Skip to main content

The Writing Process


Today's post is a little bit different than my usual posts. I wanted to take a minute and talk about the other side of reading, and the other part of my blog, which is writing. I was working on a project of mine last night, and it got me thinking about the writing process. At author events and in interviews, writers get asked all the time whether they're a plotter or a panster or what their writing process is. As I was scrolling through this project, the fourth manuscript I've worked on in the three years since I started writing the book, and I was marveling at how different this writing experience was from every single other book I've written. And then I realized, I don't seem to ever do it the same way twice. Of course, I've picked up some habits and tricks over the year that I incorporate each time, and my goals are always the same, but I find it fascinating how I get to the end. It's also lead me to stop asking really general questions about process. If there's a specific aspect or technique that can add to the understand of the book or help others, I'll ask, but no two people write the same, so it's hard to take a ton of useful stuff away from their comments.
Honestly, as boring and mundane as it sounds, I think the best advice that's come out of any process questions posed to authors is read a ton. When I first started, I was twelveish and before I could start writing, I was obsessed with knowing everything about how people write books and what the methodology was. The truth, though, is that if you've been reading dedicatedly through your whole life, you already know how to write a book. You inherently know the form. You know the structure, even if you don't know it at the front of your brain. It's a second nature. Reading also teaches you the flow of sentences. How they're punctuated. How to drum up subtle emotions and vivid pictures with the same twenty-six letters. Reading won't make you a perfect writer from day one, but it will give you all the hurried tools. Spending time with your own work and developing your unique point of view and voice is key, and having a foundation will help you improve faster if you read critically.
I've always been a huge reader, but I was obsessed with doing it the "right" way. I started one project that I plotted with mood boards and fashion images and character questionnaires. None of those things are the wrong thing to do, but I'd read about it online and thought I had to do that to write a book. I never finished that first one.
The first project I ever finished, I started when I was thirteen. I knew the idea of the story I wanted to tell. But I had no clue what the ending was. I figured I'd write my way there. The ending changed a ton of times, and, by the time I finished the draft, the ending had gone completely away from what I first assumed it would be. It also meant that it would take a lot of revision to fit the beginning of the story to the ending and make it feel cohesive again. It's taken years and many critique partners and mentors to get the story to where it is today. After maybe five extremely intense revisions, I'm making the final tweaks. It's a book I've almost thrown away more than a million times. It's a book that made me swear I'd never write a book without an outline again. I outlined the book over and over and rewrote and reconnected and patchworked it back together until it truly made sense. Before this experience, I always looked at authors in shock when they said that their books started as totally different stories, but now I understand.
That book went from a total mess to a story I'm really proud of. I was lucky I always had readers and mentors who were super supportive and saw what its potential was before I could. They're suggestions and motivation are the reason I've finally finished it. It was writing that book that taught me how to write books. I refined my voice. I learned about structures and characters. It taught me more than any craft website ever did. I'm not saying you shouldn't read websites or books- they're great resources at the right time- what I'm saying is that you shouldn't let the idea of doing it "right" get in the way of just jumping in.
So my second book was a complete pushback to everything I thought I did "wrong" with the first book. I'd submitted the first book to pitch wars, and their number 1 piece of advice is to write something new while I waited. It was August, and I didn't have anything better to do. I told myself that I wanted to write the book in a month before I went back to school. Ideas for the story had been swirling as I worked on more revisions for the first project. I had a conflict and the idea of characters. I wasn't going to start writing, though, until I had a chapter by chapter outline.
After a couple days of sketching it out, I had a complete roadmap (and, in a way, a literal roadmap because a road trip was a major element of the book). Every day, I sat down and worked off my outline, checking off each chapter as I went. It was the cleanest first draft I'd ever written and a complete departure from the first book. Beyond not being able to get satisfied with my opening, the book stayed in the same form all the way through, just improving each scene here or there.
I honestly think it worked so well because the book was very structured. It's the most action forward, plot heavy book I'd ever written which made it easy to say they'll be here and they'll do this thing. Having the detailed outline made it so much easier to just sit down and write every day. It didn't feel like a huge commitment. It just felt like adding the magic to make the plans I'd laid out come to life. I figured I'd never go back.
My third complete manuscript is my most recently finished. I thought I'd just follow the same path I'd used before. It'd be so easy. I had a plan. And I had learned a lot from my first two experiences. This time, my major goal was to not move forward till I had a firm beginning, because that was my biggest problem with my last book. Luckily, the first scene I wrote, before I was even 100% sold on the idea, was the perfect beginning. Once I had that, I started working off my outline, but there were holes in it. This book was much more quiet and emotional. More about two individuals and their relationships to life than a grand adventure. It was hard to set bounds of exactly how the scenes would play out, and, often, I'd come up with something when writing that would derail my outline but take the story to a more interesting place. I drafted it fast, something I knew I preferred doing from the last project. I revised it a couple times through with critique notes to solidify the story and close up a couple gaps I'd left myself. It was a weird mix of pantsing and plotting, but it made me realize that all I need to see a project to the end and find the "right story" for it is an intense connection to its goal.
I'd been in a weird writing funk since finishing that last project. I'd been querying a while and in a mental slump with life. I had a concept for what I wanted to do next, but I had no clue how to get there. A couple scenes kept floating around my head, bugging me. I wanted to refuse to write them until I had a serious chapter by chapter outline. Until it got to that point in the story. I was terrified of going back to that point where I had to piece together a story like a surgeon.
But then I realized I'd stopped writing, which was the worst thing I could do. I was back in that rut where I was waiting for inspiration to sing down from the clouds. Sure, everyone has their flashes of brilliance, but they never happen for me unless I'm actively doing something about my situation. So I told myself to shut up and I just wrote the scenes. They came from all over the book. They were scenes that I didn't see coming, and they made me fall in love with the story. Every time I've almost shelved it, I've gone back to the first scene I wrote when I got the idea. I realized all the other scattered scenes were like tent poles. I couldn't get them out of my head for a reason. As I sat down and forced myself to do my least favorite thing in the world (write a synopsis), it became clear that those scenes were the turning points that moved the story along. Trusting my gut and letting the story happen got me to where I wanted to start.
In the last few days, I've read that first scene over and over again, pulling out the little pieces and secrets that I was setting up for myself. It was like it had clues to what the other scenes the story needed were. At the end of the session, I checked my word count, and I had 20,000 words already in a document I didn't even really think of myself in the "drafting" stage for yet. It was kinda thrilling to think that the bits and pieces I've added over the last month come together to amount to a third of a draft. The project, and the story I'm telling, is making me remember why I love writing, why I'm happier when I'm writing, and why I have to write. Even if I don't know quite what I'm doing yet.
I know this was a super long post, but I thought that maybe some of you could relate. Writing process is ever evolving. You don't have to do every book the same way. You don't have to have special rituals, though it's great if you do. All you have to do is write and keep your eyes open both to the world around you and to yourself.

