Jessica Day George

Monday, October 26, 2009

This is your Writing Process. . .

Some of you may have noticed that I rarely use my blog to expound upon Ye Writerly Methodes and Modes, and hand down words of Ye Wysdome. There is a very good reason for this.

Who said I have Ye Wysdome?

I'm a writer. A published writer. This is my goal and my dream and the life which I have chosen (and been lucky enough to succeed at). However. This doesn't mean that if I tell you how I got published, the same thing will happen to you. This doesn't mean that if I tell you how I write, it will work for you. Being a published author does not qualify me to tell you anything, except how I work, and what works for me, but we're all different.

Very different.

For instance, I like Dragon Flight. I wrote it, slaved over it even, and presented it to you, the reader, when I was sure that it was the best that I could make it. Today I read a review online of Dragon Flight that was written by someone who loathed it. They found it to be almost unreadable, and would not recommend it to anyone. This person is not a professional reviewer, so normally I would ignore the review. Everyone is different, and it's well known to my friends and book club members that I have hated with a mad passion books other people love and vice versa. This review, however, inspired me to write this blog entry because the reviewer is an aspiring writer who had heard me speak at a conference. From my books (she has also read Dragon Slippers), and what I said at a conference, she analyzed my "writing process" and where it had gone off the rails, resulting in my books not being very good.


The big confession.

Several of them.

First off, I have nothing against this woman. She thinks her thoughts and has her opinions and that's all dandy.


She was wrong. What she described is not at all how I write. For one thing, she called me a "discovery" writer, because I (apparently) said I didn't outline. (By the way, I have no clue what conference this was at, so I have no idea what I may have been yakking about.) There are, in this blogger's opinion, only two types of writers. Those who outline and worldbuild first, and those who are "discovering" the story as they go along (I got the impression that she thinks of this as almost a stream-of-consciousness situation).

I can't be 100% certain, but I believe that if you interviewed 100 writers, you would find that all of them have a different writing process, rather than just falling into the Forman Outline, No Formal Outline categories.

The Biggest Confession of All.

I am not very articulate.

I know, I know, I could talk the hind legs off a tauntaun. But stick me on a panel and ask me a writing question, and I go, "Uh, I dunno." Part of it is because, well, I'm used to sitting with my little computer and writing my thoughts, deleting the ones I don't like, changing them around, pondering, changing some more things, and then posting/publishing them. So I have long suspected two things about Me At Writing Conferences: 1. I sound like a moron. 2. I am not explaining anything well.

Let me clear that right up, to the best of my ability.

I am going to tell you about My Writing Process, that you may behold it in all its beauty. Perhaps it will anger you, perhaps it will inspire you. If you, too, are a writer (and many of my blog readers seem to be), please feel free to use the comments to discuss your writing process!

Step 1. Inspiration!
An idea will come to me, whether it's a plot, like Dragon Slippers, a character like Galen in Princess of the Midnight Ball, or a setting like a little something I'm working on now but don't want to discuss! I mull this all over for a while, thinking about the characters, their stories, how it will fit together, and get a general sense of where the story will go, whether it's one book or a series, etc. This could technically be called an outline, but it's not that formal. I do make notes: character and place names, thoughts, good dialogue snippets, to make sure I don't lose anything as I sift it all together. This could take anywhere from days to years.

Step 2. Writing!
This is basically the rough draft. So when I say that I wrote Dragon Slippers in three months, this is what I mean. I didn't go back and make any changes, I just wrote it all out from beginning to end before I lost the broad thread of the story. That was the shortest time I've ever spent on a rough story, too. Some of them have taken a year, my last couple of books have been around six months each. The end product of Step 2 is not a finished book, and I would NEVER let anyone see it, not even my husband. It's like prancing around in unsexy underwear: strictly for the eyes of myself and occasionally my stuffed dragon Magne who I still talk to when I am upset. (While I'm confessing things, I thought I might go all out. . .)

Step 3. Revising!
I read back through, make changes, cut boring bits, fine tune characters and dialogue. Then I give it to my agent, and she critiques it and I fix things, and then it goes to my editor.

Step 4. Editing!
I hate step 4. My editor sends me notes. I make changes, or don't, depending on my Vision. I sweat and swear and dance around. I eat too much. I read and reread the manuscript, the editorial notes, I dither over every change. Then I send the manuscript back. My editor either suggests one or two more things, or she puts it through to the copyeditor, or Grammar Police, and then we all go over each line and consider each word and its usage until I want to start screaming.

