Friday, 22 April 2011

My Process Is A Hot Mess

Seriously. It is.

I imagine with time and practice and experience and all that I'll eventually settle down into a "proper" creative process, but I doubt it. That's just not the way my mind works.

I've always been able to see the beginning and the end of a story quite clearly in my head. So, that's what I start with. I write t
he first chapter and the last chapter.


But there's about 250 pages MISSING in the middle. Oy vey. What's a girl to do?

I've always seen my stories rather like a movie trailer; little flashes of events that aren't necessarily in order but look really cool.
My first attempt at a "process" was to simply write down those little flashes as I "saw" them. It made sense at the time.

The problem with that was that I had to wait for the flashes to come. I couldn't MAKE them come. It took me seven years just to get the first draft together. And we're talking ROUGH draft. Like somewhere between and outline and a synopsis.

Hot mess, indeed.

I shoved the thing in the drawer and tried again. And tried. And tried. Nothing worked. I couldn't get past the 250 blank pages right in the middle of my super cool beginning and my even cooler ending. Urgh.

And then I had an idea for an urban fantasy series starring a private detective (who wasn't really a private detective, but a monster hunter) called Bailey Morgan. As usual, I had the beginning and I had the end, but I had nothing in between.

Then I read about author Garth Nix and his writing process. Honesty, I can't remember how I stumbled across this nifty bit of info, but it totally changed my process. Well, to be honest, it GAVE me a process. Or rather, part of my process.

I headed straight out to WH Smith and bought a stack of wire bound sketch books that were on sale. They have nice solid backs so I can haul them around anywhere and write really easily in them. The blank paper means I can sketch (badly) my ideas or paste in pictures I've printed (stolen) from the internet that inspire me. I can also write in circle and to other weird creative author things that normal people don't do in notebooks.

I spent the first few pages of my brand new notebook nailing down my main characters and their backgrounds as well as the backstory for the series. Granted these things have change about a hundred times over, but it gave me a starting point. Also, I can go back and refer to them so I don't forget Jack's eyes are ocean blue or that Inigo is 200 years old or the names of Kabita's three brothers. I still wrote my beginning and my end, but then I started outlining what happened next.

I managed three chapters.

I wrote those three chapters and managed to completely deviate from my outline. Fortunately, that gave me more ideas for the book, so I outlined the next couple of chapters and so on until I was about halfway through the story. Then I bogged down.

It had taken me something like eight months or so to write half a novel and I was stalled. I still knew where I wanted to go, but I had no idea how to get there. I had a few things I wanted to happen, but I wasn't sure how to make them happen in a way that made sense.

Fortunately, I know some really clever people. And I have Skype. So I called my cousin in the US and spent countless hours brainstorming with her. I don't know that I kept many of her ideas, a couple maybe, but the point was that our brainstorming sessions totally cracked open my creativity. Being able to talk everything over with someone who I trust and respect who is, when you come right down to it, just as crazy and insane as I am (Not to mention has the exact same sense of humor.) helped free my mind of stagnation and get the old creative juices flowing again.

I finished the rest of the novel in a month.

The same is true of book two of the series. I had a beginning. I had an end. I was able to outline the first three or four chapters. I wrote those (completely deviating from said outline) and continued into the next two chapters. But at chapter 6, I'm stalled. I know what happens in the first 6 chapters. I know what happens in the last 4 chapters. But the ten chapters in the middle, it's kind of a crap shoot.

This time instead of waiting for months, I pounded out an overall outline indicating random things I wanted to happen in the "missing chapters" and shot it off to my cousin for brainstorming. I expect to be back on track in no time.

So I guess my "process" is this:

Dream, Write, Outline, Write, Deviate From Outline, Freak Out, Brain Storm, Outline, Write, Deviate from Outline, Write Some More, Brainstorm Some More, Dream Some More, Freak Out Again, Write.

Do you have a process that works for you?


  1. Shea,

    I'm on my first novel ever--though I've had the idea in my head for at least a decade. I, too, knew the beginning and the ending, so had the white blanket in the middle to lift up. With the help of one of Joe Konrath's blogposts (from his early downloadable blog) I used his outline he created for Bloody Mary and created my own. I came up with a 25-page double-spaced 4551-word (I just checked) 45 chapter outline.

    The most important lesson I learned in creating it was that each scene (chapter) must have a micro-mission, a purpose. Anyway, I am 30,000 words into my WIP, which has come out to 20 chapters so far. Outlining the whole thing before writing any of it has really freed my mind for the creativity to create. The whole process has been speedier than otherwise, and I know I won't need to revise as much as I otherwise would need to.

  2. Hey Chris,

    Thanks for the comment. I think I missed that Konrath post. I'll have to try and find it. It would be interesting to read.

    I agree that having an outline frees up the mind to create, but for me it works only to a point. Mostly because the creative process takes over and I go off outline completely. lol Which is fine, I don't care. I do my best writing that way! But it means I have to keep revisiting and rewriting the outline. Ugh. lol

    I think everyone has a process, a way of creating, that works for them. Mine works for me in a warped and messy way. I'm so glad you've found yours and are finally getting your novel done! Woohoo! Do keep me posted so I can blog about it when you're ready to publish.