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Author Topic: The writing process
mayflower988
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I'm curious: do most people work on more than one story at the time? Because right now, this one story is consuming my mind so much I don't think I want to start anything else. (I have ADD, so follow-through and finishing are difficult for me. I don't want to get distracted.)
Also, does it help to write straight from beginning to end, or have yall found it's more beneficial to jump to whichever scene is currently dominating your mind?

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Meredith
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One story is always dominant for me, BUT I usually have more than one--in different stages--to work on. If I get stuck on the first draft, I can shift to revisions on another or working on the query for a third.

I write beginning to end, for the most part. However, if one particular scene falls into my head, I'll jot it down and then see if it still fits when I get to where it belongs. [Smile]

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Heresy
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I generally *write* one story at a time, but there's always several in various stages of development, then at least a few in the editing process.

As for writing beginning to end, I do, but it's not for everyone. I've met people who do the exact opposite. As long as it works for you, it's all good.

To be honest, my view on process is that everyone needs to find the one that works best for them, whatever that might be. Mine isn't the one I always used to think would work best for me, but I'm glad I found it, because I'm getting a LOT more done now, including finishing work I start.

-Julie

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rcmann
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Creativity is as individual as it gets. There is no right way to do it. What feels right to you is the right way for you. And it might change tomorrow.

Some people outline, some people make it up as they go along. Some people scribble a vague quasi-outline and then go with it.

Some people write linear, some people write the first and last, then fill in the middle. Some people write the middle, or the climax, then build the rest of the story around it.

Write until you feel like stopping. If you feel like taking a break to work on something else, do so. If you feel like sticking with one story until its done, do so. If someone tries to tell you that you are doing it wrong, ignore them.

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Robert Nowall
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Well, I used to, from time to time, but I found I kept writing character names from one story into others---highlighting another problem with my writing, actually, namely that all my characters are pretty much the same.

Nowadays, when writing, I write pretty much exclusively on one story, at least until it's reached the end (or until I don't want to work on it anymore at all.) Then I let it sit, for months, on the theoretical notion that I'm gaining some perspective on the story with the passage of time. Then I rewrite it.

Of course I'm not "not writing" while waiting---I work on something else, either something new, or revising something old...

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MattLeo
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I should warn you that Meredith is an outlier. She generally has more than one iron in the fire, besides the one she's got on the anvil and the bunch more she's got sitting in the annealing oven.

One thing we don't know is what kind of writing you want to do. Short stories? Novellas? Epics? Relationship driven comedy or plot-driven thriller? Those kinds of choices naturally will affect the kind of approach you'd take. I'd say if you are planning a novel, your greatest concern is finishing. Only a small fraction of people who conceive of a novel to write ever finish, and you have more trouble finishing than most people.

I'm a long time (25+ years) subscriber to "Science News". From what I've read there, "ADD" is a misnomer. The issue isn't an actual deficit of attention; *excessive* attention (hyperfocus) often causes more trouble than distractability. The difficulty is volitional control over where you place your attention.

I you had vision problems, I'd recommend glasses. If you were missing a limb, I'd recommend a prosthesis. In your case I'd recommend structuring your work and making yourself accountable to someone for progress. Don't try to control your focus with introspection, *externalize* that task. Set measurable goals for your projects and share your progress with someone else on a fixed schedule -- weekly at the very least.

How do you measure progress on something as complex and open ended as a novel? Well, if I were you I'd outline as soon as possible. Not everyone does this, but your mantra will be "plan the structure and measure the progress."

You can write some key scenes first -- in fact that's what I do. I write the climax first and work my way back, which allows me to properly foreshadow the result. But as soon as you can, try to get that outline done, even though it's no fun. Many editors insist on an outline; apart from convenience, I think it shows that a writer is able to discard extraneous detail. That's 90% of getting to a finished, readable project. The payoff will be having an idea of how close you are to being finished. If you are 80% done, you're more likely to be motivated than if you have no idea how close you are. Also, this allows you to keep an eye on word count. On a first novel you want to stay in the 70K to 100K range.