Links of Interest:
Let's Call It a Doomsday: Here
Tweet Cute Review: Here
Changing Tastes: Here
Into YA with Ronni Davis: Here

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Top Reads of 2018

This year's best of 2018 list has tons of new categories to fit all of the amazing books I read this year. I've had the chance to read so many advanced books and recent releases, so most of what I read were books that came out in 2018. I mostly choose contemporary, so I've started with my favorite debut as well as the best books in other genres I've ventured into. After that, I have smaller categories in the contemporary genre. I hope you find new books to love and give to your friends and family for the holidays. If you're interested in learning more about the books on the list, click their titles to go to my reviews. Let me know if these are some of your favorites in the comments, and tell me your favorite books!
Best In Genre Top Debut
Nothing Left To Burn by Heather Ezell Nothing Left To Burn gave me the craziest book hangover. I was so immersed in the story, and I couldn't stop reading to do anything that I actually needed to be doing. There is a toxic relat…

Queen of Geek Review

Queen of Geek by Jen Wilde
Overview: Charlie is a famous You Tuber whose indie film has exploded in popularity. It's landed her at SupaCon in San Diego with two of her best friends. While there, Taylor and Jamie try to find a way for Taylor to meet her favorite author, and Charlie has to do tons of press with her exboyfriend. Luckily, though, the magic of the con brings them all some good luck and memorable moments. Overall: 4 

Characters: 4 Charlie is so much fun. She's confident, has pink hair, and is full of life. She has some interesting commentary on being famous and also on how fandom works when people ship actors together in real life.
Taylor has anxiety and is on the autism spectrum. She's the biggest fan of the Firestone series, but winning the contests to meet the author requires her to step way outside of her comfort zone. With Jamie by her side, she reclaims a lot of confidence and makes the con her own.

Plot: 4 If you love books about celebrity and cons, you'…

More Than Maybe Review

More Than Maybe by Erin Hahn (May 2020)
Overview: Vada works at a dive bar, scraping together money for college and learning about running from a show her soon to be step-dad to get closer to her future dreams. She also runs the Loud Lizard's successful music blog Behind the Music. Vada is about to head off to LA and start working towards her music journalism dreams, but she has to make it through senior year first. Luke Greenly is the son of famous British punk rocker, Charlie Greenly. The whole family has set down roots in Michigan where his mom works at the university, but remnants of his dad's past life still follow them. Luke loves writing songs but hates performing, and, because of his dad, he's been thrust into the spotlight more than he'd like. For now, he'd rather stick to making successful podcast The Grass Is Greenly with his twin brother, Cullen, and hopelessly pining after Vada through stalking Behind the Music. Overall: 5

Characters: 5 Vada is a charact…

Reflecting on 2019 and the Decade

"It was the end of a decade, but the start of an age"- "Long Live"

I can't believe it's finally here. We're all getting ready to step into 2020 tomorrow. It always seemed so far away. We've all been talking about it so long that it's managed to creep up on me. I guess we're all getting a little extra sentimental because we're ending a decade (in terms of the popular view of decades). We're moving into the 20s. Seeing everyone's decade later comparisons has been weird because the 2010s were the first full decade I've ever lived. I started the decade as a six year old in first grade, so, even though I feel like I've accomplished far less than some people on Twitter, I have, in fact, managed to graduate elementary, middle, and high school and get into college in the last 10 years. I've also become a person.
Most of what's shaped me has happened in the last ten years. I've learned an incredible amount about mysel…

