A Writing Process: Step 2 - Writing
After a few weeks of vacations and a busy month of August, I am finally taking a few minutes to continue the series of posts covering the writing process I presented earlier this year (click here to view the initial post).
- Inception (collecting ideas)
- Writing (putting words to paper)
- Alpha and Beta Reading (getting honest feedback)
- Polishing (updates based on feedback)
- Editing (copyedit done by a professional)
- Packaging (bundling everything together, including getting a cover)
- Publishing (sharing it with the world)
- Evaluation (learning from mistakes and successes)
Step 2, Writing, is exactly what is says: the author sits down and writes. I believe this step should be part of a daily routine and as much as possible, never skipped. Practice is crucial. The more a writer writes, the easier it gets. Writing regularly also allows me to stay in touch with the story. Currently, I write late at night, usually after 11PM. A few years ago, I wrote in the morning, before the sun was up. The location can also play an important role. Stephen Kings recommends a room with a door that you can close. I find that writing in a dark place, with a headset and music, achieves something similar for me.
There are many similarities between writing and reading. When you read sporadically, it is sometimes difficult to stay immersed in the story and it can take months to complete a book. When that happens, often, the experience is not as enjoyable and the reading can become a chore. The same can be said for writing.
Another similarity is that moment between books; the excitement of finishing a book, thinking it over, and then picking a new book. This applies to writing. There is nothing more satisfying than completing a draft and knowing that it is done (until the next revision!), except maybe starting a new story. I rarely know, when I sit down, what I am going to write on next. I have a vague idea, but it can easily change between the moment I sit down and the moment I start writing. This is when I go through the list of ideas put together in step 1 (Inception). When I find a concept that pulls at me, an idea about which I want to learn more, I start writing.
Personally, I include full revisions in this step. These revisions differ from polishing (step 4) in that I go through the whole story, from start to finish, page by page, word by word, and make adjustments, sometimes major, such as removing or adding a chapter, changing some plot elements, adding a character, etc. These revisions fall in this step because of the effort required, because they often include significant re-writes, and also because once I am done with the changes, I send the story to my alpha reader. I never skip the alpha reader step. I am lucky because Gaetan is dedicated and will often read some of my stories three or four times. Depending on the feedback I get from him, I either go into the polishing phase, or come back to the writing phase (and do a full revision). My beta readers get the story once. Then, it's on for editing.
"The first draft of anything is shit."
- Ernest Hemingway
I wouldn't put it quite that way, but I believe it is more important to concentrate on finishing the first draft, from beginning to end, than anything else (such as the flow, the background, the plot or even character development). Some authors might not have to take this approach, but I do, mainly because some events, especially at the beginning of a story, will only become clear as the story advance. Some say that you cannot write a proper first chapter on a first draft. For me, the first draft is enjoyable, but the second revision, where most elements come together, is always my favourite.
Each author have to find what works for them. Many recommend to set a daily target to reach, either a number of words or a minimum amount of time. I have tried both, but so far, neither has worked for me. The best I can do is sit down, every day, consistently, and write. Some days, I write for 30 minutes and feel too tired to continue. Some days, I write for two hours or more. For me, what is important is to stay in touch with the story by visiting it every day.
The last thing I want to mention is that story building, for me, also falls in this phase. This includes world creation, construction of the environment, description of the characters, and details about the history of the setting. It is a big risk and can slow down writing significantly. I have tried to build everything before starting to write, but I do not have the patience for it. I enjoy the process more when I create as I write, even with the delays such an approach brings.
There is no secret to writing. It is a lot of work and it requires a lot of practice. This step is at the core of what is it to be an author. It is a very good sign for any author if this steps is one of their favourite.