As for one project vs. several, I think it's a false dichotomy. What you want to do is avoid an endless parade of abandoned starts, so what I'd do is select one project you are committed to finishing. You can follow inspiration when it hits on other projects, but you're committed to spending a minimum amount of time per week or even per day on your main project.

Have a place outside of your head to jot down your ideas, and the fear that they're going to be gone won't be nagging you as you work on your primary project.

Writing involves a lot more than composing prose. You've got to research. You've got to read and critique other writers if you want to improve. Whether these are distractions depends on whether you have them under control. The only way to have them under control is to plan for and measure the amount of time you are going devote to each task.

I recommend adopting a time management system with budgeting and review features, such as the Pomodoro Method, and report your results to someone else. Whatever it is, adopt it *without modification* until you've produced something finished, or its clear the system will never work for you. Do *not* attempt to tailor the system to your individual needs until you have finished something. That way the system itself won't become a distraction.

Finish something. It doesn't have to be good. Many published authors report that their first attempt at a novel was terrible. Some didn't manage to create anything publishable until the third attempt. If your first novel is lousy, it's done it's job. It's taught you how to work, and each of its shortcomings is a lesson for you.

Until you've finished something you have no empirical basis for judging "what works for me."

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NoTimeToThink
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If I try to write multiple stories during the same time frame and switch between them, the integrity of each individual story is harder to maintain (voice/flavor/feel.) It takes me extra time to change my mindset from one story to another, and I still believe the stories suffer from the lack of dedication - almost like the mess that many people call multi-tasking. You can only really do ONE thing well at a time (if even that many.)
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extrinsic
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You ask for individual, personal composition habits. Mine follow both an intuitive and deliberative process, taught to me and learned and developed and more common among winning writers than not. I've both studied and taught composition pedagogy and andragogy and tutored and taught composition to writers of all ages and skill levels. I've seen ineffective habits. I've seen effective habits.

One commonality running through composition theory and implementation is a belief in individual process variations for creativity benefits, valid during preparation somewhat and most useful during raw draft composition for benefits from subconscious influences.

What's really most on the mind rises from the subconscious. Winning writers use their subconscious to best composition effect by letting it work its magic. Composition during the raw draft phase is akin to scrying a crystal ball. Real magic, in that autosuggestion techniques open a dialogue between the conscious and subconscious minds.

Another commonality, one of ineffective composition, is a belief, widely held, that composition is a once and done process. Strong composition involves free writing and at least an equal degree of preparation and at least an equal degree of rewriting and revision time and effort.

I've noted a breakdown for the amount of effort and time winning writers put into composing a whole. The initial preparation, planning, prewriting, and research phase averages at least as much time and effort as the raw draft composition phase. The rewriting and revision phase takes up at least a comparable amount of time and effort.

Another commonality for winning writers is their understanding of purposes for each composition phase. Preparations, etc., explore and develop a concept. Raw draft composition implements the concept development. Reworking adjusts the raw product for audience accessibility. The process starts from the inner life of a writer, oscillates between the inner and outer life of a writer, and finishes on the outside put before an audience.

The only meaningful variations in composition processes I've seen tend to be the differences between success and failure. Fail to plan; plan to fail. Bog down in micromanaging too conscious a focus during drafting phase, blocking subconscious influences, end up with an unworkable, stale composition. Short-shrift or skip reworking altogether, expect limited or no audience accessibility.

Yes, I do work on more than one composition at a time. They're all cranking away in my subconsciousness all the time. When one rises to the forefront, demanding my attention, I heed its insistence. Sometimes I make a note, mental schema or written summary, or sometimes I play the scenario out in imitation mode composition until I've exhausted the inspiration, depending on the degree of import to the project. Then I go back to the project task at hand.

