Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Our Writing Processes

Instead of a favorite book, this week, we're going to tell you about how we each approach writing.

At Camp NaNoWriMo, there was recently this great post about Planners versus Pantsers. Planners write outlines, make character notes, etc. before they start the novel-in-a-month attempt, and Pantsers fly by the seat of their pants (thus the name). I'm somewhere between the two.

This is approximately what I think the contents of my brain look like when I'm writing. Each of those pieces of paper is an idea related to a story - not necessarily the one I'm working on at the moment - and if the photo were more accurate, they'd be actively throwing themselves at the woman's face.

In an effort to fight back the avalanche of ideas threatening to suffocate me, I usually try to start with an outline. I didn't do this with Epilogue, and it suffered for that. Since then, I've tried using the plot diagram to remind myself what is supposed to be happening at what point in the story.

The plot diagram
I think it will help, but we won't know until the end of April, when I'm finished with round one of Camp NaNoWriMo. Usually the part I get stuck on is the climax. I can think up exposition and rising action like a champ, but the climax, falling action, and resolution are the bane of my writing.

Not this kind of Bane.
Naming characters is one of my favorite things to do. I usually have a pretty good idea of what characters I will be needing, so I try to do this early on. I'm terrible at describing characters (I believe one reader of Epilogue told me I described a person only three times in the entire book) so I tend to avoid it, which is something I'm working on. I name my characters using (I pick a meaning and a "feeling" I want - Celtic, Arabian, etc. - and find an appropriate name).

I do all of my novel-writing on the computer. I have one graphic novel and one picture book in progress, and they are both in composition notebooks. I find that it's easier to write in those formats when I can sketch in the margins and use arrows and side-notes. When writing novels on the computer, I just open a new Word document and start typing. I tend to keep a separate Word document (with the same name as the draft, with "_notes" at the end) to remind myself why I picked certain characters' names, or details about them. (I've been told that I gave Chaya two different birthdays in Epilogue, which is likely because I stopped using my notes page after about 5,000 words. Also because I did NO EDITING.)

I would store my soul on this thing if I could.

I have a flash drive that I think of as the three Ws: work, writing, and wedding planning. The writing folder is where I keep all of my works in progress.

I also carry a mini sketch pad with me most of the time. It is mostly intended for writing ideas, but sometimes it is subjected to a grocery list or mindless doodle.

So, as you can see, my writing process is "throw things at the wall until they stick" rather than "sit at a tidy desk with some pleasant background music and a cup of tea and type things that completely make sense." But I feel like most authors have a style more like the former than the latter, and I find that comforting. (Besides, I don't like tea.)

If that picture is Alex, then this picture is me:

I am a "sit down and write it" kind of person.  No outline or pre-planning, not really.  To be fair, most of my novels have come to fruition during NaNoWriMo, where I'm just happy to get 50K out.

I am really great at ideas, but sometimes, the execution doesn't always come to me like I think that it should.  Probably one of the best novels I've written is "I See" (the one that Alex is reviewing on Friday), mainly because I like the idea and it's gone through the most revisions.

When I went back to edit "I See", I used a lot more tools.  Through the first revision, I utilized an excel spreadsheet for my characters.  Every time I would describe them, I would throw it on the sheet (IE. Age, hair, sex, eyes, relationship to the protagonist, grade, the class that they taught.  Whatever I thought was relevant.)  It actually helped a LOT.  I would also rewrite sections of my books, out of context.  You need to pull away from a book to really understand where you're messing it up.

This past year, I used my NaNo discount to by Scrivner.  It was honestly one of the best decisions that I ever made.  It keeps my information for my characters all separate and it gives me 20 different ways to view my novel in and a million organization tools.

This is pretty much how my Scrivner looks.  It's an organized chaos.

Not to mention a place to keep all my research.  Which, with the new book that I'm doing, will come in handy.  I'll have more than just my account and stories, so it will be a good place to store it all.

I'm like Alex about descriptions.  TERRIBLE.  To be fair, I've been working hard on trying to fix that.  Also, I have been told my dialogue is exceptionally good (which can be really hard to do.)  And I was told this quite some time ago when I was way worse at writing than I am now.  I've been told it a few times since.  So I feel like even though I'm awful at one thing, at least I'm good at the other thing.

