Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What's Your Process?

"One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly.  I tell myself that I'm going to do my five or 10 pages, no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want.  I'll have lost nothing -- writing and rearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off." --Lawrence Block,WD

I've never been a fast writer.  I've always let my inner critic dictate the pace because I'd languish over each sentence, editing as I wrote and then re-editing the next day before starting a new section.  I couldn't understand how anyone could write 1,000 words in a hour.  Most days I'd be lucky to get 250 words done in a hour.

After I finished the first draft of Finding Meara, I realized all the time I took to edit as I wrote didn't prevent me from having to edit and revise.  When I started the next work in progress, I decided I wanted to try writing quickly.

Courtesy of Free Digital Photos
Putting all the knowledge I've learned about myself and my writing process together with some articles I've read about increasing writing speed, I came up with the following plan.

1.  I plot.  Not just a few scenes in a row, but the whole book.  While writing FM I realized that if I sat down at the computer without an idea of where the characters were going I'd get lost in daydreaming the potentialities and not write.  By knowing what is going to happen before I sit down at the computer, I spend the time getting what I see in my head transformed into words on the page.

2.  I write in short spurts.  By writing as fast as I can for fifteen minutes and then having some time to think between spurts, I can organize my thoughts and be ready to go again after a short break.  This technique by itself has increased my word production monumentally.

3. I am learning to turn off my inner critic.  It's hard. Really hard.  I keep thinking I'm writing crap. That's why I included the Lawrence Block quote above.  If I write crap, and I tear it up or can't use it later, I'm in no worse shape than if I didn't write anything at all.  And the chances are actually pretty good I'll be able to edit at least some of the crap into usable shape later.

Trying out this new method, I have been clipping along, consistently writing 250 - 300 words in a fifteen minute block.  I tend to write more regularly, because I only have to write for fifteen minutes to get a decent amount of words down.  Also, finding fifteen minutes to write is a whole lot easier than finding forty-five minutes to an hour to write.

I know that what I'm trying out wouldn't work for everyone. Each writer has their own personality and cognitive processes that direct their creative process.  So, I'm curious! How do you write?  Are you concerned with speed, or are you content to let the words happen as they may?  Has your writing process changed much over time?  Please share!


  1. I'm about the opposite of you, I guess. I just write. Usually I'll have that idea of where it's going, I do write down notes in a notebook, but then I skip around to whatever I get excited about. I rarely write in order. Of course that's because I don't always know ALL the details. I don't plot it all out.

    If I mistype something, I'll fix it usually. That doesn't slow me down. But I don't go back at the end of a writing session and edit.

    Which means in the end, I probably spend more time editing. Due to my pantsting.

    But it works for me.

    For my next WIP I'd like to try plotting it out to see how I do with that. Right now I only have the basic premise and a few ideas. But I'm not ready to start until I start querying the other one.

  2. I am just trying a fast draft at the moment to see if it works for me. V interested in the fifteen min blocks, might give that's go!

  3. @Suzi - I hadn't plotted a whole novel before this summer. I was surprised that I liked it. It got kind of tough toward the end, but it really feels like my first draft in short-hand form.

    @VikLit - I am in awe of people who can pants. I really am. It's just not a technique that works for me. The differences between writers fascinates me. :)

  4. Great post, and love the Block quote, Lara. I think that's what finally freed me up to rewrite my opening (after much whining). I'm pretty sure it still sucks, but I'm not looking back until I'm done with the revisions.

    As for the 15 min. spurts, sounds interesting. I have to 'get in the zone,' and some days it's harder than others. I start out by checking my scene outline and reading a bit of the previous day's work, and put on the appropriate music, then 'try' to just go. Some days more successfully than others.

    It is fun learning about the processes of others! Great post!