I've been diagnosed with all sorts of learning challenges by assembly-line clinicians. They are justifications for resistance to developing an effective composition process, self-fulfilling and societally imposed excuses for failure. They are dragons to be slain by time, practice, effort, and a not inconsiderable allowance for distracting, demanding, useful subconscious influences, re: creativity.

When the going gets tough, slow down and take your time, sleep on it, let the subconscious mind do its thing, then act on it, for tomorrow is another day to excel.

[ June 19, 2012, 11:53 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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mayflower988
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Thanks, everyone. Those are all helpful tips.

MattLeo: Right now I just want to finish one novel, the one I'm working on right now. And you're right, often the problem is not a lack of attention, but having attention for too many things at the same time. I like what you said about being accountable to someone. I will try that. What is the Pomodoro Method?

extrinsic: Thanks - it's good to know that a lot of my writing time will be spent doing other things than just working on my manuscript. What is imitation mode composition?

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MartinV
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At the moment, all my efforts are concentrated into one novel. Most of the story is planned out, I just need to sit down and write it down.

A second novel is waiting for me after two years of resting in the drawer. I will add some new events I came up with and my style of writing has changed in the meantime so there might be more work than I think.

As these two novels are linked, I'm craving a new project to put my mind to something new. At this moment I'm deciding which of the nine projects I should get at. All nine have a very rough outline but since I'm trying to do a short story the selection might get trimmed soon.

I'm also translating my recently published novella from English to Slovene, hoping against hope that someone might be interested in it.
I'm also toying with the idea of offering to translate some novels for the local publishers. Not sure how they might respond to someone not an official translator but stranger things have happened.

Bottom line: my writing has reached a stopping point because I went overboard in planning and preparation. The writing itself lost all savour. It took me two months and now I finally got back into it.

[ June 19, 2012, 05:31 PM: Message edited by: MartinV ]

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by mayflower988:
extrinsic: Thanks - it's good to know that a lot of my writing time will be spent doing other things than just working on my manuscript. What is imitation mode composition?

Mimesis as opposed to diegesis or exigesis mode. Diegesis is summary recital. Exigesis is explanation recital. Both tells given by a narrator directly to readers, where mimesis or imitation is show, in scene in the persona and moment of the action. One of the two hardest yet related writing principles to learn, narrative distance being the other. Many a writer has come across those camel humps and faltered.

Seymour Chatman in Story and Discourse discusses the axis of show and tell. His chart illustrating the discussion is slightly different from mine. Mine includes a viewpoint character's position in the flow dynamic. When readers feel as if they are viewpoint participants in the action or at least close bystanders, their imaginations and they are more engaged.

Real author >> implied author >> narrator >> viewpoint character << narratee << implied reader << real reader.

On the other hand, Bertolt Brecht espoused the position that readers or audiences should be kept at arm's length so that they can consciously employ their critical thinking faculties and not be swayed by emotional appeals. Narrator or implied or real author voiceover, diegesis or exigesis, is one technique for managing Verfremdungseffekt, as Brecht named his distancing effect principle.

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Foste
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@MartinV

I translated my share of books for publishing houses in BiH and Serbia.

If those in Slovenia are ANYTHING like the publishers here, I'll tell ya one thing, they'll be glad that it's already translated. Anything to conserve money. Meh.

*ahem*

Query an acquisition editor. Can't hurt to try.

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LDWriter2
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I usually am working on two to five stories-novels at once. Each one might be at a different stage. Right now I am writing two novels, a short story or two, and revising one novel and just finished revising a story and may start on another one.

