The Dreaded Process

on March 13, 2014

Like most writers, I hate my writing process. But, also like most writers, it’s my process and I can’t change it.

Before I got serious about writing, I happily wrote “sloppy copy,” the first draft all the way through. Yes, there were lots of errors and I did a lot of revising and editing and cutting and adding. But since I love revising, this wasn’t a problem. The hard part was done — getting the story down from beginning to end. Everything can be fixed.

But somewhere along the way, this changed.

I don’t know exactly when this happened, but somewhere between my 10th book and my 15th book, I started editing as I wrote. This can be a stifling process because you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve written more than where you’re going. I’m an organic writer — the characters drive the story. I write it down as it unfolds. I like writing without a roadmap, even when I get frustrated or write a mess or get stuck. If I’m stuck, inevitably I’m intruding and not letting my characters go where they should be going. In fact, the one time I absolutely knew who the killer was early on, I had a hell of a time writing the book. If I knew who the killer was, then everyone else would know too!

For the record, I’ve tried plotting, but it doesn’t work for me. Even now, in the middle of writing my 24th book, I’ve started jotting down notes about what needs to happen next. This is the number one way to stop the writing train. I’m constantly thinking about what I *think* needs to happen as opposed to what’s happening organically with the characters. But the primary reason I hate plotting is that if I know where the story is going, I’m bored. If I know what’s going to happen, I feel like my readers will pick up on the clues too early and be bored.

Editing as I go has it’s advantages. My final first draft tends to be cleaner — fewer mechanical errors. The story tends to be tighter–I don’t have a lot of rambling because I’ve edited it down. But there are drawbacks.

First, I see plot problems early on and that makes writing that full “sloppy copy” next to impossible, meaning it takes me longer to write the book.

Second, I find myself stuck when I know something is wrong, rather than ignoring the problem and fixing it when I’m done with the book. It’s like I mentally can not get over the hurdle until I figure out what’s wrong with the scene, or the scene that came before.

Third, it takes me much, much longer to write the first half of the book. The second half, as I’m closer to my deadline, is then rushed and needs to be fleshed out a lot more during revisions. I have many scenes that are almost like scripts, with who does what and who says what with no narrative. All that has to be fixed in revisions.

In the writing process, there is inevitably a point where the struggle ends and the binge writing begins. It can happen two or three times in a story. There can be days where I net only 1,000 words (even if I’ve written 3,000, sometimes I’ve revised or backtracked or deleted), to be followed by days where I’m jamming at 5-6,000 words a day. I’ve gotten over my dream of writing 2,000 words each and every day because that just doesn’t happen for me. However, I write a minimum of 6 hours a day, every day. Usually more. I’m putting in the time — and some days that time is more productive than others.

I think every writer laments their process because they *think* that their writing friends have it easier, that they’ve learned the *trick.* Some people think I used to write fast — and maybe I do, because once I hit that final act, I do write fast. I’ve been known to have over 10,000 word days when I’m on a roll. But they are few and far between. Some of my friends write 5, 6, 7-000 words a day, five days a week. Nora Roberts writes consistently every morning, breaks for lunch, then every afternoon and edits at night. To me, that fast consistency is so much better than the up and down roller coaster I’m on.

But if I’ve learned anything after 24 books it’s that every writer is different. The more I try to change the way I do thing, the more I struggle. Just like we all learn differently, we have a different creative process. So I just let the process happen. With my deadline firmly in my head.

I’m in the middle of writing the second Max book. Yesterday was a very good writing day. Crossing fingers that today is just as productive.

And now … the WINNER of the last NOTORIOUS arc … commenter Karen G (Mar 12 4:13) … congratulations Karen! Email me with your snail mail address and I’ll send the book out this weekend.

Thank you everyone for your enthusiasm!