Writing “Process”

Do you outline? Do you bleed on paper and see what comes out? Do you agonize over every word and then have a first draft that needs almost no revision by the time you’re finished? Every time I start a new book, I’m not sure what my answer is going to be.

I found these quotes from author Pam Munoz Ryan in my Chautauqua notes from 2003:

When I speak to educators, they are especially curious about the writing process. The word process always reminds me of packaged bologna, which has been mechanically wrapped, and in one sense, I think that is exactly what people want to know—a recipe or a series of steps that will take a writer from the blank page to finished manuscript. They want to know a writer’s tidy shrink-wrapped procedure.

She then relates how educators asked her how she used the concept of cause and effect in one of her books so they could teach that to their students. She says:

After a book is published, a writer is asked to examine his or her own techniques and procedures. This is always difficult and painstaking for me. . . . As a writer, I don’t set out to write a book with exemplary use of cause and effect or plot. . . . I set out to write a compelling story. When I start a book, I don’t first ask myself, “What’s the plot?” Instead, I start with the question, “What’s the story I want to tell?” . . . For me, starting a story means a lot of time with my own wandering thoughts. I daydream and try to create answers to my own questions. . . . I ask and answer questions like, “What if?”

I ask those questions too. “What if this plot sucks?”

I want to know the various ways you approach new story ideas. How much do you have to write, visualize, and daydream before you know if a story idea is worth pursuing to the bitter end? And how many hundreds of pages have you thrown away in your lifetime before finding something that stuck?

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Writing “Process”

  1. Valynne

    Because my writing time is so limited, I pretty much have to realize the whole story before I start. That way, I can make the best use of the time I have.

    • Kim Reid

      You write a book faster than anyone I know, except for the first chapter. 🙂 I need to talk to you more about if you ever run into major plot switches in the middle or if you stick to what you’ve envisioned.

  2. I am such a planner, but I leave enough to discover parts of the plot as I go. So while I know what will happen in each chapter, I find big surprises along the way. It’s so fun. I have to admit that I once started a book without planning too much, and I had to stop after only a few chapters and sit down and plot it out. For some reason, my mind doesn’t work by just spewing words on the page. *shrugs*

    • Kim Reid

      I think I’m kind of the same way, Chersti. I like getting a feel for the characters and setting in the first chapter or so, and after that I outline. But I don’t often stay with the outline…

  3. My current manuscript started as a floaty thing that I just went with. I can’t even tell you how many pages have been thrown away, but I’d be willing to bet it’s a whole book worth. And I’m only on my second full draft. I’m beginning to think that I wasn’t the most efficient way to do it. 🙂
    I have another book idea in mind now, and I think I’ll do it differently. (Though maybe it’s easier this time because I’m basing the story on a historical event.)

    • Kim Reid

      I think that may be why historical fictions scares me a teeny bit . . . I’d have to STAY with my outline?? Aack!

  4. I’m a hundreds and hundreds of pages kind of person. I even tried to outline some of my other projects, but it didn’t work. This one, though, I had a mental outline of where I wanted to go. It has changed somewhat, but for the most part, I’ve followed it and it’s actually worked out. I’ve heard other writers speak and say that they can’t describe their process because it is so different for each book. I think I’m going to be one of those.

    • Kim Reid

      I’ve scrapped hundreds of pages too—plot ideas I decided not to write anymore because they morphed into other ideas, but the original manuscript is still too close to the mutated idea for me to write both books. I’ve heard the phrase “kill your babies” a lot in the writing world, but I think I kill more parents. 🙂