Posts tagged writing process
The Late Night Write

MoonQuote All you night writers, raise your hands. I know you're out there, chugging coffee past midnight or working on your second glass of wine. I see you mothers and fathers, hours after you've tucked your children into bed, trying to finish "just one more chapter" before they wake again. I see you young men and women, staying home on a Friday night while your friends go out, tending to the friends in your book instead. I see you because I'm awake at that ungodly hour too.

You're not alone. Writing and nighttime go together like breathing and coffee (because as long as I'm breathing, I've got to have coffee, am I right?). Sometimes we even try to go to bed at a decent hour like normal people, just to sit up in bed hours later with a perfect line in our head, or a picture so beautiful we've got to write it down. I don't know about y'all, but I get some of my best material when I'm falling asleep. When my body and mind relax and the constraints on my thinking start to float away, that's when the good stuff comes. So what do you do when that happens? Fall asleep and try to remember it all the next morning? Of course not! You get up in the middle of the night and write. And  more often than not, that writing turns out to be some pretty good stuff.

I will say to Saul Bellow that I don't deal in absolutes-- everythings and nevers don't sit well with me. It's entirely possible that you might write when you're not quite alert enough to write, then wake up the next morning, look at your work in progress and say, "What is this gobbeldy-gook and how did it end up in my novel?" Let's face it: we can't be perfect all the time. However, I can see his point: If something is important enough for you to drag yourself out of a half-dream state and away from your warm, cozy bed, it's usually going to be pretty good. Even if it's not flawlessly executed, the "meat" of it typically stays. So keep sleepwalking to your computers, notebooks, and typewriters, my friends. That late night write is something to strive for.

... But that's only been my experience. What about you? Do you find your dream-writings add to your works, or do they usually end up in the trash bin? Am I the only one who has the best ideas at night? Can't be! Can it?

Today's Prompt: Your significant other, of whom your friends, family, and coworkers do not approve, has asked you to run away with him/her. You plan to meet at your "special place" at midnight, but when you set off to meet him/her, you run into a series of obstacles: three not so pleasant, and one very pleasant. What are they and how do you/your significant other react?

Happy Writing!


Writing in Buttons (The Writing Process)

Buttonsquote I'm a visual person. I don't think in words so much as in pictures. Where one person might internally say to themselves, "Hmm. I'm going to get a cup of coffee," I typically see a steaming coffee cup in my mind's eye. My brain might go so far as to mumble, "Ooh, coffee," but that's the height of my internal verbal skills-- just call me Caveman Kharis.

When I'm thinking of a story, I experience the same phenomenon. There's no, "Wouldn't it be cool if I wrote a story about a guy and a girl falling in love?" (Super original idea, I know). Instead, I see short films projected by my imagination: a boy meeting a girl in a yellow dress; the two of them sitting across from one another in a cafe, laughing; a first kiss on a rooftop; etc. etc.

Those films are my "buttons." As I write a story I get bits and pieces of it in these little pictures, then sew them together. Everything between is the thread: the transition material that carries you from one button to the next, linking them all together. Whether Sandra Cisneros' buttons are like mine, I don't know, but it sounds like our process is the same. What I'm interested in discovering is, are all of our processes the same? Does everyone sew together buttons? Do we all have bits and pieces that we start with and then connect, or does anyone out there see every detail before they begin? I get little pictures at first, but does anyone else get hit with the whole picture (beginning, end, major plot points, transitions, the works) all at once? I want to know.

If you don't identify with this quote, I'd like to hear from you and get some varying perspectives on writing processes. Shoot me a comment and let me know how you're different!

Today's Prompt: There's been a horrible tragedy at the button factory. Write a newspaper article about it.

Happy Writing!




Defining your Writing (Quote of the Day)

  We all have things in our life that influence our writing: habits, activities, knowledge, personal experience, little idiosyncrasies. Your writing could be made up of a thousand elements that all come together to define your style. Ryszard Kapucinski picked three: travel (exploration), reading literature on the subject, and reflection. So if you had to pick three—three elements that make your writing what it is—what would they be? Personally, I don't have the luxury of traveling much, since traveling takes time and money and children essentially eat all of that. However, I have deep roots in a place with a rich, widely variegated culture: south Louisiana. My home has definitely had an impact on my writing, so there's element one. For the second, yes, I also read literature on subjects I'm not well versed in, but as someone who gravitates towards fantasy, sci-fi, and the supernatural, my ability to imagine often plays a larger role than my ability to learn about what already exists. So imagination is element two. When it comes to the third element, I too choose reflection. Half of my writing process simply comes down to thinking. I reflect upon the characters, the settings, the conflicts. I reflect until I'm certain my story is the way it's meant to be, and then I write down the product of those reflections.

So there you have my writing in a nutshell: personal history/home, imagination, and reflection. Which three would you choose?

Today's prompt: Identify three elements that define your writing. Then write a short story in which you conciously utilize these elements. Did your writing process feel the same as usual or different? After writing your story, do you think you chose the "correct" elements, or did you notice anything else playing a larger role in your writing process?

Happy Writing!


