The Twelve Stages of Writing

Thoughts on a novelist’s life as they cope with conceiving, writing, revising, and publishing a novel.

  1. Jubilation! What a great idea! I must start thinking about this and writing. This is brilliant! Coffee, quick!
  2. Doubts. Wait…what was it about? I don’t know…that’s more complicated than I realized, and derivative as hell. What the hell…why would those characters do that? What’s their motivation? Man, I need some caffeine just to make sense of this. Better go get some coffee.
  3. Bargaining. Look, let me play a computer game and then get through just one day, just one hundred words, just one scene, just one paragraph today, and I promise that I’ll write more tomorrow and catch up. Give me some coffee.
  4. Denial. Why am I doing this to myself? I don’t have what it takes. I’m not smart enough or talented enough. I’m such an idiot! Why did I ever think that I could write a novel? Let me just finish my coffee and go.
  5. Acceptance. Well, I’ve gone this far. Might as well finish the damn thing. Then, maybe I’ll set it aside for a century, and take a look later, see if I can edit and revise it, and make something out of it. I need a fresh cup of coffee.
  6. Jubilation! Hey, this isn’t so bad. This is pretty good. It just needs some work. It’s all coming together. Give me some coffee.
  7. Doubts. I don’t know…what was I thinking when I wrote that? I don’t even remember writing that part. Who is that character? I don’t remember them. I have never seen so many typos in my life. Even the coffee tastes bad. What a waste.
  8. Bargaining. Listen, self. If I can just finish reading and editing this part and sleep on it, I know that I’ll find a way to make this all work, and then I’ll take a break from it all. More coffee, please.
  9. Denial. Who am I kidding? This is absolute garbage. I’ll never make it as a writer. I can’t even type. Even if I finish this, who will ever read it? Maybe I should work on something else. I need more coffee.
  10. Acceptance. No, you’ve come this far. You owe it to yourself to at least finish it. Maybe more coffee will help. Come on, you can do it. What’s the saying? Just open any vein. Sure. Give me some coffee.
  11. Jubilation! This is pretty damn good. Now all I need to do is find someone to publish it. Let me hunt for an agent. But first, some coffee.
  12. Doubts. I’ll never find an agent or a publisher. Maybe I should self-publish. But then I’d need to have a cover made, hire a copy-editor, and then do all the marketing once I publish it. Let me drink a cup of coffee and think about it…

How ’bout you, writers? Any thoughts on the stages of coping with your writing efforts?

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Building By Deleting

I’m continuing to work on the novel-in-progress, April Showers 1921. Its challenges remain remaining and satisfying with a few dips into frustrating.

I’ve recently re-discovered the joy of deleting to build and improve the tale. When I began with the concept, it had a bajillion directions that it could take. I wrote about half of them, writing two to three thousand word chapters about the directions, exploring the characters, plot, and arcs. That resulted in a complex novel with a complicated plot, and extensive raw material. As I neared completion of the first draft, I met the muses at a crossroads. We agreed that some matters needed clarified and changed.

With mostly their guidance, I went through, exploring that first mess. Sometimes I attempted to work something into the mix, mostly because I enjoyed the passage. But, as often noted, sometimes killing favorite scenes help. As I deleted them (putting them into another documented that was a collection of these things…just in case…), I discovered how much the process sharpened my insights into the characters, situation, storylines, plots, and arc. With more focused insights, my writing and story-telling became crisper. My direction was better defined; I had more understanding of the final destination.

All of this wasn’t done overnight, but through several days of frequently frustrating searching and thinking. Sometimes I went backwards and then had to retrace my steps.

Now I’ve gone on into thinking of this mass as more like a giant piece, waiting to be sculpted molded, or carved. Unlike working in clay, wood, stone, or other hard, substantial materials, the novel’s characteristics change, depending upon how, where, and why they fit. Some pieces of the novel are solid. Only fine chiseling and polishing are needed. Other sections are thick, and I carve whole chunks away. Some are softer and more pliable, demanding shaping to improve coherency, pacing, motivation, and story-telling.

The process of writing and thinking about writing a novel often intrigues me as much as the novel-in-progress. As every novel is unique, so is the process used to write it.

Got my coffee. Time to write like crazy, at least one more time.

Negotiations

Thinking about my writing process this morning, I think I may have left people with the impression that my muses just dictate to me. That’s a false impression. I write about it in that vernacular a lot because of how the entire process ends up happening, but it’s more involved than that. I’m sure most understand that, but as I’m overly bent toward being pedantic and over-analytical, I’m going to enlarge on my process.

