Finding Your Way

labyrinth1Like it or not, writing is a process. Letters become words become sentences. If you’re lucky those sentences become paragraphs that don’t suck too much. And so on and so on. Since I’m currently in the process of doing various bit of work on four different manuscripts at the same time (!) I’ve been trying to think of a way to streamline and/or clarify my writing process. To that end, I’ve talked to a lot of writers about HOW they go about putting those words down on paper, hoping that I can gain some wisdom from those who are more organized.

But you know what? It doesn’t work like that.

Look, I read writing blogs all the time. And when I was starting out, this is the advice that most of them gave me:

  • Outline.
  • Interview your characters to get to know them.
  • Fit the shape of your manuscript into the structure of a screenplay.
  • Write an entire draft before you revise anything or you’re in danger of never finishing a manuscript.

I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with any of that advice. What I will say is that those three bullets kept me from writing fiction FOR YEARS. It wasn’t until I allowed myself to rewrite that advice as a list that reflects the way my brain works, that I was able to move past it. And my list looks something like:

  • It’s okay to write chapters and scenes completely out of order and sew them together like Frankenstein’s monster at a later time.
  • It’s okay to start with a premise instead of a plot.
  • It’s okay to spend days revising the 2nd, 12th, and 20th chapters just because you want to. Even if you haven’t written the chapters that come between. And even if you know that you’re going to have to revise all of them based on a character who surprises you by stepping off the plane in chapter 10.
  • It’s okay to allow your characters to talk and figure out who they are by listening in.
  • It’s okay to find your own way.

One of my amazing critique partners, Beth Hull, is my absolute opposite in terms of process. She often writes in long-hand (I wouldn’t be able to read mine even if I could do it fast enough to keep up with my thoughts), She outlines, and beat sheets, and interviews, and her writing is beautiful. But that is her process and I wouldn’t be able to write a paragraph if I had to do it that way. (Trust me, I’ve tried.)

Am I occasionally jealous of writers who have impeccable outlines to work from? Sure. But I've also learned the hard way that knowing what was going to happen in my story can keep me from writing it, because I am no longer curious. I love revising and finessing in an organized way. But when I’m writing, I have to be as curious as I am as a reader. And just as surprised by the way the characters unfold.

I don’t know if anyone reading this is a writer, but if you are, I hope you take one thing away from this: Your process is YOURS. If it works for you, it isn’t wrong. It doesn’t matter if your friend, or your writing group, or you very-favorite-author-in-the-world uses a different method to craft their story. Find Your Own Way.