Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Writing Process, or My Messy Desk

I learned a new writing term in the past few months. "Pantser." So before your mind goes wild with whatever that may conjure up - in writing terms, it means somebody who writes "by the seat of their pants." Like Me.

I eschew writing from an outline (boring) or trying to write a story arc (or is that arch? - I'm never sure.) I always begin a novel with a character whose story is begging to be told. And I progress for awhile, by the seat of my pants, hoping that the words will somehow find their way out of the ether and through my fingers onto the keyboard and miraculously appear as grand literature on my computer screen.

This method works for awhile (well, maybe not the grand literature part) but at some point I begin to wonder how much time has actually passed, and what chapter did that part about the puppies come in?

And so I break down and write a time line for myself. Here's what it looks like, about half-way through my latest middle-grade novel:

Notice I have made tiny summaries of what goes on in each chapter, circling dates and making notes about what important items were mentioned where. This helps immensely at this point. I can see what I have so far, digest where I have to go, and how many chapters it might take to get me there.

The copious sticky notes, by the way, are my way of jotting down ideas that come to my head, and things I don't want to forget. Some people use bulletin boards for this. Some writers have a separate word document open at all times on which to write notes. I like to scribble.

I have also drawn a crude map of the make-believe area where the story (so far) takes place, so I can keep track of distances and generally get a better feel for all that stuff coming at me out of the ether. Oh, yeah, and that's my little buddy Grover sitting over there on the right.

Thought you might enjoy watching this process. Hopefully in a few more months I will have that entire time-line filled in and the first draft of my novel finished. Now back to work . . .


Lunar Amyscope said...

Holy organized Batman! I also do a timeline, but mine is in a boring old notebook. I want a desk like that!

Greg Trine said...

Amen to writing by the seat of your pants. I tend to do the same...get the story started, see if I can make the paragraphs work, then take a look what it looks like and revise until I'm satisfied.


Farmgirl_dk: said...

Love the picture of your desk - I can imagine you sitting there, typing madly for a bit, then turning to review a note here and jot something down's fun to learn about another person's creativity process! And I like Grover. :-)
Tell me, since I don't know about publishing a book - the whole continuity thing - is it your responsibility as a writer to make sure you remember the details of what happens in which chapter or that the color of the socks the character puts on in chapter 2 is the same one as what she takes off in chapter 3? Or, since you have a publisher and agent now, do they supply you with a continuity checker? I've always wondered this.

Linda Benson said...

Amy - I've done chapter by chapter time lines in a notebook, too, but this method (four sheets of yellow paper sticky-taped together on the back -lol)works well for me now. And you can use a card table or the kitchen table!

Greg- Like you, I rather enjoy not knowing where the story will lead me. And I can usually keep track of everything up until about 25,000 words, at which point I need something to help me see what I've got so far. Do you find the same?

Danni - yes, today, even with an editor and an agent, you pretty much need to have all your ducks in a row, i. e. turn in the most polished, detail-checked story that you can. They might suggest larger fixes, like plot or character development, but it's really up to the author (maybe with the help of their critique group or first readers, or a wonderful agent like mine) to have all that small stuff (like sock color) ironed out before hand. A copy editor would hopefully check for small mistakes before the book goes to press, but in my opinion, the buck stops here, and it can be a bit painstaking to remember everything you wrote down. (Which is why some people even have separate charts, etc. to keep track of all that small stuff.)

Vonna said...

I don't know why, but I always like seeing where other writers work.

My story ideas first spring from a what if thought but don't turn into a WIP unless a character immediately jumps up and claims that idea. I'm a devoted fan of outlines, but first I also make a timeline of the main events. After I am satisfied that I haven't put the cart before the horse, I write out a detailed outline. At first I found writing outlines to be a chore, but now it's fun and provides a great prompt as I sit down to write each day.