My Process Went Gently Into that Good Night

So we’ve been sharing our different approaches to writing our books, our individual processes, and we’ve covered that there’s no one way that works for all authors. The best you can hope for is to cultivate the way that works for you. And I did.

I spent years not only learning how to write but getting to know my writing. Before I sold, I went to workshops, attempted to read numerous reference books (although Stephen King’s ON WRITING may be the only one I actually read cover to cover), honed my craft through nearly a dozen “practice” manuscripts and logged hours at the keyboard. So. Many. Hours. Then after I sold, my process was further shaped by the advice of a great editor and the interesting addition of tight deadlines–“interesting” in the same way I imagine piranha teeth are interesting. Every book has its own unique challenges and therefore its own unique panic, but on the whole, once I was about ten books into my career, if you caught me on a good day, I might have told you I knew I what I was doing. (FYI, there are no good days the week before a book is due. Then it’s all crazy-eyed fear and profanity-laced rants about why did I think I could do this.)

ANYWAY. The career progressed. I sold twenty books. Thirty. I successfully wrote books for different houses, different lines and different editors. I was fortunate enough to win a few awards and I felt pretty confident I had a process. Not necessarily a great one and certainly not one that used a cool white board or color-coordinated plotting index cards, but my ugly, messy process was mine and I loved it.

Then shit went sideways. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when I realized that my process no longer worked, but my tendinitis was one part of it. I can physically no longer type manuscripts. I delayed the inevitable for as long as I could with ergonomic keyboards, wrist braces and painkillers, but there came a day when my fingers just wouldn’t do it anymore and it was time to get dictation software. I was SO FRUSTRATED. Both of my kids are kinetic learners and maybe I have a little of that going on because it was like I couldn’t focus without the movement and sound of my fingers clicking on the keys. Plus, since the software was “learning” my voice, I had to slow down and make sure I was speaking clearly; half the time, when I reached the end of a paragraph, I couldn’t remember where I’d been going with it anyway.

The only passages that felt natural to dictate were sections of dialogue since they’re meant to be spoken anyway. I found myself wanting to skip to conversations later in the book instead of finishing whatever prose I was supposed to be writing, but I fought this temptation because I’d always been an organic writer. My process was that each scene should evolve naturally out of the scene that came before. On the rare occasion when I had tried to write out of order, I ended up cutting those nonsequential scenes anyway because they didn’t flow. Deadlines were too tight to invest in a scene I’d just delete later. Also, my usual process was to dangle fun dialogue (my favorite thing to write) as a carrot for slogging through other stuff. “Just get through this transition paragraph, and you can have fun with that juicy fight.” If I wrote all the fun stuff first, what would I have to look forward to? Except this was no longer working.

There were other things happening, but what it boiled down to was, I had begun to fight my own process. And I’m not sure why. I sold my first book in 2001, when I was a twenty-something with a three-week-old baby. It is now 2017. That baby has a learner’s permit to drive! We live in a different house. I am not the exact same person. So why did I subconsciously believe that my process should stay the same?

Back in the day, my process involved spending a week thinking about all the stuff I wanted to write, then pulling an all-nighter to get it on the page because I am a night owl who thinks best between midnight and three a.m. But I no longer have the stamina for all-nighters. As it turns out, sleep is healthy. I still get great ideas at two a.m. but now I reach for my smart phone on the nightstand, type a few words into the Notes section and sometimes even remember what they mean when I look at them the next day.

I have recently realized that almost none of how I used to work actually, you know, WORKS anymore. But I’m not sure why I let that terrify me. It’s kind of fun, after more than forty books, to experiment with new creative methods. Change can be good, right?

I hope you have–or develop–a process that works for you. But if your instincts start screaming to find a new one, consider listening instead of battling yourself. You may be pleasantly surprised with the results.

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