Izzy and Tristan Review

Izzy + Tristan by. Shannon Dunlap (324 pages)
Overview: Izzy and Tristan have a love story. When Izzy's family renovates a moves into a new house on a Brooklyn block their lives change. Her twin brother Hull almost immediately gets into a fight, pulling a knife on some neighborhood kids after a gambling chess match goes wrong. Izzy falls for Tristan, the boy who won Hull's match. With Hull away at a rehabilitation center, Izzy and Tristan are free to fall for each other until Marcus decides that he wants to take revenge on Hull by dating his sister. And even when that battle is overcome, police brutality draws a permanent line between the couple. Overall: 2

*Okay, I'm not really sure how to write a spoiler free review of this because the shocker ending is what I take the most issue with. I'll keep it spoiler free in the characters and plot section, but I will talk about the ending in the writing section. I still recommend you read it, even if you plan on reading the boo…

What If It's Us

What If It's Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera (448 pages)
Overview: Ben and Arthur meet at the post office during a flashmob. Well, Arthur followed Ben into the post office because he thought he was and, and, just as they started talking, in true form with Arthur's New York fantasy, a flash mob erupted. When the boys and split up, Arthur loses his chance at connecting with Ben, but when he can't stop thinking about him, he explores ways to reconnect even in a city of a million empty faces like New York. Even if they can find each other, with Arthur going back to Georgia at the end of the summer, will it even be worth it? Overall: 4/5

Characters: 4.5 I'm not sure what to say about the characters. I liked them enough, but I didn't feel any real attachment to any of them. I liked the cast of friends, but they all lacked a certain weight that would give them a stronger sense of reality. My favorite relationship in the book was the friendship between Dylan and Ben.…

I Got Rid of (Almost) All My Books

On Twitter, everyone loves to joke about their TBR piles that are heading to swallow them whole. We talk about buying way too many books. They're like personality traits for book bloggers and book community members, but we don't really talk about the reality of that. Running the blog for close to three years, it was starting to stare me in the face in the form of heaps and heaps of books. Books everywhere. Shoved onto my tiny bookshelf, stacked on top of it, piled on my nightstand, piled on the floor, and lining my long windowsill. I woke up one morning and decided it felt like the books were slowly creeping in and stealing all the oxygen. So I decided to do something about it. I gathered together all the boxes floating around in the garage from Christmas, threw myself on the floor, and started to make piles of my books.
It was honestly overwhelming to start deciding what I was giving away and what I was keeping. I was both feeling like "EVERYTHING MUST GO" and &quo…

Past Perfect Life

Past Perfect Life  by Elizabeth Eulberg (July 9)
Overview: Ally Smith has lived for almost her entire life in Wisconsin. She briefly remembers living in Chicago, but it's always been just her and her dad. She's made a life in the town and become almost family with the Gleasons who basically own the town. Her perfect life is shattered, though, when an error with her social security number on her college applications alerts the FBI that she's actually a missing person. Overall: 4.5 

Characters: 5 Ally is an awesome main character. Her voice and handling of emotions is so relatable, and I love how articulate she is. The emotional hurdles she jumps through are so shocking, but she makes them make sense. It's almost like a reverse savior situation she finds herself in as she's taken from her "perfect" life and dropped into one that looks much more "perfect" from the outside.
The Gleasons are great additions too. They're her best friends and protect…

Waiting For Fitz

Waiting For Fitz by Spencer Hyde (March 5) Click to Purchase
Overview: Addie is in the hospital for inpatient OCD treatment. She's not thrilled, particularly because her mom might watch The Great British Bake Off without her, but, overall, she's ready to try whatever it takes to get better. And it turns out that most of the orderlies are nice and her fellow patients are great company, especially Fitz, who's been there for two years battling schizophrenia. Inside, she makes major strides toward recovery, but Fitz comes to her and asks for help breaking out. Against her better judgement, she can't refuse to help him. Overall: 4 

Characters: 5 I enjoyed reading from Addie's prospective. I thought that Hyde did an awesome job portraying OCD and the compulsions and obsessions that come with it. Addie is sarcastic and sensible. She has a wonderful, supportive mom and a team behind her that's determined to help. I love how she is both reasonable, and takes time to quest…

Top 10 of 2019: All the YA Love

We're winding down 2019, so it's time to get reflective on the past year. It feels like multiple lifetimes have happened in this single year. It was one of the best years for the blog that I've ever had. Even though I might have read less this year, I expanded my interviews and guests posts, got to work closely with some wonderful writers, and fell further in love with the YA community. A huge thank you to everyone in the Novel19s for working with me, being so kind, and putting out some of the best books I've ever read. In the next few weeks, I'll be posting more about the future I see for the blog going into 2020 and it's third year, but, for now, let's celebrate all the amazing stories 2020 has brought to us! I did my Reading, Writing, and Me book awards recently which honored over 20 books in tons of different categories so if you need last minute holiday shopping inspiration, check out this list and the earlier one!

1. Permanent Record
I have not stoppe…