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Top 5 “Process” Tips

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This week, the WWAT Crew tackles the writing process. It can be wildly different for everyone, but if you’re still searching for ways to develop your own, read through some of our tips, and see if any of these might help.

Jess –  My process has changed over the years. For a while, with two small children at home, it was multiple notebooks hidden around the house. Whenever I could or had an idea, I’d jot it down quickly so not to forget. Nothing could be left out for little hands to spread food guts on and I couldn’t use the computer without one of them trying to climb up into my arms or delete everything. I never had regular or great nappers :/. So I’d write at appointments in the waiting room. I’d get up early to write while they slept. All the research I had done, notes on craft, everything was shoved into the notebook. When little eyes shut, I opened them, spread out, and got to work.

Now, however, I have secured my own space for writing and bought myself a corkboard. I know, it sounds old fashioned. But, I’m very visual. I love to spread my notes and books out in front of me. Now when I get ideas, I write them on note cards and take them to my board. I can easily move them around and get to them when I get to that particular part of the story. I also like that i can visually separate everything into Acts which makes my synopsis and chapter outlining easier. I know there are computer programs in which one can do this very thing, but I enjoy tangible things.

John – Like Linda says below, I used to be a pantser, but now I have to outline, BUT one of the most important things I’ve learned to do is write the query first. Even before I outline. What? Why you say? If your goal is publication, and I always assume everyone’s is, then you are eventually going to have to write that query. Furthermore, most of my novels are fantasy, sci-fi, or magical realism–because of that I often struggled with what to put in the query. I found myself saying: Can’t leave that out! That’s too important. OOOO, That too and that and…anyway. Before you know it, I had a bloated query that meandered and ended up being well over 400 words before I even got to the book comparisons or bio, and even though those were brief, 400 words is just too long.

Furtherfurthermore, without all the details swimming around in my head, I found that I could specifically concentrate on producing a tight, stand-alone query–not trying to transform the story into a query. By writing the query before I write more than the first chapter or the outline, the query tends to be short and laser focused on the most important elements of the story. BUT, you say, you haven’t written the whole book. You may not even know how it ends. True, but a query doesn’t really need that info. It only needs the character(s), the dilemma the character(s) face and what will happen if the dilemma goes unresolved (the stakes). Those three things (the bones) are good to have down before any of the fleshy stuff ever comes into being.

Furtherfurtherfurthermore, I find myself going back to the pre-written query over and over to see if I’m still on track. Is this still the story I envisioned? Doesn’t mean I can’t change it, but it does help me remember how passionate I was when I first conceived the idea, and compare it to how passionate I am about the story that is coming to fruition.

Again, skills you use to write a query, a synopsis, and the novel itself are quite different. By writing the query first, you can make sure that the query gets the attention it deserves and maintains the brevity it needs.

Linda – I was a pantser, living on the fly and writing whatever came to mind – that was before I took a life changing class by Alexandra Sokoloff. Alex, a former screenwriter, teaches a method of outlining that stems from her Hollywood days… The Three Act/ Eight sequence structure.  Now, I can’t live without outlining. I won’t go into great detail about her method in this blog, but her book is called Stealing Hollywood, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors. I highly recommend giving it a read. For this blog, I’ll go through a couple of advantages to outlining your stories.

First, outlining will help you find plot holes before you even write them. Spending a little extra time thinking, can save you a whole bunch of time rewriting later on. Before pen hits paper… or finger hits keyboard… spend a little time working through the major plot points.

Second, outlining will help you develop the story and characters. Every story has common elements. Outlining helps you hit every single one, while allowing you time to get to know your characters.

Lastly, for the naysayers out there, your outline is a fluid document (board, map, etc.) It can change. You aren’t writing it in blood (at least I hope you aren’t) so go ahead and get creative.  

Megan – I’m a runner. A serious one who uses GPS watches and running logs to track how I’m getting better (or worse!) over time. The thing I always tell people about running is that you start small, and you may start slow, but a little every day gets the job done.

So, I take the same advice to my writing. There are times that my writing for the day feels like a bad run, with the wind blowing in my face on the uphills, and the clock ticking much faster than my feet can strike the pavement. Then there are days when my energy is perfect, the weather is perfect, and even my time is pretty near perfect. I don’t get those kind of days without the others, though. And it’s that consistency, flexing those muscles (runner or writing) daily or at least several times a week, that gets the job done. Just like I do for my workout, I carve time out of every weekday to write. So just remember…Slow and steady wins the race!

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