Stand at the typewriter and bleed, said Mr Hemingway. There’s nothing else to the writing process, right? If only it was that simple really. This is where I share my writing process. Of course, this isn’t the end all and be all of writing process. Much like generating ideas, you have to find what works for you.
Yes, bleeding at the typewriter is certainly part of it. It’s certainly a good way to start. Read on and see how I do it.
Stage 1 – Get the Words Out
First things first: I get rid of the notion that I’m suffering from writer’s block. I definitely don’t wait until I feel inspired (that would mean that I only write on Monday nights right before I pass out).
My butt needs to be in my designated chair. Silence is best, but if it cannot be guaranteed, music without lyrics works well (soundtracks and classical music, no club music). I try not to spend too much time choosing or setting up the latter. While music can do wonders to get you into a particular frame of mind, for now I just need neutrality.
I put my phone on silent and try to avoid social media. I put off ‘research’ until later – the last thing I want is to get lost in a YouTube spiral (it happens to all of us). I also try, with all my might, not to keep refreshing my emails or my amazon stats – not only is this unproductive, it’s depressing.
Now that I’ve sat myself down, I reach for a pen and paper. Yes, the old fashioned way. I believe that it was Neil Gaiman who suggested this (citation needed) as pen and paper is ‘slower’ and therefore gives you more time to think. This method seems silly and daunting – especially if you are intimidated by retyping it all later. But, this really works for me.
I make these notes as messy as possible – I even scribble in the margins and make little drawings. This doesn’t bother me because I know that no one will ever see these note – this liberates me. I don’t make many corrections as all that matters is the idea.
I bleed onto the page.
Stage 2 – Inky Alchemy
Now I have this mess on a page. I pull my laptop closer, get my word processor ready, and I probably make myself a cup of coffee. Once the coffee is made, I usher the cup back to my laptop, still avoiding distractions. I feel like a body guard shielding my client from the crossfire.
Back at my laptop, I start typing up my notes. This is where the Inky Alchemy comes in. That’s how I think of it, at least. It’s this strange process where the stuff on paper becomes something readable on screen. To me, this feels like where writing is actually happening.
To trigger it, I read what my messy notes say and I unmangle it slightly. If you managed to capture the central idea during stage 1, your mangled sentence will be ironed out by this idea. Remember, I wrote the mangled sentence when I was still ‘discovering’ the story. Now I know what I want to say, now I can fix it.*
I know that practice made this process easier. Now mangled paragraphs become unmangled pages. I always find that I type slightly more than I wrote. I go with the flow, I capture all the words – those on the page and those that are growing right now.
*I often stop with the pen and paper stage when I feel as if I have the whole idea out on the page.
Stage 3 – The Connecty Bits
Usually there are bridging sentences or scenes that I leave out. Once I finished magicking the written stuff onto the screen, I go back and fill these in. It usually helps to read the section before and the section after – if I guess, things get inconsistent.
Sometimes connecty bits become whole scenes. Sometimes I let this happen, but most times I try not to over indulge.
Stage 4 – Embrace the Flow
I keep writing as long as the (micro-level) idea is alive – even if it isn’t in my messy notes. Ride the wave as long as I feel it. I also guard against going too far off in a tangent. To do this, I remind myself that I am not exploring or experimenting here, I’m laying bricks. This is an activity that requires some restraint, measurement, and forethought.
Eventually, the ‘flow’ ends and I’m wondering what to do next. This is when I go to the next stage.
Stage 5 – Rinse & Repeat
I select the next scene or chapter I want to write. If I have an outline (which I usually do for bigger projects – more on that later) I look for a plot point or something that needs a scene. I decide on what should and shouldn’t happen (the central idea) and I go back to my pen and paper.
I repeat stage 1 to 5 over and over until work time is done – this is usually dinner time.
Before I know it, I’ve written thousands of words. Before I know it, the work is done. Now it’s time for the next stage.
Stage 6 – Hear Voices
It’s time for me to ‘listen’ to my story. It’s all written now, but is it alive?
Generally, it is best to read the story out loud. You can even get someone (trustworthy) to read it out for you. Sometimes I am in situations where reading aloud would be awkward, so I use a ‘text to voice’ program (there is one built into Word, but there are many free ones online). The more robotic the better – yes, you read that right. The unnatural tone will make ‘wrong’ words or awkward phrasing stick out more. Trust me on this.
If I’m happy with this, I move on to the next chapter/segment/project. If not, I go to stage 7.
Stage 7 – Write it Again
Writing is rewriting. It’s a fact of nature. While I can tweak things that are just slightly off, sometimes I am forced to kill off sections that don’t work. This often happens in larger projects and when the plot changes direction.
While outlines can help mitigate this, I usually have to rewrite something. It could be as small as the tone or POV of a scene, or as big as an entire character. If it doesn’t work for me initially, it won’t work for the reader.
For rewrites I follow stage 1-5 again, but if I’m unsure how to fix it, I add an extra step. I take a deep dive and ask myself what I’m trying to say or show in the section I am rewriting. I make messy notes on this too. Once I narrow it down to two or three main ‘objectives’, I start with stage 1 again (while continually referring back to those objectives).
Once projects are complete, I send them off to my beta readers and query them once everything is finalized. The query process is another thing altogether.
These stages work for me. They help me maintain a constant work-flow and helps me finish things. While many projects never make it to print (yet), I know that my writing improves with everything I finish. Finishing things is more important than almost finishing something – okay, that sounds silly, but I promise you there’s a major difference.
Try this method for yourself. Does it work for you? Or do you do something else? I’d love to hear about it. Please comment below.
The Last Word
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