Process: what I’ve learned so far

I’ve started plenty of novels. I even finished one. And all of these Glorious Piles of Crap are now sitting in a folder on my computer, never to be opened again.

From all of these Glorious Piles of Crap, I’ve learned a little bit about my process, at least drafting-wise. The best strategy for me seems to be to just sit down and start writing, and just not look back. I’m an unabashed pantser.

I mean, I tried outlining a few of these Glorious Piles of Crap, but I just gave up halfway through because my strong sense of whimsy just felt too restricted. This sort of makes me laugh, because I pretty much spend all the waking hours I’m not writing outlining EVERYTHING. I mean, I wrote A LOT of papers, and I couldn’t have written a single one of them without a detailed outline, plotting out my argument, including evidence, how my assertions were connected to my thesis, etc., so I could make sure it all made sense.

For example, this is part of an outline for a paper I wrote about marriage in late medieval Florence:

And so on for several pages.

Thinking about it, writing a novel isn’t really much different, I thought. I mean, if you think about the argument in a history paper, that’s sort of like the plot, and all the pieces of evidence are like the scenes in a novel, each of them playing a specific part in advancing the argument (or plot). The outline is sort of necessary to make I can piece together the argument (plot), to make sure everything makes sense and that there aren’t gaping holes and whatever. So I tried to apply this mentality to my novels. But then when I tried to write my novels like this, it failed spectacularly. I eventually just gave up, and I actually started writing way faster when I just sat down to write, instead of feeling like I had to stick to an outline. (Which, again, is the complete opposite of how I write papers.) I think part of this is, aside fromt the fact that I’m obviously not analyzing historical passages in the context of an argument, I also have to take into account the fact that when I write, I’m more or less just going with the flow of my character interactions, and as much as I try, my characters are people and I can’t really control how they react to things.

So now that I’ve finallyfigured that out, I now get to figure out how I revise. Which sort of makes me want to cry when I think about it, because SHARDS OF MEMORY is a hot mess, and while thinking about how I revise my history papers will be a good place to start, the truth is that none of them have ever required quite as much revision as my newborn book will. But I have a feeling it’ll involve outlining what I have, so I can analyze all the relationships between all the scenes and what needs more fleshing out and what doesn’t make sense, because that’s just how my brain works.

Also, a lot of Ben & Jerry’s.

3 thoughts on “Process: what I’ve learned so far

  1. Barbara Kloss says:

    That's EXACTLY what I do!! I can't outline…not at first. I have ideas, but I have to just let my creativity flow and write and write and write. What I end up with looks like a pile of cow manure – smells like it, too. I'm stuck in it. Then I write a very – VERY! – extensive outline so I can analyze, fix, move, chop, hack, etc. After two very different drafts of a sequel, I finally sucked it up and wrote an outline…23 pages later! O_O And I think I finally fixed the pile of crap.Oh, it's a painful process…but so exciting once that pile turns into a story.Thanks for sharing!

  2. Sarah says:

    Outlines tend to give me the momentum I need. Without a clear idea of where everything is going, I'd probably get stuck and end up having three month long procrastithons. :)Good luck with revisions!

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