I attended my first book festival a few weeks ago and at the end of one of the panels had the chance to talk with a writer who was starting out on her first book. I listened to her discuss how she’d found a critique group and had worked through the first few chapters. She went on to describe that she had the general idea for the book but was still working details for other chapters. And while I was tempted to jump in and give some advice—this thought lasted a mere half a second—instead I sat back and soaked in her enthusiasm, tried to give positive encouragement, and drifted back to story struggles of my own that I haven’t considered for a long time.
Now, I’m not saying I don’t struggle with writing, plotting, editing, etc. I do. For every book and afterward during professional edits. Then again later during reviews. It’s a never ending process, and doubts are part of the trip.
What this energetic writer brought to mind was how I used to approach starting stories, and how my process has evolved in the years since I first started.
I’m not going to go into my process here. Suffice it to say, that I’ve tried a lot of different methods and techniques. I love being distracted trying out new things. I was never a seat-of-the-pants writer, but frankly plotters can get just as mired just as easily as pantsers can get lost. I have the spreadsheets, Word tables, and character sketches to prove it. I’ve adapted my approach over the years and, finally after six books and a dozen more waiting with plot points waiting to be written, I can say that I have a process that works for me. It won’t necessarily work for someone else.
Even so, I still get stuck, still wonder if anyone will like the stories and characters, still have days where I’m not that thrilled to tackle a scene. In a solitary business, even one with critique partners and friends, it helps to have tools to keep going. The key is to focus on the long term goal not the short term problem. Trust me, there’s a reason Stephen King writes every day, even on Christmas. And it isn’t because he doesn’t like his family or his life. He’s staying with his process to keep his writing flowing. In order to get the story down, polished, and finished you have to keep going.
So here are my reminders that keep me going. I’m sharing them because I think there is something here for every writer:
- I’ve written words before and will again (simple, yes – start small)
- There’s nothing that I can’t fix ** Nothing! That includes plot, characters, setting, anything (first write then change)
- Be prepped for every scene before I sit down to write (whoa, every scene but some are just filler!) There are no filler scenes. If I don’t love the scene I’m writing then no one else will either. And here’s a great blog post to address this fix (pay attention to Side 1- Know what you’re writing before you write it):
- Start with the end of yesterday’s work. Polish, look at word choices (don’t get pulled into deep edits, just consider this warming up before a workout)
- Finish the day with the beginning of tomorrow’s work (If you can start the next scene, or have a thought, put it down – it will kick-start the session).
- If distracted by other stories that seem more interesting than what I’m working on, I’ll break to jot those plot points in another file and then head back to work. That story can wait, this one can’t
Feel free to let me know what works for you.