Since it’s the New Year, I thought I’d write about my creative process from beginning to end.
I have a bunch of random ideas that I pluck when I’m ready. Most of them are pretty vague. Like in my writing group, we were talking about a movie with giant robots, so I thought that would be kind of cool for a story. Can robots be ghosts?
Start the story
Then I start the story. I don’t do any prep. I don’t figure out any major events of the story or come up with the ending. Nothing of what typically gets recommended that writers “should” do. If I do any of those things, the critical voice takes over and wrecks the story.
I just follow the front of the story. It’s hard in the beginning. In fact, it’s sometimes really scary starting the story. Part of me is screaming, “I don’t know what’s going to happen.” That’s critical brain freaking out. It feels like that scene in Indiana Jones where he steps off the cliff and has to trust that he’s doing the right thing. Writing like this is really about trusting yourself. I’ve found that while the beginning is always scary, it gets easier to manage the more I write.
I sort of write in order and sort of don’t. I may hop ahead in a scene and write something, then hop back and write something, then rearrange things. Other things come out of the story right away, and I dropped those in an extras file so I can still count it as part of my word count. Scrivener will show a negative word count if I delete too much, even though I’ve done a lot of work. My process is very messy though while creative brain tries out different things. It may be like a fussy dog that picks up a bone, then abandons it, then goes back to it again (in my case, types the sentence I just moved to extras file), abandons it again, and find works around that it really wanted this other bone.
The first chapter usually comes out pretty stable. Most of what’s in it will be what I use when I’m done. That wasn’t always the case, but something that evolved as I added new writing skills. It used to be that I started in the wrong place and it was hard figuring out where that was. That’s why doing more stories—and not repeating the same mistakes—has been so helpful.
After that, I write and cycle. Cycling is something that many writers mistake for revision or editing (terms they use interchangeably and shouldn’t). The definitions:
Revision/Editing: Oh no! This is horrible! What was I thinking when I wrote that? It’s garbage. I have to fix it.
Tweak that word. Tweak this word. I have to make it perfect.
Cycling: This way cool thing just came into my story. I have to go back to chapter 2 and add a paragraph for it. Hmm. And maybe I need a scene with this character, too. Ooh, and I just got this idea! (shuffles off to Chapter 9.)
My cycling is more random than other writers describe it. They typically go back a scene or 500 words. I tend to bounce around the story like a pinball machine. The scenes all connect in my head, so if I adding something to one scene, those brain cells fire and remind me that it’s in another scene, too. A lot of it is adding a sentence or two.
The key to cycling is to not leave any big issues unfinished. That’s where revision itself becomes extra work—if an important scene is left for the revision because it’s too hard (guilty), then everything that follows will be broken because of that missing scene. Cycling forces me to think about why something is not working instead of skipping it.
I also use cycling for proofreading. I make many, many passes over the story to catch typos. Considering how many I know I make, I’ve been impressed that my copy editor typically only finds one or two in an entire novel—and it’s usually a harder one that was easy to miss. Like typing statement instead of stateroom, which I do pretty regularly.
As I get near the climax of the story, I’ll get an irresistible urge to cycle through the entire story. I’ll start at the beginning and scan through it. I’m looking for more typos and stubs that don’t fit in with the story. My creative side likes to puts stuff in, and a lot of it I do use. But sometimes it puts something in and then forgets it’s there and never uses it. I used to have a lot of stubs at one point—attempting outlining caused them to breed. My creative side wasn’t happy that critical side was directing the story, so it left them everywhere, including way out of order. Then, it was hundreds of stubs. Now it’s two or three.
Finishing the Story
This part of the process is making sure everything is pulled together and fits so I can hit the ending at a run without worrying about anything else. Then it’s write straight through to the end and cycle a few more times to make sure I’ve nailed the ending…and the story is done.
The whole process keeps evolving. Next year, it’ll probably be different.