In late 2013, I made a big decision: I left my job in university administration to become a full-time writer. I was simply ready for a change and, thanks to some major changes my husband and I made, we were finally able to truly afford it. We paid off our debts and stuck to a budget. We’re replacing one of our vehicles with a bicycle and cooking more meals at home—among other cost-saving measures. The choice to focus on writing full time for a few years isn’t without risks—it was a tough decision made after many late nights of thinking and number crunching, but I knew in my gut that it was time.
So now, here I am, rested and ready to don the cloak of full-time writer. And, I realize, I need a new approach to writing.
The old, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants way…
The old approach went something like this: I would take an initial idea—usually a character, image, or bit of setting or scene—and run with it, writing a first draft until, inevitably, I wrote myself into a corner. (Attention, fellow pantsers: Does this sound familiar?) Now stuck, I would go back to the beginning and rewrite until I had a plot that remotely made sense. I didn’t worry about how bad it was, how many holes or inconsistencies there were. After all, I could always revise. As a result, I was ending up with second or third drafts that were more like crappy first drafts. I made so many course corrections along the way that even my third drafts felt disjointed and unpolished. This approach worked fine when I was a novice, just dipping my toe into the waters of the craft. But I’m a few years along in my journey now, and, quite frankly, some examination of this process was necessary.
Last year, I began to examine my writing patterns. Why wasn’t it working? Why was I getting stuck so quickly? Why couldn’t I stick to an outline? Honestly, I didn’t get much writing down last year—some, but not nearly as much as previous years. I was stuck in my practice without knowing how to get better.
I realized that I needed a new approach. I’m a different writer now than I was five or six years ago. The old way just wasn’t working. So, with my latest WIP, “Good, Old-Fashioned Magic,” I’m trying a new approach.
A new approach—blending pantser and plotter methods…
First off, I’m trying to understand my characters better earlier in the process. After I got a couple chapters of the story down, I realized I wanted to know who my characters were as I was writing each scene and chapter. So I spent a lot of time doing character exercises and histories, including for my villain. Since the characters’ actions and reactions drive the story, it’s essential I know who they are and how they would think or behave from chapter one, page one. I don’t need to know everything about my world and my characters, but I’m trying to get to know them better before I’m too deep into the story. This way, hopefully the overall plot is more character driven and their reactions are more consistent and natural.
Secondly, all those years as an editor have given me a sharp critical eye. While it’s tougher now to silence my inner critic, I’m also better at seeing where a scene is working and where it’s not. Armed with that knowledge, I’m trying to revise each chapter once—just once, not ten times—before moving on to the next scene.
Hopefully, this new approach means that I end up with a more cohesive draft on the first go. I don’t expect that draft to be perfectly polished and publishable (how’s that for a tongue twister?), but I’m hoping to avoid the days where my third draft was really a first draft because it took me that long to figure out what the heck was going on.
What about your process?
Have you ever tried changing up your writing process? Process is such a personal, individualized part of being an artist, so what works for one person won’t necessarily work for someone else. It can take time to find a method that works. Have you ever reached a creative crossroads where you assessed your process and realized it was time for a change? If so, what changes did you make, and how did they help you along your journey?
#ROW80: 2014 Round 1 goals
That being said, here are my goals for A Round of Words in 80 Days (the writing challenge that knows you have a life):
- Write/polish one chapter per week in WIP, “Good, Old-Fashioned Magic.”
- Read, at minimum, the following books to hone my craft:
- “Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish with Confidence” by Roz Morris
- “The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great” by Donald Maass
- “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” by Stephen King
- “Walking in This World: The Practical Art of Creativity” by Julia Cameron
- And, of course, I’ll be blogging on Wednesdays and Sundays to check in.
What are your writing goals for the first part of 2014?