  5. Love process! Mine's changing (evolving?) all the time. I do tend to pants it through my first draft, but then I look at larger structural issues (timelines, major plots points, etc.). Then I get into finer and finer detail.
    I write most nights, but sometimes I don't get to my novel and I have to content myself with blogging, or working on a short story submission.
    Loved hearing about your process :)

  6. I love that you've developed a writing style that not only keeps you writing every day, but also fits well into your lifestyle. The idea of short burst writing sounds like a great technique! :) And I agree, we have to turn off the inner critique, but it's so hard to do. This was a wonderful post, Lara.

  7. I love that you've developed a writing style that not only keeps you writing every day, but also fits well into your lifestyle. The idea of short burst writing sounds like a great technique! :) And I agree, we have to turn off the inner critique, but it's so hard to do. This was a wonderful post, Lara.

  8. I plot out my books with rough ideas of what will happen to my characters then dive in. First draft I do my best to keep moving forward to meet my writing deadline. Second draft, I clean and polish and correct any plot deviations that I don't think fit and maintain consistencies. Third draft, polish a bunch more, look for extra opportunities to make the book shine and choose the very best words. When the book's all done, I send it off hoping for the very best results. I take a little break, celebrate another accomplishment and move on to another book. Sometimes years go by before I find a home for the book. But I try not to dwell on it.

  9. My best writing (and often the sloppiest, needing the most revisions) is the writing I do when I type without stopping. I give myself permission to write poorly. I just keep typing. If I can't find the right word or phrase, I type __________ and keep going (and these underlines are easy to find when revising and editing).

  10. I truly wish I could plot like you do, Lara, but I can't make myself do it. I have an overall plot in mind, of course, before I start, but my characters often lead me to unexpected places.

    Because of not plotting, I often find myself needing to go back and either rewrite a scene or add a scene to make the story flow into what I'm currently writing.

    Since you seemed to like my first two novellas, I guess it must work at least reasonably well. But I still sorta wish I could plot.

  11. I have a REALLY hard time with #3.

  12. @Vaughn - Permission to suck is so important, and so hard to give. I still struggle with wanting to "fix" everything I've written so far. And I agree, I love hearing how other people write. :)

    @Melanie - I finally started counting blogging into my daily writing this year. For a long time I felt like I was cheating, but time constraints are there, and it IS writing, after all!

    @D.D. - It keeps me writing most days - as long as I don't avoid writing. Lately I've run into the need to "see" where my story is taking place physically and so haven't written the last couple days to check out the Yale Campus. Again, only so much time in the day, but I've got a much better handle on what to write next.

    @Cindy - I like that you get in and get out of writing a book. I'm hoping to develop my style to that point.

    @Karen - I'm trying to get there. I agree that the speed with which I type does lend itself to some of the more creative passages. I'm 100% sure it's because I don't think and just write!

    @David - the thing about plotting is that you can still have movement within the outline. It's not rigid, just a starting place. And I do like Fancy, so I think you're right!

    @Nina - Right, huh? :oD

  13. Glad you are doing No. 3 and the 15 minutes? Do you write everything on the computer or do your 15-minute intervals end up on the computer and in notebooks? I probably should use drop box more efficiently, so I could write more on different platforms like the laptop, iPad, etc. The key is always to write!

  14. I'm an "edit as you go" kind of gal. And you're right - while it doesn't stop you from having to edit later, I DO think it helps with FEWER edits and eliminates giant overhauls. I can't seem to write any other way... I've even been this way with my freelance magazine articles.

    I loosely plot so that I CAN let the characters reveal new scenes/ideas for me.

    You're right, though, there is no 'one size fits all' model for writing technique. Great post, Lara!

  15. @Stacy - I downloaded Scrivener on to my laptop, so if I write, I write on it. Blog posts, though, can be written anywhere! I haven't been so good with writing each day for the last week because I've been editing and I just don't have time to do both at night. I'm trying to get lunchtime writing going again!

    @Melissa - Thanks for coming by! I know - each writer has their own methods. The neat thing is there is so many different ways to produce / be creative.


I'd love to hear your thoughts! Please leave your comments below.


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