The writing process is different for everybody. It’s as individual as the person holding the pen (or fingers poised over the keys, whatever your method). I’ve read a bit about the processes some of my favourite authors use and tried to incorporate bits and pieces into my own life to see what fits for me.
Outlines! When I was less experienced, and writing was more of a hobby than something I wanted to do with my life, I flew by the seat of my pants. Outlines? What are outlines? I would have an idea float into my head and begin furiously scratching something down on paper. Inevitably it would float on out again and that would usually be it. End of story. An abrupt conclusion in the middle of the story, sometimes mid chapter or even mid sentence.
When I decided to take things a bit more seriously, gained a bit of experience, and learned from the impressive list of previous failures I saw that outlines were not the tool of the devil I had thought them to be. I began doing rough outlines. What a world of difference it makes! I still only take them a few chapters at a time. It gives me something to look forward to, a goal to keep in mind. More importantly it allows me the creative flexibility to let the story flow naturally and organically come to all these outlined points. Sometimes things get moved forward or back, or outright cut, but it allows me to know what I’m working towards and keeps words flowing. It’s been a great help.
Another thing I’ve realized it the hardest part for me is getting words on a page. I aim for 2000 words a day on a writing day, but that number can change if I have another project that requires other attention (outline, edit, etc). This goal is a bit higher than many, I realize, but it’s high enough to keep me focused on task without seeming overwhelming. I’ve also discovered I burn out if I focus entirely on one project for too long, so I’ll often split my writing between projects. I might throw 1000 words at the novel, another 500 at a short story, and then edit another project.
Motivation is hard to come by at times. Sometimes it’s easy, but regardless I find the only way I can continue forward progress is to plunk myself at a computer with no distractions. Internet access is an ongoing battle, but for the most part one I win…inevitably…usually.
Characters are fun, but sometimes quite a challenge. They tend to speak with a similar voice at first. Male, female, young, or old they all end up sounding pretty much the same. On subsequent passes through in the editing process I try to make them unique, give them their own speech patterns, vocabularies, etc. I’ve learned to try and think beyond the basics of individual motivation. Try to flesh them out and make them as real as possible.
The same can be said for world building. When the novel began in 2010 there were many mistakes to learn from. One being the world was pretty one dimensional. There were no nations or borders, it was all towns within unspecified countries. One looked the same as the other despite relative large distances between them. Weather was always the same everywhere. There was never any wind or rain or snow, unless it was a plot device. The cities had no histories, or culture, or anything…everything existed purely as was required by the story.
Now there are many diverse nations (I hope others see it that way) with many cultures, religions, languages, monies, governments, and so on. Towns within a country have differences. The people may speak differently within the same nation, sometimes even within the same city. This becomes especially true in places where cultures have merged or coexist.
I wonder what else I will learn before the draft is finished, from the editing process, or ten years from now. I can tell it’s (the novel) and I have already come a long way to get where we are. Part of me is nervous to finish the draft and, upon a reading, realize how much work there is to do to make it a coherent, presentable story to sell to agents and publishers. The other part is quite eager to see it through and where it can go. I guess I’ll keep updating as I go along.