Step 5. Behold!
A shiny new book!

This is how I roll.

So tell me:

How do YOU do that voodoo that you do so well?


Annette Lyon said...

I have a similar process. I don't outline, per se, but I do have to know generally where I'm starting from, where I'm headed, and many landmarks along the way. I need to know my characters pretty solidly as well. But a strict outline? No. There's as quite a spectrum between the strict outliners and the write by the seat of your pants people. I fall pretty close to center.

aj said...

I've decided I am not a "writer" but a "rewriter" :) Really, most of my good ideas come about through the process of rewriting. I write a chapter at a time, and then I go back a few chapters (sometimes even to the beginning of the book) and revise and I read. By the time I'm to the latest chapter I wrote, my vision for the rest of the book is SO much clearer, and I know just where I'm going next.

I do outline a few chapters ahead, and I have a general arc of major scenes that need to happen over the course of the book, but I agree that keeping a continual file of "notes" are more beneficial. I am constantly changing things.

If someone gave me a formula book to write, with a specific beginning they wanted, middle and end, it would be torture for me. My stories are too fluid - they ebb and flow and change course. I like it that way.


aj said...

And then I go back and fix my typos, which I should've done before I posted that last comment - haha :)

Oh, and may I just say: I often get in on that part 3 of your process, Jessica, and your rough drafts are already KILLER!! So amazing :)

c'est moi said...

Just did a google search for "Dragon Flight" and - as far as my ADD would allow - came up with only positive to glowing feelings about the book out there in good ol' cyberspace. So, if one bitter person wants to talk merde and poo about things they know nothing about - what can we do, but giggle? I admire - and have even known - many talented, lovely writers, such as yourself, and they only have one thing in common as far as the writing process THEY WRITE A LOT. So there, miss "I've been to writing conferences and I can categorize people into two writing categories". Sounds a lot like an early moment in "Dead Poets Society" when they start "charting" poetry. Bah, I say. Bah.

Sheila said...

Please don't think that you ever have to justify yourself or your writing. There are so many of us that absolutely love your books and your writing style.

No one should pick apart another writer like this lady did. Whoever she is should truly be embarrassed. You have won awards and been nominated for so many awards; that speaks volumes to me. I only hope, someday, to write even half as good as you and get published.

You are fantastic my friend!! ~~Sheila

McKenne said...

You are amazing as a writer. everything you write is fun, interesting and funny. You have great wit--and stop kidding yourself--you are hilarious on a panel. People come specifically to listen to you.

I write like you do. I think and contemplate and mentally outline. I take notes so I don't forget important things. And for the record--today I hate writing. Today I wish I never ever wrote down that first word that led me to the madness of this career choice. Tomorrow I will love it again--or not. we'll see, but I feel angsty and want to let everyone know it!

Julie Wright said...

oh and mckenna is my daughter. I have no idea when she sneaked into the confines of my computer and logged in as herself but that last bit was from me (though mckenna loves you too)

Crystal Liechty said...

I'm with you on step one. Where I have trouble is finishing step 2. Which is probably why I've only published one book...
And I agree with Julie. Whenever I've heard you at a conference, you've been personable and fun. said...

I've heard you speak at conferences and loved what you said, especially when you got into a discussion about underwear. So funny. I haven't published a book yet, though an editor's looking at one of mine and an agent (your agent I think) has expressed interest too! (Yeah). Anyway, I don't outline much. I've tried but I'm no good at it. It just confuses me. I can't think much about what I'm going to write. I have a general idea of the story, but until I start writing it, I really don't know exactly what's going to happen with it. My first drafts, I think, are really more like summaries, not much detail, character development, dialogue, or introspection, more action and telling. It's only after several rewrites that the real story is revealed. In fact, I'm not sure if I ever completely finished a book yet. I have friends who outline and do very few drafts and don't have to do much revising. I wish I could do that, but I'm mostly a reviser. I hate writing first drafts. It's painful. Like you, I have learned not to revise as I go on my first draft and that helps me get through it faster. This month for NANORAMO (sp?) I'm going to attempt to write a first draft in a month, which will be a miracle for me if I do it. I'm amazed that you do first drafts in a few months and then do a rewrite and its ready to send to your agent and that you can write a book in 6 months. Wow!