Pen and Paper (the writing grind)
Updated: May 8, 2018
I've finished my women's fiction book. Well, actually I'm learning that novels are never finished, or at least never seem to be finished. There's always something to be changed, or cut, or added or enhanced, or clarified, or...something. The way my personal writing process works, when I've completed what everyone calls a first draft, it's actually already in it's tenth or more rewritten version.
This book took me about two years to get to this point. What is this point? Well, I have a completed manuscript in Microsoft Word with 35 chapters and 120,531 words. Double spaced and with the prescribed margins, etc. that comes to 453 pages. I'm soon to send it to a content editor and, if it survives that, it will move on to a line editor. I'm currently in the middle of working with a cover design company in San Diego. I plan on sharing with you all those moments as I continue this journey but I thought I'd start by sharing some insights into my own personal writing process. It might be helpful for some of you, or it just might make some of the rest of you laugh. All I can say about my approach is that it's mine and, for better or worse, it resulted in a finished novel.
In general, I have found I need to be out of the house in order to write my initial drafts. Maybe it's a holdover from my years of working every day away from home, I don't know, but I leave the house around 9 am each week day. I have discovered a small horticultural library (it's in an arboretum) and few people go there so it is wonderfully quiet, most of the time.
The beautiful tables are made from slabs of wood and the large windows look out on ponds and plants, trees and meadows. (No, I'm not telling where it is!)
I have a couple of spots in the library where I typically sit and write. Once I'm there and spread all my tools out (files, pens, folders, manuscript, etc.) my mind automatically goes into a kind of writing mode. The repetitive steps help me to focus and to make progress. I don't wait for a muse to show up, although she's welcome, and I don't ask myself if I'm in the mood. Writing, for me, is best treated as a daily routine, just like a paying job. I show up, I sit, I start to write and put in the requisite hours, I set a reasonable goal, buckle down and make progress. I write from 9 to noon typically, take a lunch break, write from 1:30 to 3:30 and head home. I might type up what I've done before supper if I think it's worthwhile.
Here's my actual writing process (whether you wanted to hear about it or not).
I write in longhand first (yes, I have a computer - a rather nice one - and yes, I use it a lot for rewriting but never for the initial draft. I have found through great trial and error (mainly error) that my ideas flow best when they're linked through my hand to a pen or pencil that's making actual marks onto paper with cursive. No, I'm not kidding, especially for those younger members who might be reading this, and who were never taught cursive in your benighted schools. There is a unique, liquid-like transfer of ideas and emotions that occurs between the mind, the pen and the paper that doesn't happen, at least for me, in any other way. All of my initial writing goes that way.
Once I get my notions onto paper, I can work with them in a physical way, scratch lines through words I don't like, circle phrases and draw arrows that send them flying somewhere else, scratch comments in margins, toss question marks here and there, add exclamation points where I like things, and on and on. The ink bleed on the paper marks a battle of ideas fought across the page. I read it aloud from the top (if I'm alone) or read in a muffled whisper (if someone's near). I pause to make scribbled changes, read again, tasting the rhythm, and then go on. If I'm happy with the pages, or if they're just too muddled to continue, I hand copy them to clean sheets. The process goes on again and again. If I produce at least three handwritten pages in a day, I'm happy. Some red-letter days have resulted in 6 or even 7 pages; many days have returned only 1.
At least twice a week I type all the handwritten pages into my manuscript on the computer. During that process, more things change, phrases shift, words alter, additions and subtractions occur. When I'm happy, I print it out. For me, everything looks different when it's on the page instead of on the computer. I read through it out loud and mark up the printed pages with more changes.
When I have enough pages to provide a decent story flow I hand it to my wife (English major in college, former teacher - she's my resident grammarian and story doctor.) Whatever she finds she marks up and we discuss. I make these changes and then move on.
Before my next longhand writing session I read, usually out loud, the last few typed pages of my manuscript in order to get into the story flow again and then start writing with my pen or pencil on the paper.
Once I've reached the end of a chapter or the end of a significant moment in the story I will take some time out to read out loud the whole sweep of the story up to that point. Inevitably, more problems show themselves and are addressed.
Eventually, even though it seemed impossible when you started, the months pass, the three ring binder thickens with typed sheets, the manuscript winds its way to its last scene and the wonderful story (w hope) has been told. Now begins the process of beta readers and weeks and weeks of listening very closely to your first readers.