I can and have worked on one thing at a time, and sometimes just two.

quote:
Also, does it help to write straight from beginning to end, or have yall found it's more beneficial to jump to whichever scene is currently dominating your mind?
As to this question. I hate to say this but it depends. I have jumped around a bit at times even though I usually go straight through. Sometimes I go back to a scene I did a while back. Sometimes while revising I will jump to a future scene so I don't forget what I just thought, then go back to where I was. Sometimes I will put in a few sentences of dialogue or action I want for a near future scene, then go back a few spaces and keep writing. When I finally-which sometimes takes longer then planned-reach that scene I have it ready to go.
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mayflower988
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Okay, I'm just going to be honest here - extrinsic - the writing jargon is all going over my head. I've never taken any creative writing classes, other than the regular Lit classes in high school. But I'm trying to learn. I'm planning on reading up on the subject. But are you saying to show rather than tell?
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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by mayflower988:
Okay, I'm just going to be honest here - extrinsic - the writing jargon is all going over my head. I've never taken any creative writing classes, other than the regular Lit classes in high school. But I'm trying to learn. I'm planning on reading up on the subject. But are you saying to show rather than tell?

Not too long ago I didn't know let alone have an inkling of what plot is. It took me a while to figure it out to my satisfaction. I ran into many individual, selective interpretations of what plot is. Many, too many to make sense of plot from any one, I took in them all and synthesized a broad definition for myself suitable for application to any selected category or genre or form and narrow definitions for specific applications.

Though I've formally studied writing at several institutions, none of them were able to provide more than a cursory sense of plot. When directly asked, no one I asked could adequately describe plot in many hours of lecture, discussion, and question and answer, nor in casual conversation. And plot is but one of many thousands of complex writing topics.

My writing jargon is also a synthesis of the more on point writing theorists' theories, terms, and principles. I've read far and wide on my own; there's plenty to investigate, perhaps beginning with Aristotle's Poetics, not beginning a course of study, but a historical beginning of writing theory development. My terms are adopted and adapted from those theorists. Not my own terms though I've taken private ownership of them though developing a strong understanding of their underlying principles.

To show rather than tell is another complex writing topic. Traditionally, writers told more than showed. Tell survives as a noble and honored writing tradition. The divide opened about the early 20th century when mass production introduced mass consumption, which dictated mass distribution to justify start-up and operating costs. Technologies for machine-making paper and binding books came into widespread practice. Pulp digests and books became financially accessible for everyone. Mass culture, the consumers of mass production, wanted convenient, timely, self-gratifying products. Show delivers that experience.

Motion pictures supplanted the heyday of mass literature production about mid century. Simply because of more convenient, timely, and self-gratifying entertainments. Literature has been holding its own since then, but market growth barely keeps up with population growth. Why? I asked. People in general aren't attracted to literature. What can be done about that? I asked. Make literature more entertainingly accessible.

The strengths of written word over motion pictures are twofold; one, an intimate experience. Reading is a solitary activity. Two, close and deep access to thoughts. Motion pictures provide a sorry excuse for thoughts in the forms of voiceover and reaction shots. Voiceover invariably reports from outside the persons, moments, and places of the action. This is narrative distance, open narrative distance, where the voiceover narrator is remote from the action, a parallel to traditional literature. Worse, a character addresses audiences directly during a pause, a stall of the action, violating the fourth wall of the scene, the wall behind which audiences safely, vicariously, perhaps voyeuristically experience or observe an action.

Motion picture reaction shots can only portray surface thoughts, primal reactions to emotional stimuli.

Literature written in the modern convention of show can and often does stay in character voice, close narrative distance, portraying the personal drama and deep, perhaps exquisite thoughts of characters in the moment of an intimate experience.

I believe we can save literature from mediocrity if we write more in show and less in tell. But there are many positions which oppose mine. Bertolt Brecht's high-brow position, for example, is common among moral authoritarian elitists who don't care to change their minds, change their reading preferences, code change in order to appreciate artfully crafted mimesis fiction.

Mimesis writing is more appealing to mass culture. And it should be noted, the historical trend for the opus of literature has been from diegesis and exigesis to mimesis.

[ June 22, 2012, 03:17 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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MattLeo
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Well, let me propose an analogy which probably works for most of us.

