A few weeks ago I was contacted by The Seattle Examiner and asked to write an article for the website about my writing process. That article was published a few days ago, and I’ve decided to include that here. Here is that article:
The afternoon ended in an explosion of thunder, a screech of bald tires on dry pavement, and a head-on collision on Route Forty-Four outside of Phoenix.
Fortunately, that is not a description of my last road trip. It’s an example of my writing process. I think all writers have their own peculiar writing techniques. I know one writer who badgers everyone he meets for title suggestions. When he hears a title that engages him, he creates a story to fit it. Other writers I know outline their entire book. They don’t even begin writing until they have every step of their journey mapped out. They know where every bend in the road is. They know all the rough spots, detours, and pot holes along their trip. I envy their organizational skills. Anyone who has ever visited my home knows that I lack that particular trait. I am a one-woman testament to the second law of thermodynamics. Everything is moving from a state of order to disorder. My desk alone proves that.
I have attempted to emulate my outlining friends in the past, but my stories ended up reading like outlines. Really bad outlines. I learned my lesson, and now I don’t even give a passing thought to being organized. I accept the fact that I am a mess and try to make the best of it. I also tend to limit visitors. (Quick confession: sometimes, after a book is completed, an agent will request an outline. I type one up, send it out, and hope I have given the appearance of being organized and responsible, but in reality, it is simply a summary of my finished manuscript. I am still the same wreck that I’ve always been.)
My true writing process is similar to my friend who creates stories from titles. I think of a first sentence and then the rest of the story follows from that. Within a few paragraphs, I have a general idea of who my characters are, what the plot is, and what is going on. But I mostly write down the story as it happens. I don’t like doing research, so I try to stick to topics that I have some familiarity with. If I am writing something that I do not have first-hand knowledge of, then I research, but I don’t do it until I reach the section of the story that actually needs to be studied. Then I stop the writing process and delve into research. Sometimes that takes quite a bit of time. Since this is not an activity that I enjoy, I frequently procrastinate during this time, and that drags out the completion of my book—sometimes by several months. Another thing that slows me down is burn out. Frequently, towards the end of a novel, I lose interest, take a break, and find it difficult to get going again. And sometimes, I just get stuck and don’t really know what happens next. It eventually becomes clear to me, and I start writing again.
There are many other drawbacks to my method of writing, as well. Sometimes I get toward the end of my manuscript and realize I need to add a chapter or two, rearrange the order of events, or scrap something entirely. My characters don’t always behave in ways that I expect them to, nor do what I’d hoped they would. They tend to take on a life and will of their own. For the most part, they run the show like a group of spoiled children, reducing my role to janitor—leaving me to scurry about cleaning up their mess and staying late to lock up the joint after they’ve all gone home for the night. Or in this case, the end of the book has been reached, and the last sentence on the final page has been penned.