Monday, September 12, 2011

Every Novel is Different

I've been thinking, lately, about the writing process. We writers talk about this like it’s an absolute thing. We are outliners, or pantsers; we are first-person writers, or third-person. It’s how we write and who we are. Like our personalities, it develops and changes slowly over the course of time.

Or so it seems.

Because of this, I’ve written off working in first person; of ever outlining; of writing adult fiction; of writing romance, or having aliens in my novels, or writing a dystopian, or skipping scenes and writing non-linearly, or a myriad of other tiny little writing differences. Those are all things I Just Don’t Do.

At any given time and any given novel I’m absolutely certain of it. I bet you’re certain of your own writing process, too.

So imagine my surprise when, after sending MIRRORPASS out with betas for over a month, having little to do but play with new story ideas and revisit old ones, I found my writing process change. Dramatically. One particular story idea, THE ETERNITY SHIFT, has caught my interest. And the way it’s coming to me is unlike any experience I’ve ever had.

Firstly, I am a premise writer; once I have a solid premise, I extrapolate from it and can then easily start writing.

But with ETERNITY, the premise doesn’t seem to be enough; parts of the story are still missing, and I can only find them when I start treating this like a character-driven novel. Character driven! Me! (You can understand my panic.)

Second, because I can’t write from my premise onward, I can’t seem to write linearly, either. Scenes are coming to me. Random scenes. Tiny snippets. That refer to things earlier in the timeline, which I haven’t written yet. I know other writers do this—but not me! Never me!

I write third person. I love third person. I know how to work in third person, and I’m good at it. I’ve tried first person, and been told not to. I tried second person, which went even worse. Third person it is.

ETERNITY is in first person.

I’ve only enjoyed about three dystopians in my life. Never in my dreams would I write it.

This is dystopian.

You get the picture. This is completely different from anything I have ever written. The weirdest part? When I stop working on ETERNITY and start working on MIRRORPASS, my writing process actually switches back.

After a few days of bewilderment, I began to remember something I had forgotten. I remembered that this phenomenon has occurred before.

In the beginning of my writing efforts, I wrote strict action/adventure YA, one 75k draft all the way through with only minimal revision, and finished said 75k draft in three months. I wrote maybe four novels that way. Then I had a 2ish year period where, unbelievably, I struggled to write anything. My process changed—I wrote short stories, and novellas, which I could never finish. I edited them severely.

Then my process changed again. I started a collaborative novel. Then I wrote SHATTERBOX, which took an agonizing six months, and was the kind of draft Anne Lamott encourages in Bird By Bird. Basically, it sucked. I only produced 100-300 words per writing session. Then my process changed yet again. I wrote MIRRORPASS, which came in glorious, unfettered chunks of 2,000 – 4,000 words at a time. I revised heavily during the first draft, and thus took me two long years to write.

In case it’s not clear, each of those times, much of my writing process was dramatically different that it had been before. Each time I found myself thinking, This is it. I’m back in the swing of things. This is my process.

And during my transition into the next novel, I discovered I was wrong. Every new novel seems to demand it’s own process. Each time, I become a bit more flexible; I learn more.

It's weird, but it's cool, and it gives me hope. It means that if there's something I don't like about my process, well, maybe five novels up the road that will have changed. Maybe I’ll get to write “That book” someday, the one I know I can’t write now. It maybe I'll finish this in one year, instead of two. (Or you know, a few months. That would also work.)

And you know what else? I’ve discovered a lot of other writers experience this. Like, a lot of others. It does seem to take a few novels to get started—Maybe new writers need to develop some stable form of their writing process before they can learn to identify which novels need to be written which way. Yet another reason to write a lot of novels and gain experience.

Although there are some things about my process that have changed only with time--my obsession about the rules of writing, say--the way I write a novel seems to change with every novel I write.

So let me ask you guys: How has your process changed – over time, and between novels?

Truly and always,

-Creative A


1000th.monkey said...

Yup. Suddenly I'm writing a first person, present tense MG story that's heavy with emotion like *sorrow* with a twelve year old protagonist who doesn't want to do anything... just hide from his own pain.

Brand. Spanking. New. ...and horrifyingly different from anything I am *used* to writing.

I do dark, I do creepy, I do insanity, violence and black mail. 3rd person is where I normally live, where I'm comfortable dealing with unreliable narrators and hypocritical characters who lie to themselves as much as the people around them.

I don't get inside the head of a little kid and wallow there. Yet here I am...

Creative A said...

Nice! It's freaky at first, isn't it? Sounds like you have a pretty major jump going on, too. I wish you the best of luck--the ones who don't want to do anything can be fun, because now you get to throw rocks at him.


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