Literary theory is to writing as metallurgy is to blacksmithing.

The first thing you need to do when you start smithing is to learn your way around the forge. You don't need to know much metallurgy to forge a horseshoe or fireplace poker, although some basic knowledge might be interesting to you. As you proceed onto more difficult skills, like hardening tools or swaging wire, knowing a little bit about how work hardening and annealing might come in handy in addition to the pragmatic knowledge of hammering and heat treating.

When you move up to knives, then swords, you've reached the limit of hands-on knowledge. A sword is never as good as it could be. At that point the knowledge of things like austenitic vs. martensitic crystal structure is a big advantage.

What I'm saying is you can create a serviceable story with just some basic knowledge of simple things like narrative perspective (first person, third person omniscient, third person limited), character point of view, basic stuff like that, well before you're at a point where you can contemplate saving literature from mediocrity.

As for plot a simple three act structure can do to be going on with. You need to know how to open the story, introduce an inciting incident, add complications, bring the story to a climax, then close the story.

Then it's largely developing hammer swinging skills: composing readable prose; constructing and representing dialog (how and when to use tags or not use them); building scenes and (if you need them) chapters; describing settings and action. You learn to use techniques, like unreliable narration, free indirect speech, flashback, framing devices, symbolism, and foreshadowing.

And then you get to the point where you're making artistic judgments, like how to build tension and suspense, or how best to make characters vivid and recognizable. You learn to balance showing and telling, how to vary the pacing of the story (which is the only use I've found for chapters -- scenes are the organic unit of storytelling).

You work on your craft, you get better by critiquing yourself and others. Then perhaps you can judge the usefulness of more subtle theoretical ideas. Communication requires not only common symbols, but common *semantics*; you can't communicate color to a blind person or what advanced musical theory to someone who's never listened to music.

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mayflower988
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Thanks, MattLeo, that was very encouraging and helpful. I like the idea of keeping it simple for now, using a three-act structure. I'll try to do that.
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Pyre Dynasty
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Mayflower: Extrinsic is way deep in literary theory, and he has a lot to say on the subject. Sometimes you just read his posts and don't get it but sometimes something he says sticks and after a little digestion your mind unpacks it. Sometimes you have to listen to the music of his posts instead of the lyrics. I'm grateful that he shares his insights with us from his journeys to the underworld so I don't have to go there myself.

I also suffer from ADD and I'm still working on the whole finishing projects thing. I largely agree with Matt's post on the subject. I totally agree that it's really a surplus of attention, too much to dedicate to any one thing. Hyperfocus, though, means when we do dedicate all that attention to any one thing. I don't know if you do it, I do. I spent every possible moment last week watching the Speed Gamers play through a bunch of Pokemon games. I hardly slept. Hyperfocus can be a detriment, but I am determined to figure out a way to turn it to my writing advantage. I just need to find the mechanism.

For me, I'm in the camp of write the story you are in love with at the moment. But I try to temper that with making one story priority, I consciously make an effort to think about it while I'm doing other things. I do this by asking myself questions. "Why did he run away?" "How is she going to defeat that dragon?" "What the heck am I talking about?" This helps me to be in love with the story I want to be in love with.

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mayflower988
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Thanks, Dynasty, it's always good to know someone else can relate. This is the first story I've tried to write since I started this ADD medicine that I've been on for a few years now. I'm noticing a drastic difference. I've been trying to ask myself questions, too. But right now it's like the story is consuming me - I always have something to add to it. I guess I'm still in the honeymoon stage!
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variable_1960
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I'm working on a few stories simultaneously, and they range from several thousand coherent (or mostly coherent) words to a few snippets of ideas and scenes.

That said, I have my primary story and I am trying to stick with it, although even with that story I am bouncing around a bit, since I have a broad sense of the arc of the story and what elements will complete it -- sometimes I write elements/chapters out of sequence but I know where they fit into the overall story.

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