I don’t know about you, but I am fascinated by writers’ writing processes. Whether it’s sitting down from nine to noon every day, or carrying a notebook around and writing in the supermarket checkout line, I find everybody’s process weird and wonderful. (I wish I could remember which romance novelist it was that I read does her writing in her home office with the TV on all day. The things you learn reading People magazine at the dentist…). I get a lot of questions about my process (it’s the second most popular topic after self-publishing) so I’m sharing the answers here.
I write everything long hand first.
I think I write better this way, it’s super-portable, and I get a break from long workdays at the computer. Plus, I like longhand. I feel like my ideas flow better, and it also gives me an excuse to buy lots of pretty spiral notebooks and great pens.
I write in one-hour, three-page bursts.
This is it. I can take a break and then maybe do another 2-3 pages, but that’s it for the day. The well needs to refill, I need to wipe my sweaty brow and take a nap or have a cup of tea. I can write anywhere—desk, bed, car, dining room table, coffee shop, bookstore. But even if I sit there all day, I’m only going to get 3-6 pages that are worth anything.
Second draft goes on the computer, and then everything changes.
This is the biggest edit. Transferring my longhand version to the computer makes me really look at structure. Usually not one sentence makes it intact from the notebook to the Word document. And I don’t wait until the end to do this; every 10-20 ages of longhand I do the transfer because a) it’s really satisfying, and b) as the structure takes shape I get more of an idea of what I need to tackle next.
I don’t outline.
I do make in-no-particular-order writing lists, sometimes: lists of scenes, things to work in, amorphous floating ideas, and possible titles. (I also make lists of baby names for children I’m not going to have, books I’m not going to get around to reading, things I’m grateful for, and plants for my garden). Lists are kind of like outlines only not in any particular order and, most importantly, not associated in my mind with my god-awful eleventh grade history research paper. I love making lists, but I hardly ever go back and look at them, and I feel like an outline would take all the fun out of the process. (Like it did in eleventh grade.) I like seeing the picture emerge from the pieces and surprise me.
Full speed ahead, jump, backtrack.
With writing projects of any length, I start at the beginning (or what seems like something somewhere in the vicinity of the beginning), and write along for a while until I get an idea for the ending. Then I jump to the ending, and after that I backtrack and fill in whatever’s needed between the end of the beginning and the beginning of the end. Usually that’s not as much as I thought there would be when I made the jump. A couple of times I’ve pushed to do a short story from beginning to end, straight through, and it stretched out in the middle like a saggy clothesline.
Stitch it all together.
I often wish writing was like knitting a scarf: start at one end, work steadily to the other, fix mistakes when you see them. But writing is more like making a quilt: get a whole bunch of pieces and figure out how to arrange them, then stitch them together the way that pleases you. In the end, there are no mistakes, just the results of the choices you made.
Please describe your process in the comments, and, if you know happen to know who the writer is in paragraph one, please let me know!