Sunday, October 17, 2010

It's A Process

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Okay, I know that everyone has been posting about their writing workspaces this week. The thing is – I’ve been on the road a lot for the past couple weeks, which means my workspace has been my android phone. And while the keyboard is great for texting or typing out a short e-mail – it isn’t all that great for writing. In fact, I haven’t had a great deal of time to write which is starting to make me a little nuts. (Yeah – I’m always nuts, but the lack of writing if making more wacky than usual.)

However, this week at Bouchercon I’ve had a great time talking about writing. More to the point, talking about the process of writing. The one thing you learn while talking to lots of other writers over a short period of time is how similar and also how very different we all are. Yes – we all write stories. Some of us write on the lighter side of crime fiction while others (and by others know that I am pointing at the other seven writers of this blog) create the darker, more intense crime fiction.

However beyond genre or publishing experience, we are also all different in our writing process. Some writers create an outline and write using that as a map to get them to the end. This sounds fabulous and organized and should be something I do. But I can’t. I cannot write from an outline to save my soul. I figure out what the end of chapter one is before I start typing. Once I have that I put my fingers to the keyboard and wait to see what happens. Yep – I write by the seat of my proverbial pants and hope to God that I manage to create an interesting and readable story along the way. Getting to the end is often fraught with “What happens next?” and a lot of head banging, but eventually I get to the end.

Now, the bashing my head against a brick wall and scratching my noggin to decide where my plot is supposed to be going doesn’t sound like much fun – even to me. On the days where I haven’t a clue what I’m supposed to be writing next, I long for the ability to write from an outline. Too bad every time I try it, my writing comes to a screeching halt and my story no longer wants to go into the direction the outline says it should.

This Bouchercon, I learned I’m in good company with my lack of outlining skills. Reed Farrel Coleman and I talked about our process (or what might seem like a lack thereof) after hours in the bar. We both write without outlines, but other authors swear by them. Each author has a way he or she needs to work to create a story. What is right for one author will get another author stuck in the mud. Process is intensely personal for each author. Reed believed that it is easier for an author to change their routine (such as the time of day they write or their workspace – see there is the workspace theme!) than it is to change their process. I agree. Do you? What is your process? Have you tried to change it? And if you did try to change your process, did that change work for you?


pattinase (abbott) said...

I only write short stories mostly, but the less I know about the story, the easier I find it to write. If the whole thing is in my head when I sit down, I am flummoxed. I like to start with a single image or sentence and go where it goes. Right now, I have an excellent story from a case of my son's (he's a prosecutor) but I know it so well, I can't tell it because I need to find my way into it in bit and pieces. Does that make sense?

John McFetridge said...

Yes, Patti, that makes sense to me. Sometimes I write the same scene three or four times trying to find the best point of view to tell it from. I find it really helps to try and find out exactly what it is about the story that makes it compelling, what about it may resonate for people not involved.

And, you know, sometimes the story is about the teller more than the characters.

Jay Stringer said...

interesting questions, process vs routine.

I don't really have a routine at the moment, because my day job doesn't allow for it. But i do have a process and it's pretty much the same as yours and Reed's.

It wouldn't be totally accurate to say i write totally on the fly, because somehwere at the back of my brain the story is being worked out. By the time i sit to write a chapter, i probably have a good idea of what form it will take.

(unless the character says something i wasn't expecting.)

So there's a form of unconscious planning to my writing, but don't ask me exactly how that works.

I have tried working to an outline, and it doesn't really suit my process. For a novel it tends to stop me writing completely. An outline is something i find useful for other forms of writing though; if i'm writing a script, an article or super-secret-project, then having notes and an outline is good for me.

So it seems to depend. My long form prose needs seat of the pants. My shorter prose and my scripts needs some planned direction.

Go figure.

What i do know, is that i'm working on book 3. And at the end of chapter 3 one of my characters said something that sets up a really cool mini-cliffhanger. BUT i wasn't expecting it and, after over a week of staring at that last line of dialogue, i still have no clue what happens in chapter four.