Monday, January 2, 2012
What the Heck was I Thinking? Reevaluating Your Writing Process
Beginnings are great times to reevaluate things. Be it the start of the week, month, year or even the start of a new novel, taking time to step back and ask, “am I doing this the best way I can?” can be incredibly helpful.
Several blog posts over the last month started me thinking while I was finishing up my current YA project. One was this wonderful post by Jami Gold on What Do You Suck At? She urges writers to admit and own up to where our writing skills are weak so we can improve them. Around that same time, the always helpful Kristen Lamb had one of her awesome posts on antagonists. Then to cap it off, YA Highway linked to a remarkable post by Rachel Aaron on writing 10,000 words a day.
I couldn’t get these posts out of my head. What did I suck at? Endings. I always have to write them several times to get them right, even though I know what makes a good one. Why did I suck at endings? Typically because I rush them once I get to the end (I just want the book over so I can start revising), but for this particular YA novel, it was because I didn’t know my antag’s goal well enough. What did this have to do with writing 10K words a day? Because I kept getting stuck in my current project because I didn’t know enough about what was going to happen, because I didn’t know what my antag was doing, and I didn’t really know what he ultimately wanted beyond a vague plot point. (Something Rachel covers in her post)
So it’s time to change how I write.
My process evolves all the time, so this isn’t a huge deal. Whenever I hear about something that sounds intriguing, I try it out. But I meet frustrated folks all the time who struggle with their writing. They try to do what works for others or they try to write “the right way” and that’s not a way that works for them. I’m a firm believer in always striving to improve your craft to tell the best stories you can. Even if everything is going well in your writing, it might be worth taking a minute to think about what you can do to improve.
Here’s a 2012 challenge for you:
What aspects of your writing can you work on this year?
Even if it’s one small area, take a step to being better. If you’re just starting out and have a lot of places to grow, try picking one per month and working on mastering that before moving on. If you’re solid in all your craft techniques, try looking at your process, or your story ideas. Make an effort to do something to improve how you write.
This is what I’m working on this year:
1. My endings
2. Writing more in less time
How I plan to do this:
1. Really know my antags and their goals in the outline process. I always have a basic idea of what has to happen in the end, but sometimes that’s pretty vague. With my current project, the antag’s plan is critical to what the protags do, so being vague here caused me a lot of extra work and revision. (it has a strong mystery plot).
I have a mystery writer friend who always plots out exactly what her killer does before she writes a book. Since the protag is trying to solve that murder, it makes perfect sense to know where the bad guy is at all times and how that affects your heroes. This is a trick that easily translates to other genres with mystery elements.
For stories where the antag isn’t so critical, (not working off a plan of their own) I’ll spend more time thinking about the ending and what’s going to happen--what constitutes that win in a more specific way. (Here’s where all that practice writing hook lines will come in handy. If I can’t state what the end goal is, I need to do more work)
What I hope to gain from this: To avoid the inevitable slow down I always hit when I get within a few chapters of being done. To have a clearer picture going in of the ending, which will make the rest of the book easier to plot in a first draft. To make early drafts more solid and require less revision after the story gets down on paper.
2. Inspired by Rachel’s post, I’m going to go back to my outlines. She talks about doing a pre-writing summary before she starts each day and jots down what’s going to happen in the scene she’s about to write. Sometimes I do this and sometimes not, and it hit me that when I do, I actually am more productive. So why wasn't I doing this every writing session before every scene?
What I hope to gain from this: To write more in less time, and write more keeper scenes than brainstorm scenes (scenes where I write them to see how it plays out, then revise heavily later).
I know I work better from a plan, and I’ve veered away from some of the things I’ve always been successful with. I think being a little more structured is going to make me more productive, and hopefully allow me to write better books.
What about you? Do you have any areas you’d like to work on this year? What about your process? Is it the best it can be for you? Any places you might tweak and see if it helps?