drawing is filled with arrows and lines of connecting ideas. I put bullet notes at all the points of what should be happening next to the circle of information. I will draw out story lines, scene or parts over and over till I understand what needs to be happening. I may even have several maps going for the same scene based on characters and plot lines.
T0 begin, I just write. Once I am ready to work on an idea, my plan of attack is not much of a plan at all. I take the character, I take the basic outline (which sometimes is missing a middle or and end), and I just write. There is hardly any thought. I let my character drive the story, throwing whatever I want in their path and making them react to it. It is though this process, that I try to familiarize with my characters. In my first draft of my book, my main character took over the narrative in first person. While later I decided that the story would be stronger in third person, I do not regret, but rather, I praise my decision of writing the first draft this way. Unconventional, yes. Hard work to change and edit, yes. BUT, it was a whole development of my character, like a character sketch, for the entire book. By the end, I knew her as if she was a close friend and because the novel was written in her perspective, there was nothing dishonest about my character. She developed as she would have, and made decisions as she would have. It was an honest telling of an honest character.
Will I write my next book the same way? I hope not, it is a lot of work in the editing process. But the reason that this all occurred was due to my lack of plans before hitting hard into this story. The positive of focusing on the story through my character is that it is a very character driven story and those characters are developed extensively. The negative of this is that when you get to the end of the story, you realize that you lost minor characters, minor plot lines, some directions and even the original theme/tone of the story. To put them all back in, if they are important enough, sometimes a whole reworking of the plot and basic path of the story needs to be rewritten.
There is a chance that I will lose my time to write. It might be a few weeks when I am separated from focusing on my book. When this occurs, I always make sure to write at least small paragraphs of creative writing. When I finally get back into my book, it make take me a few hours or even a few days to get back on target. While I am always writing, I have to make sure that my diction and tone are consistent from where I left it in the scene. I also must make sure that my character’s attitudes and drive have not altered in my absence.To ensure this, I have one process, I write a character sketch. Whichever character was holding the main focus when I left is who I write about. I develop a scene from their past, something that built them. I try to make this scene relate to the moment they are currently in with my book and give it the same tone. It may be several days of working on multiple character sketches before I am ready to dive back in, but I always know. There is a pent up, anxious feeling that builds when I go back to my book and I am not ready to be constructing beautiful sentences and paragraphs. With this feeling, I go back to writing another character sketch.
Another helpful thing about a character sketch is that while you discover and build more about your character, you can also uncover and develope piece of your story. For example, even though I cannot go into much detail, I wanted a secret in my story. Something that make my readers go, “ooooooooh.” Now, in draft one, I thought I had that secret taken care of, though it was no secret that I told the truth too soon. Once the truth was out, something was missing. It was in a character sketch were I uncovered the true underlying secret of my main character.
There are several things I watch out for when writing. I use the critiques and advice from courses and peers to fuel my writing. Whether I agree or disagree with their ideas, everything they say has an impact on the way I construct my sentences. I try to avoid adverbs, though I do not leave them out completely, (pun intended). While a description can be made stronger when you take a moment to define it with more depth, there are also moments where short, simple lines are more effective. I also use advice given about my diction. While we may not think of our words and out setting together as we write, it is natural to make the diction relate to the tone of the setting. When describing a scene, you should take great care in relating the two pieces of your story. Fluffy steps on jagged rocks do not create a strong scene, but grinding footfalls on ridged stones gives a much stronger tone. Another thing that I always watch out for when writing is using similar words very close together. I have my overused words which I am always dropping to describe feelings and settings. My only cure for this is to live with a thesaurus as I write, though I will NEVER use a word that I do not know the definition of prior, no matter how cool it sounds. Lastly, or least the last thing I can think of or this part, is my use of pronouns. It could also be considered part of my overused words as well. I always try to keep my pronouns separated by several statements of description and dialogue. Paragraphs will become clogged and difficult to read if every other word is he, he, he, he or I, I, I, I, I (which was a lot of my first draft). Watching pronouns is a great way to help build paragraphs.
The first draft is done. Now, as I already admitted, I did not have a very detailed outline on my book. In fact, about halfway through it I dropped all plot lines but two, and all characters but the main four. So, part of my editing process became rebuilding, reconstructing and developing more characters. I also had decided to change the perspective of my narrator, which meant I needed to change every paragraph, every sentence and every word to fit this new third person perspective. It was a daunting task.
I decided the best way to edit my first book, would be to approach it like nothing I had ever editied before. This piece was a good 280 pages longer than anything I had ever written before, and as soon as I finished I knew there were another 200 pages, at least, that would be added. So, I made it smaller to deal with. I divided my book into three separate parts, and began from there. I also decided that, being absolutely in the mind of my main character after the first draft, that the best way to to retell the story would be to literally rewrite everything. I take the first draft of the scene, read it, and then rewrite it in third person. Not only and I achieving my original goals, but my writing has developed from the first draft. My diction is stronger than before, and I know where I am headed so I can make every thought head in that direction.
It is in the editing that my notes and maps became very important. I made sure all the events matched up on a time line, that all the characters would be remembered, and the story would be better told. Most of my editing process is spent over my sketch book, placing events. Now is the time I outline. I rebuild the first part over and over again, ensuring that all that needs to be revealed has been taken care of. The first part of my story is unrecognizable from the original draft. A beginning that was summed up in less than 40 pages, has been pushed to nearly 100.
There is no piece of constructing a story I do not enjoy. Even in this amazingly invested editing process that I have given myself, I am still excited to get back to work on its development. As for strengths and weaknesses, only an unbiased eye would be able to tell me honestly at the moment. But for my own credit this is what I have concluded…
- Strengths: Ability to develop characters, paragraph construction and diction.
- Weaknesses: Outlining, story organization and holding onto all characters / plots when writing.
I hope this was informative, if not helpful to those who decide to read it. I think it helped me some!