I think a good way to gauge your descriptions is to read someone who is outstandingly good at it.  Margaret Atwood is someone who stands out as an exceptional description writer (it's like reading a dream.)  Tolkien also has amazing description powers.  Read them and you'll realize how terrible your "good" descriptions are. XD

My problem is also making sure that all the facts line up in my story.  After 50K words, things like dates and names and descriptions can get wonky.  I think that my love interest in "I See" started out with a different name in the beginning and I changed it halfway through without realizing it.  Spreadsheets are an awesome way to keep track of these kinds of things, as is an outline, or even index cards posted up on a bulletin board with brief descriptions of characters/places/chapters.

Most of my stuff is kept on my computer (where I type everything.)  I do have a flash drive that I carry around, mainly so I have a backup. 

My super awesome co-blogger Alex bought me this for my birthday!
It's a bracelet that turns into a USB!

  I have found, however, that sometimes it's good to put pen to paper.  The change of scene, atmosphere and even a habit like writing on a computer can make you think of things that you may not have before.  This past NaNo, I went to Starbucks a lot and people watched as I wrote.  Or I went to the library and wrote (that way I didn't have to buy a drink.)

What do you do to get the creative juices going?  Leave us a comment telling us what you like to do best when you write!!


  1. You guys and your flash may want to try out google docs. :)

  2. I also should add...I only write for fun and not with any real intent, I just do it sometimes when I get bored. That said, every story has it's own folder with three necessary documents: the story, a character sheet, and a notes document that includes research, deleted bits of the story, unique words and terms for things (one story includes a made-up language.), and random bric-a-brac. The character sheet always has a physical description and an analysis of their personality. Sometimes I forget what color eyes a person has or how tall they are or something, so it helps. Sometimes I even forget how to spell their names. x.x I also will, a lot of the time, go and choose an actor I feel looks like the character and try to describe them, face-wise. Cause I suck at describing facial features and doing that helps me. Plus I like visuals. Sometimes I make other docs with various world building things in it.

    All of it is in google docs tho. You also can share it out and collaboratively work or get feedback. It's handy.

    Unrelated: the comment capcha is annoying. :/

    1. Google docs is all well and good... until your job blocks gmail. Or Google docs, for that matter (don't laugh; I've worked for places that did it.) In fact, when I worked for the library at CNU, they pretty much blocked the entire internet at the front desk. You never have to worry about a flash drive being blocked.

      Also, though this is probably no longer true, one year I tried to upload my NaNo and save it there, and it told me the file was too large...

      Oh man, I forget things like names and character descriptions all the time. Cassandra started out with blond hair, was switched to red halfway through, until I finally went back and changed it to red for the whole thing.

      I... can't do much about the capcha. Sorry.

    2. This is true...although it's possible to block external media, too. Some places do...I've worked in them before.

      The file upload limit is, I believe, 50mb. I didn't upload things tho, I just made a new doc and then copied and pasted the entire thing. ctrl a, ctrl c, ctrl v.

      I've done the same thing...especially with names. x.x

      It's too bad they don't have an option for only requiring it of people who want to post anon.

  3. Yeah, Google Docs used to be my favorite thing in the world... and then it started having issues. (Somewhere between the explosion in popularity of Droid phones and when Google Docs became Google Drive.) I still use it for every-once-in-a-while things (saving confirmation numbers for my online bill paying, for example, and ideas for birthday/Christmas gifts to give in future) but I wouldn't use it every day anymore.

  4. Totally forgot about Camp. I need to stop by the nano site.

    For me I have to find the right balance. Too much planning and the idea drowns, too little and I lose focus. I've tried different things and read different books, I really liked some of the things in James S. Bell book as well as Lamont's Bird by Bird. I think whenever I get overwhelmed or worry I just take a deep breath and try to reel myself back in because writing is an exercise not meant for the weak. You have to have a strong will to see a story through to the end and to revisit multiple times.

    My process isn't static, in fact depending on the project it changes. This is probably why I haven't completed a first draft in awhile but it's a learning process. So I haven't defined the best method for me but I tend to do more of what you do Alex.

    I do back up my novel by sending it to an email acct that's strictly for writing. Also I tend to handwrite my stories so I have specific a bountiful amount of notebooks that have story notes, chapters, ideas, comic doodles, etc

    I'm also 100% with you on Scrivener Cassie. In fact you just reminded me I need to buy it.

    Awesome post!

    ::cough:: zombie ::cough::

    1. OMG, Lamont's Bird by Bird.

      A friend recommended that to me (or, bought it for me I think) and it was A-MAZ-ING. Truly fantastic. I would recommend it to EVERYONE.

      (I actually almost put it in... either this post or my last one, but decided not to. I'm glad you mentioned it.)


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