30 March 2014

Writing process update

Over the past month I've been taking advantage of the break in my editing schedule to work hard on the first draft of one of my pseudonym's WIPs. I've tried all sorts of different strategies from writing for two hours a day to eight hours a day, scheduling specific blocks of time to write to blocking out an entire day, writing on very little sleep to getting lots of sleep, etc. Here are some things I have learned over the last couple of weeks about my writing process.

Regarding when and how long I can write
I can write for 4 hrs/day fairly consistently and for 6 hrs/day for a few days, but not 6/hrs/day consistently or 8 hrs/day for even one day. Provided I go to bed around 11pm or midnight and get up around 8am, my brain is at its best between 10am and 8pm, provided I take care to eat regularly.

Regarding food and sleep
My brain demands more food when I'm writing a lot, and if I skip breakfast or ignore my hunger pains, my brain shuts down in protest. I had thought that maybe trying to write on little sleep would help me let go of the inner editor and write without judgement, but it turns out that watching Project Runway until 5:30am, getting up at 9am and trying to write after breakfast leads not to writing all the words but instead to a) about two handwritten pages of disconnected notes about everything from the ms I'm trying to write to the fashion collection inspired by food I'd design if I had any sewing experience or fashion sense, and b) a 2.5-hr nap. 

Regarding plotting and other aspects of Rachel Aaron's 2K-10K system
I'm more capable of plotting than I previously believed. Asking myself "Why am I not excited about writing this scene?" can lead to surprising and super helpful breakthroughs that lead not only to more writing but also a better book. It can also lead to several days of being stumped.

Regarding rituals
I've been putting on moody instrumental music that I like but which I can ignore and lighting candles at the beginning of my writing sessions. Just after lighting the candles I've also been dabbing on a particular scented oil my friend Cheryl made for me for the purpose of grounding myself and stimulating creative energy. I don't know that these activities are the cause of writing more words or having better concentration, but there does seem to be a correlation.

Regarding deadlines
I struggle with constant tension between wanting to finish something and not wanting to force it. Deadlines help me up to a certain point, and at a certain point I just feel overwhelmed by the amount of work I have left to do and freeze up. And then at some point I stop caring about quality of writing and just want to get the f*cker done, so I start writing the abbreviated version of what happened and it somehow turns into a scene.

Regarding shitty first drafts
Even really crappy, incomplete scenes feel better than just having notes about a scene. Also, I am in fact capable of writing a really super rough draft and feeling okay with knowing that I'll have to go back and add/change things later. I didn't think the inner critic would allow that, but evidently working with other people's manuscripts and seeing how other people handle drafting has given me confidence that I can do it, too.

Regarding the order in which I write scenes
One of the most interesting parts of this process is that I seem incapable of writing scenes in the order in which they appear in the book. I start with later parts and they give me clues about what has come before and then I'll write the earlier parts and realize I need to change something that happens later or I'll move on to the next section of the book and then jot down notes for a couple things I need to change in the earlier section because new information has emerged in the writing that needs to be planted earlier. It's a messy, messy process. There's a part of me that likes linear and logical and is super uncomfortable with all the ambiguity and recursiveness of this process. Then there's another part that is completely comfortable in the messy, dirty, tangled skein of moist entrails that is my novel taking form.


  1. Very interesting, it's always cool to learn about our process. One thing that helped me is the book, Write ., Karen E. Peterson. It's for overcoming writers block, but your post reminded me of how useful it was. It shows you how to balance the two sides of your brain to accomplish more writing.

    Great post, I plan to try some of your ideas, especially the rituals. They are ideas that might inspire me. I never thought of grounding for writing... I do ground myself regularly, but this is a whole new aspect. Thank you. :)

  2. Very interesting post! It's fun to test assumptions about your own writing process, and figure out what really works. Thanks for sharing :)

  3. I loved Rachel Aaron's article on jumpstarting productivity, and I've added asking myself the question, Why am I not excited about this scene? to my unsticking strategies. :)

    The link between enough food and well-timed, healthy meals is important too. Sleep, I simply cannot forego; remembering to eat is getting easier, too, thank goodness.

    Great post. Thank you!