The muses fill me with a concept, general story arc, and the main character. A few other characters and some reveal points follow. This all happens very fast. Ideas constantly bang on my mind to enter the writing realm. Many are rejected outright. Some are briefly entertained about how they can be expanded. Others get a more thorough mind treatment but had deferred until later (which may not ever come).

A few ideas enter the writing hopper where they’re given more writing cogitating time. This is where the muses really enter, tossing ideas about the story and how it can develop. Sometimes, these come on very strong, concrete, and specific. When that triumvirate arises, the writing urge is ignited. It then depends on my schedule and projects that are underway. When I was younger, I split myself between projects. With more experience, I’ve developed a routine of focusing on one project until it reaches some stage of completion. They’re then often edited and revised. After that, they can go in different directions.

Meanwhile, my organic writing-like-crazy process isn’t that straightforward. The muses suggest and I counter suggest. I’ll often consider and present multiple possibilities for character development, story arcs, and how a scene goes. I present them to the muses. They reject, accept, or modify them.

Even then, when I sit down to write, it often doesn’t come out as envisioned. Things take place that I never foresaw. This is the true writing-like-crazy process, and when I give full control to the muses. It comes out and I do my best to type it up without analyzing it or putting it into perspective with the rest of the story, arcs, etc. That comes afterward, when I think about where this piece has taken me and what needs to change, along how it’ll be changed, and why it needs to change.

Of course, the muses and the entire process is mine. There aren’t little elves or gorgeous creatures inhabiting and haunting me, telling me what to write. What I call out as the muses is a deeper subconscious level of thinking and creativity that seems to work at high levels of complexity and speed, and its my intuition. I can’t keep up with that thinking on my conscious levels. I’ve learned to trust that process, not because of great creative or critical success, but because, from that process comes the story-telling, novels, and tales that I enjoy. I write for myself. It saddens me that others don’t enjoy it. I hope that’ll change someday, preferably while I’m alive.

Likewise, when I say that the characters have taken over, I’m using a shorthand to describe a process. The characters were put into a situation. I thought about what could happen and different directions that they might take, and then let it settle into my subconscious mind’s chasms for greater process. Results then spring out when I sit down to write. Sometimes, of course, they spring out beforehand, and sometimes they just explode into my thinking an awareness at awkward moments. Words heard or read, realizations, photographs, a piece of song, a splash of light, a burst of noise…multiple things trigger that explosion.

In the end, my process is all about negotiations, negotiations about how commercial or artistic I’ll let myself flow, the directions I do and don’t want to take, and my acceptance to write like crazy, accept that it needs work, and then keep working on it later, and the intuition to accept this feels right, coupled with the understanding, nothing is permanent. Better ways might emerge. Stay open to them.

Got my coffee. Time to write like crazy. at least one more time.

Old Paths

Ah, more ME STUFF. Yes, it’s all about me, which sounds like a good movie title, except it seems so similar to the classic, All About Eve.

I’ve been editing the third book, Six (with Seven), in the Incomplete States series. It was the first of the four books that I wrote. I finished it over sixteen months ago.

Reading and editing the book rekindled memories of how I hunted for a writing process that worked for me. I was initially a staunch proponent of outline and research. I took that route because everything that I read said, that’s how you write a novel.

It didn’t work for me. I was restless, frustrated, and bored with the process. I tried modifying it. Reading of Orson Scott Card’s process, I attempted something of the same. I attempted to flow-chart what I would write. I used Post-its, white-boards, butcher paper, and story boards. As none worked, I chucked them all with the decision, I’ll just wing it.

I started writing in notebooks. I’d edit and revise each day’s work, typing it up on my computer, and doing further editing as I went. I later learned many writers use this organic process.

That first resulting novel was a disaster. I still have it, with promises to edit and revise it someday. Meanwhile, it was a tremendous learning experience. First, I’d written a novel. That buoyed my self-confidence, but then, it needed so much work that I sank like a house in a Florida sinkhole.

The next thing that happened is, I shoved that monster aside, and wrote another novel, and then several more. Each time, they needed work, and I was too impatient to fix them. Eventually, slowly, I gathered, ah, editing and revising is part of the writing process. I wrote more, I edited them, and published them. Then I grimaced because I see the errors in the published work.

They needed more work. I needed more patience.

With my panic and self-doubt somewhat subsiding, I began to think more about my writing process, and what that meant. Insights into myself and my process grew. 

When previously reading wonderful books, I lamented that I’d never be that good, capable, creative, or talented. Now, I think, how do I write and tell stories like that? Instead of bludgeoning me to the point of retreat, those other writers and novels establish goals.

Which brings me back to this novel and series. I started out blindly with a half-baked concept, and then went down different paths until I found a path that worked. Those other paths were still in the novel, and required that I read them and decide, keep them in, or cut them — or revise them.

Done writing, editing, and revising today.

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