My Usual Writing Process: In Six Steps

I suppose everyone has a different way of doing things.  My way of writing is going to evolve, as well.  As for now, here’s how I’ve been starting, constructing, and finalizing a short story, a piece of flash fiction, or (and I’ve only finished one) a novel (some of these works which, after my seemingly endless battery of submissions is complete, I will be posting on this site):

1) I Let something inspire me:

Okay, so you’re sitting around, playing your guitar, and all of a sudden the downstairs window crashes with the sound of a projectile having ruined your afternoon plans.  Upon investigation, you find a pigeon–squirming her last spasms of life, as she bleeds and tries to squawk her agonizing death cries.  In mercy, you pick up a brick that you had lying around, and proceed to smash the bird–the only way you could think of to save it from suffering any more than it had to.

I just gave you the (paraphrased) story behind the lyrics of Soundgarden‘s Like Suicide.

My creative process is similar.  Mostly, it’s not what inspires me, though: it’s what pisses me off about the world that makes me want to write about it.

2)  I start daydreaming up a narrative:

Now, this can include characters, settings, and events, but it’s mostly vague at this point.  “There’s this guy–this boss somewhere.  He’s a sociopath, and there’s this girl who works at the bank, and he sort of controls her indirectly through his actions.” This is the plot behind a story of mine that’s going to (if all goes as planned) appear in Siren’s Call, in October.  The characters, events, and places don’t have to have concrete names and a storyline to follow.  Not yet.  The point is to come up with the beginnings of a plot line to express an idea or epiphany I have about the world around me.  These things just come to me, and writing is just my means of getting them out.  The interactions between the sociopath and his employee are just the mechanisms through which something deep is conveyed, and, at this point, I usually have some idea as to what that root thing is in my story.  Sometimes, it’s the same root thing as I’ve already written about, but feel like conveying through a different narrative.  Other times, although rarely (and only in unpublished forms have I done this), I take a similar narrative, and make it about something completely different.

3)  I just start writing:

Yes, before I even have everything plotted out.  I don’t know how things will get from point A to B.  The first things that come to mind will find their way onto my word document, and the details should flesh themselves out as I’m writing.  I’m just sure to look for potential holes and factual misrepresentations in my story before I reach them.  And, if I don’t like what simply spills out the first time around, I’ll rewrite it.  If things get too complicated, I…

4) Draw out a synopsis:

I’ve only found myself doing this on longer works.  Why bother trying to “plan” a story out, when, sometimes, the first things that come to mind flow better?  It’s more like an impulse than a planned activity for me.  Then again, I’m writing fiction.  As far as how to write a synopsis, I’m sure there are plenty of web resources out there.  I don’t have any concrete recommendations for it, but mine are always different from work to work, anyway: I’ve written out a synopsis on a word document, scrawled it out on a napkin, and even just texted myself some general points in the story to follow.

5)  After writing the first quarter or so of the story, I breath prose into it:

I have several stories just sitting here on my laptop, and most of them I wouldn’t let anyone see.  The ones I like the most, or think will find a good market, I take and inject adjectives into an otherwise plain sentence, and find new, more descriptive ways to communicate the same idea:

“She entered a dark and foreboding room.”  versus

A faux-panelled and thick wooden door creaked its way into stirred dust and deafening silence as her heightened pulse drove sweat into anxious-to-be-bitten palms.”

Or however I think that sentence should spill itself out, depending on circumstances and other activities in the story thus far.  The important thing about turning a narrative into prose is to maintain balance.  Too much narrative = emotionally uninvolved, boring events.  Too much prose = difficult to follow story lines that make shifts from one thought, and/or one emotion, into the next extremely difficult for the reader.

And, of course, the material will determine that balance, and much is left up to personal taste.  If there were ever a manual on how to balance this kind of thing out, I wouldn’t want to read it–let alone know that it even exists.  I write to convey things how I see and feel them.  My writing will be my own fingerprint, and I don’t care if it turns out too sloppy to turn into a best seller.  That, I believe, is the art side of writing fiction.

And that is a unique experience that will (or should) be different from writer to writer.

6)  I finish up the story, alternating between steps 4 and 5, and then do a final edit:

The “finishing up” usually means narrating the story until I see that it has a decent “rhythm” to the turn of events (you have to “feel” whether or not certain sections seem too drawn out, or too “rushed” to get to the next scene.).  Then, I go over the prose vs. narrative, to see if there is enough balance to convalesce into a decent story.  Afterwards, I put the thing down, do something else, and then rinse, wash, and repeat after my brain has gotten away from the subject matter long enough to have a fresh perspective.

In the meantime, I work on my online platform, and create blog posts like this.  Time to get back to work 🙂

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6 thoughts on “My Usual Writing Process: In Six Steps

  1. Oh, I did leave out one resource I found helpful: It’s called “On Writing Horror.” This volume, edited by the HWA, this book gives some pretty useful advice on where and how to start writing horror fiction–although, I think most of the advice could apply to other genres as well. You can find it on Amazon.com here: http://www.amazon.com/On-Writing-Horror-Handbook-Association/dp/1582974209 . Be careful with the Kindle version, though: according to the customer reviews, it’s poorly formatted. Hopefully they’ve updated this.

  2. Ooh I shall check this book out – thanks for sharing. I think your approach to writing is very interesting. I like the new sentence you articulated, compared to the basic alternative. I have learned that we should use the shorter and brief sentence when conveying action, and use a descriptive sentence when in the mind of the character or describing a setting. This determines pace; fast means action – we don’t want to wait around and be slow – we want to know what happens – not what the sky looks like. While descriptive sentences appear in a moment of recollection – when a character is thinking things over, or analyzing his surroundings, when the weather or environment resembles his mood, or helps trigger the decision he needs to make next…

    1. This is true, and necessary. Action versus reflection = punchy versus prosy. It’s sort of like a film noir approach to writing. I need to work on mine, because I tend to catch myself writing scenes based on what mood I’m in, rather than what the scene calls for. I’m usually good at spotting it and correcting it later on, but this is one of the many, many reasons I often need a second, or third, pair of eyes to gloss over my work.

  3. Thanks for sharing your process. It’s actually fairly similar to mine – Get the spark, imagine the story, and then go for it until it gets complicated enough to figure it out.

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