- Get a bit of inspiration.
- Write until it begins to take shape as a story.
- Sit on it a bit, read it, and then start over.
- Discover that I need to do some research.
- Push the story as far as I can.
- Figure out that I need to leave out about half of it.
- Start from the new place and push it to the end.
- Show it to someone else and get some comments.
- Realize from the comments – though not necessarily from the specific flaws pointed out by my reader – what the story is actually about.
- Rip it up and start over.
- Read something relevant and figure out how to work that in.
- And on and on and on in that vein, though not always quite in that order.
I am not a linear thinker. If necessary, I can force myself into a semblance of linear thinking to get a chore done, but I don’t like it. I find it painful, because when I do things that way, it always feels like I’m leaving out something important.
It’s not just that I find it hard to make an outline. It’s that if I have an outline, I look at each item and think of five different ways to do the next step (in addition to whatever is actually set out as the next step). It’s better if I just make a list of things that I know must be included somewhere, and keep adding to it.
This is more than being a pantser, though I’m that, too. Sometimes the thing that’s really driving the story is under the surface somewhere, so it takes me awhile to figure it out. In fact, sometimes I surprise myself when I do figure it out.
When faced with a deadline, I can finish something. Most of the time it’s a serviceable piece, and sometimes it’s even a good one, but it’s rarely what I really wanted to create. In the same way, I can do taxes, pay bills, and otherwise handle daily living.
And, in fact, I’m good at cutting to the chase and seeing what absolutely has to be done when there’s a firm deadline and too much to do. That’s possibly the most useful survival skill I’ve developed: I know what to skip or throw out when there’s not time to do everything.
My skill at cutting to the chase when I have to and at doing journalism quickly (because you have to do journalism quickly) gave me the illusion that I was a fast writer who could just crank things out. I even did it at Clarion West, cranking out my story a week (and selling most of them eventually), though I did that on very little sleep and no exercise. I loved it, but sleep and exercise are too important in my life to live that way for very long.
But to write what I really want to write, to pull the story or thesis out of the depths of my mind, I need to write and talk and read and rewrite and share and rewrite and rip up until it all comes together the way I want it to.
It’s not just fiction. Right now I’m tearing out my hair over the self defense book. I know what I want to say, but I keep changing how I want to say it. And I keep finding new information and new insights that deepen some sections and change the way I want to say it.
I could write it very quickly if I stuck with the outline I created some time back, but at this point, that simpler version is no longer the book I want to write.
I wish I’d understood this a long time ago. Please note that I’m not asking for advice. I like the way my mind works. I enjoy finding all those odd connections that come from the random thinking process. In fact, the reason I’m driven to write is that the process allows me to figure out what I really think, what’s really important, what I really want to say.
I wrote most of this piece very quickly. It needed some tweaking, but it still came together faster than most of my blog posts. That’s probably because the core of it was a lifetime in the thinking.