I’ve long envied authors who have a process for writing each book. The ones who say, “Oh yes! I have a process. First I take an idea, then I do X, then Y, then Z. Then I have a book! Every time.”
Seems like a dream to start and complete a project the same way each time, simplifying it into a series of steps that almost magically come together as a book.
I’m a plotter, so I pay most attention to the processes of other plotters. Some use an elaborate sticky-note based plotting board (and there are about a dozen different ways to do this). Some outline and write longhand on yellow legal pads, then input the draft into the computer, editing as they go. Some frame their books the exact same way each time using fancy software that looks pretty, too. They all have a process.
Which I want.
I was describing this need for a ritual process to my friend, Cathy, the other day. “I just want to write every book the same way, so I know exactly what to do when I start a new book.” She asked me what my process is now. It usually looks like this:
1. Pick some shiny new thing I want to try, like Mindola’s SuperNotecard or the fascinating plotting board method my friend Lacey introduced to our writers’ group which made ah-ha bells go off in my head with its sheer beauty.
2. Throw myself into shiny new thing. I love it! It’s fabulous! My writing will forever be changed! I have a new process.
3. Decide shiny new thing might be tarnished or have too high of a learning curve, because I’m having a hard time. Not giving up on my new process though. Must make it work!
4. Two weeks later stare at half finished barely started book plot. Frustration builds at not being able to make this new process happen. Book won’t write itself, dammit.
5. Jot down a few scene ideas in Word so I don’t forget them while waiting for shiny new thing to start working for me again.
6. Squint at piece o’ crap shiny new process to see if it becomes clearer. It doesn’t. What am I missing?! Because clearly this is a piece of brilliance. People teach this thing in workshops! There are books written about this process!
7. Make a few more scene notes in Word. These are great scenes…or will be once I figure out where to put the damn things on the stupid chart/plotting board/notecard piles, etc.
8. Stare more, squint more. Curse a LOT. Sink into deep depression because this book isn’t working. Jot down a few more scene ideas in Word doc, hoping to salvage something from this idea.
9. Admit defeat. Painstakingly transfer what little data there is from shiny new thing into Word document divided into chapters then scenes. Notice gaps in threads and start filling in with new scene ideas. Catch the wave and do more plotting in a few days than I’ve done in the last month.
10. Now that excitement is back, give shiny new thing one more try.
11. Kick shiny new thing to curb. I just don’t get it.
12. Throw hands in the air and despair ever coming up with a process.
13. Build rest of book in Word doc, adding scenes as needed, filling in threads, fleshing out the book in detail. Get excited again!
14. Rejuvenated about book. Decide will try to figure out process with NEXT book.
By the time I’m done with this recitation, my friend is practically rolling on the floor unable to control her laughter. “So that’s your process!”
“No it’s not!” I protest. “I don’t have a process.”
“What about the Word doc? Writing out the scenes as they come to you and filling in the blanks, expanding until you have your book outline? That’s your process.”
I shake my head, “No. That’s just what I do when I give up trying to find my process.”
More hysterical laughter. “That’s your process!”
Then of course, because Cathy likes to poke people and make them think (this can be both a blessing and a curse to have in a friend), she asks me why I am resisting this as my process.
After glaring at her for a few moments (because it’s not nice to ask people hard questions), I say, “Nobody ever teaches that as a process for writing a book. They teach things like plotting boards with pretty sticky notes. Or Liquid Story Binder. Or working with elaborate W plot structures. Nobody tells you to open a Word document and just start making scene notes until you flesh out a whole book.”
The laughter completely dies down and she gives me that look. “Well maybe somebody should teach that.”
Clearly I have a problem with comparing my process to other writer’s processes and feeling that mine comes up short. Not the way of a Happy Writer.
There’s nothing wrong with my process. So, what if, next time I start a book, I start it the way I always end up doing it anyway? With a clean new Word document and that first scene idea that is always floating around in my head. What if, instead of purposely taking the wrong path because of some mistaken idea that that path is better, I just take the path I know leads me to where I want to go in the first place? The one I will end up going back to when I get lost on the other path.
If I need help later in the process, I can always try something else. But for now, I think it’s time to accept that I do have a process and to stop resisting it.
What about you? Do you have a process? Do you like it or are you always struggling to find a new process? What makes you try new processes for writing a book…because your process doesn’t work or because you think it’s wrong because “no one else does it that way?”