The Other Side of Writing (Quote of the Day)

  The foundation of this quote can be traced back much further than Maya Angelou (check out its origins here), but I like her take on things. Easy reading is damn hard writing. It's so true, people have been saying it for centuries. At the same time, however, I wonder if it's always true for everyone, every time.  There are moments in which some force takes me over and the words just come to me, almost like I'm jotting down a dictation rather than actually writing. And sometimes, I read those "easy" scenes and find there's very little that needs changing. But there are other times that each word is a challenge. "And... Then... She... Bought? Purchased? Bartered for?" To top off the ridiculous difficulty, I go back and read only to discover that the last few paragraphs are utter crap. When that happens, I don't even edit. I just scrap and start over.

So I feel like there's something missing from this idea. Easy reading is damn hard writing. But is it really the writing that's hard? I don't know about you, but what I find hard isn't so much the writing as the dedication. We all know what words mean and how to put them together, but when you start a novel or a poem or a kid's book, you make a commitment to create something and make it the best it could possibly be—to finish, to hone it, to sacrifice favorite scenes and lines for the good of the whole, to kill characters you love, to show the good in characters you hate, to spend hours on a chapter only to realize you've taken the wrong direction, to write in past tense for ten chapters only to decide your book would be better in present, to actually implement that change. All of that is hard. And sure, putting words together in a way that sounds good is a challenge. But there's a whole 'nother side to writing that most people don't see. And that's where the real battle begins.

Today's Prompt: Write a short story in which the protagonist succumbs to the conflict. No happy endings.

Happy writing!


Hooking a Reader (Quote of the Day)

When I began the novel I'm currently working on, Ourselves and Others, this was my process:

  1. Thought, "I'm going to write a book based on what happened to me."
  2. Opened a word document.
  3. Proceeded to write the most boring 10 pages I could possibly write.

Luckily, upon an initial reading I realized it was awful and promptly scrapped it in favor of "take 2," which is 300 times better than my first try. But even after starting over, things were rocky for a while. I ended up completely restructuring the opening, changing tenses, and renaming my main character about three times before the first chapter was up to snuff.

This only proved to me that the hardest part of the writing process is indeed the beginning. Getting started is difficult enough on its own, but then creating something that will hook readers and draw them into the story? That's the real challenge. That's where the fate of your book hangs in the balance, after all. A novel could be a masterpiece, but if the beginning doesn't attract, no one will read far enough to find that out.

Personally, when beginning a project I always try to think, "What would make me want to read this book?" and then write that thing. Easier said than done, I know. But I do have a little trick up my sleeve to help with that:

Raise a question.

That's it; it's that simple. In the first paragraph—in the first line, if you can—present a question that must be answered. Curiosity is a great motivator for the reader. And of course, you don't literally have to ask a question. What I mean is, say something that will make the reader ask a question—even something as basic as "what happened?" or "what does that mean?" They'll read on to look for the answer, and hopefully your writing keeps them reading even after they find it.

Today's Prompt: Write a story that begins in an ending and ends in a beginning.

And here's a bonus "prompt" for those of you who have completed works or have works in progress:

Copy and paste the opening paragraph or two of your novel in the comments section. Share your beginning with the rest of us!

If you share your opening paragraph and you have something published, feel free to leave the link, just in case you've hooked somebody. ;)

I'll be posting my openings in the comments as well, so read on if you're interested.

Happy Writing!


Where do your ideas come from? (Quote of the Day)

I'm most likely to get ideas when I'm in the car and my husband is driving (and not talking). For whatever reason, sitting there watching the scenery whiz by produces the perfect conditions for my characters to come out of hiding. I'm not the kind of person who thinks, "This is what I'll write; this is what my characters will do," etc. Actually, I don't think in words at all. I see things in my mind and then I write them down. So I suppose any setting that is conducive to daydreaming and imagining is conducive to writing for me.

Where do you get your best ideas? Is it sitting at your computer or somewhere else?

Today's Prompt: Describe in detail your ideal writing conditions. Write this narratively, as though it's the setting in a story. What are the sights, sounds, smells that help you write? Artistically include them in this setting.

Happy Writing!


Quote of the Day—E.L. Doctorow

Someone managed to capture in two sentences exactly what my writing process is like. It's rare that I can see more than a chapter in front of me, but somehow it works. That's how books get written: one chapter after the other. At the same time, I know several people who flesh out a plan before they ever begin writing, and then follow it step by step until they reach the end. I've tried it, and it doesn't work for me at all. I'm too prone to getting caught up in the details of the plan, rather than following the story as it unfolds. I suppose in the end, just as with everything else, we all write in different ways and what works for some people doesn't work for others.

So what's your process like? Are you a planner or do you go with the flow? Have you ever tried a different way?

Today's prompt: Write a short story, on a subject of your choosing, but not in the way you would usually choose to write it (with planning or spontaneously). If you never plan, make an outline of the plot before you begin. If you're a stickler for planning, pick a subject, think of an opening and just go with it. Your story must have a "twist" ending.

When you're done, consider these questions:

  • How did you feel writing in an unfamiliar fashion?
  • Did you find it difficult or simple to switch from one tactic to the other?
  • How might this exercise help you be a more effective writer in the future?

Post your response in the comments! Happy Writing!