The writing process is a mysterious beast. Just as no two writers are the same, their writing processes differ, as well. To complicate matters, processes evolve over a lifetime. This is something I’ve been thinking about quite a lot, lately–for obvious reasons. I had a rough time with drafting the sequel to The Blue Bar.
So the Insecure Writers Support Group Question for this month pleased me, because I know that the answers from other writers might help my situation.
Here’s the writing process question we are responding to this month: When the going gets tough while writing the story, how do you keep yourself writing to the end?
Over the years, having listened to many writers talk about writing–from absolute beginners to mega prizewinners and bestsellers–one thing has been clear to me. Not all of us enjoy the writing process equally. Not all novels or short stories follow the same process. Writing one novel may give you some experience and skill, but unless you’re writing endless iterations of the same novel with different characters and settings, writing the next novel is an entirely different experience.
Personally, writing You Beneath Your Skin taught me the nuts and bolts of writing a novel, and took me many years. The next, which I froze after a small submission round and hope to revive again, took about three months for the first draft, and less than one year to be submission-ready. Maybe it will need another draft now that I have grown as a writer, before I can shop it again.
The Blue Bar began as a 90,000-word-draft written over a month in 2019. It took me two more drafts to part ways with my last agent, and another two before I got my current agent. Two drafts with her, and two drafts with the editor.
I began the outline of the sequel end of last year, in November, and began writing it after Christmas. With life, and the copyedits of The Blue Bar getting in the way, it took me all the way till April to finish a draft. And I struggled. A few times, I felt like maybe I couldn’t write anymore.
This was my first attempt at a sequel–and even though the plot doesn’t completely follow from The Blue Bar, some of it does, and the cast of characters is almost the same. It felt like too much of a leash. I couldn’t kill characters at will, nor add random entries to the cast.
At times the story ground to a halt despite the outline. On those days, I tried my best to understand why. Here are a few steps of my writing process that kept me going:
- I journaled about the knot–for the last ten years I’ve scribbled down my writing struggles in a diary. In it, I usually write down all the issues I face in a given story or with my writing in general. When I got stuck with the draft, I wrote about who knew what in the story up until the point where I couldn’t write further. Then, I tried to figure out what the characters would do from there, and how I could make it surprising, yet inevitable.
I read as much as I could, outside of the genre. Sometimes, when writing a crime story, the ideas begin to flow when I’m reading a non-crime story.
I picked up free-writing, and for each scene tried to figure out the POV character, what they wanted, what they needed, and whether they were likely to get it.
I also dug deep into what was in it for me–what part of the next scene might be exciting to write, and why.
More than all of this, though, I gave myself permission to write absolute crap. Drag it to the finish line, I told myself, even though I knew there were unresolved threads hanging.
As a result, I now have a draft, one that my agent likes and says has ‘good bones.’ It will need at least one more draft before I submit it to my editor by the deadline as per contract, but, it IS there, and that’s the important thing.
In the coming weeks, I’ll focus on the re-draft. For now there’s practice. I’m revising earlier work, outlining more stories, and whenever possible, learning new craft aspects to build up my writing arsenal.
What about you? What is your writing process like? What do you do to keep writing till the end when the going gets tough?
Today is the first Wednesday of the month post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.
Founded by the Ninja Cap’n Alex J. Cavanaugh, the purpose of the group is to offer a safe space where writers can share their fears and insecurities without being judged. This is a wonderful group–if you aren’t a part of it, I urge you to join in!
The awesome co-hosts for the September 1 posting of the IWSG are SE White, Cathrina Constantine, Natalie Aguire, Joylene Nowell Butler, and Jacqui Murray!
My own crime novel, The Blue Bar will be out this October with Thomas & Mercer. It is already available for preorders. Add it to Goodreads or pre-order it to make my day. Adding on Goodreads is an easy and free way to support my writing, and I’ll be ever so grateful!
There’s also this giveaway you can enter to win 6 books due out this fall, and THE BLUE BAR is one of them!
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I love finding out how other authors write – I find it fascinating. I’ve always been a backwards planner in teaching (start with the end goal and create tasks to help students achieve it). So I know my end goal in writing the story, but I simply cannot get my brain to outline – which is why I haven’t tried trad pub. I know it wouldn’t be a good fit for my brain. When I get stuck, I tend to delete the previous chapter and start again. My subconscious helps me out 🙂
I do this exact thing in my second draft, once I’m sure of the ending. I love how your subconscious helps you!
I love your cover. Good luck with your book!
Thanks so much, Melissa!
Thank you for writing this Damyanti. I could do with all possible answers to this month’s question. Journaling about the knot is something different for me. Maybe I should try it too.
You’re welcome, Sonia. I’m learning so much from all the responses, as well. Journaling isn’t a bad idea–I have filled up a huge diary ove rthe last ten years, and it shows my journey as a writer, too.
Writing journals and digging deep really do make a difference, and so does perseverance. Great work!
Thanks, Lynda. That’s all I know how to do.
Well done for pushing through. I found lots of useful tips for dealing with sludgy middles and dodgy endings when I looked into the nether regions of Camp NaNoWriMo one year. I wrote about it in an A to Z post for P – Plot, as in Losing It!
I resonate with your points 2 and 5. Reading outside your genre is what brings the ideas back, I think. It refreshes the brain, anyway. Which is why I read crime to help me – never scifi!
And 5 is vital. One word after another. That’s how it goes. Hopefully they make sense. Even if they aren’t good.
Yes, Jemima. Sometimes pushing through is all we can do.
Hi Damyanti – deadlines tend to set the bar sometimes! But mainly its perseverance, and keeping on writing til a good draft comes around – all the best to you … cheers Hilary
Thanks, Hilary. Yes, deadlines are great motivators.
If it was easy, everyone would be doing it!
Jack :). I find it very hard.
I’ve also done the page a day thing that Liz mentions. It’s a way to keep the thing moving forward until it’s “finished.” At some point, though, it has to develop a life of its own and become malleable. Otherwise there’s a reluctance to discard or rewrite any of those hard-won words. Input from critique partners, beta readers, or editors is invaluable at that stage.
Audrey,so true. A story developing a life of its own is the most magical alchemy.
I re-read pages of those authors who first inspired me. Soundtracks of my favorite movies help, too. Like I said in my own post: I sit down and write the first thing that comes to me. 🙂
Ronald, you’re a very talented writer, so I don’t doubt good things come out when you sit down and write 🙂
Great ideas, Damyanti. So much input from varied trusted people. You are lucky to have that.
Absolutely. I hold so much gratitude for all the good advice I’ve received.
Thank you for your courage and persistence.
Well, I make up for a lack of talent with persistence. 🙂
Reading outside your genre when you’re stuck – clever.
I enjoyed reading your work when I was stuck with mine, Alex. Reading scifi/ spec fic in general is very calming for me.
I’ve followed another’s writer’s method of writing one page a day until I have a first draft finished. Once I start revising, I can write for more sustained periods of time.
That’s what I did for my first novel, You Beneath Your Skin. Now, I try and prep, and then write in one burst, in a month or two.