How do you write?

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Magicman

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Jul 21, 2018
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Ontario, Canada
I'm a panster. For me, a story is a two hour movie in my mind. Sometimes it's a movie trailer that needs time to gestate. On other occasions, it's a full blown movie.

By panster, I mean the following...

My keyboard is constantly clicking, with the occasional backspace. To heck with grammar, spelling, using the wrong word or tense of a verb. The objective is to get a two hour movie on paper. That takes three to four weeks of typing. It's challenging because the memory banks go into the trash pretty darn quick. To retain what was envisioned over the weeks it takes to log it to paper/computer document is a momentous task.

If/when the story is completed, with a soft target of 100k words, is when the story teller changes to the writer. The first edit is brutal and can take months. Many times, it's a full rewrite of the words that captured the story. The writers tools are cleavers that chop words, sentences, paragraphs and even chapters but not story. They refine the original.

After the first edit, I know the fate of the story. Is it good enough to continue editing? The answer to that dictates the next step. Either stack it in the wood pile or role up the sleeves and get to work.

That's how I write.
 
In one of my creative writing classes we had a textbook called Method and Madness. I was really happy to about the textbook title because I hate the word pantser... also sort of hate the label.... even though I'm mostly a pantser/madness. It's a good enough book that I ended up buying a copy instead of only renting it. Part of it is about how to integrate method and madness, how both are needed.

I really prefer sitting down and dealing with whatever comes out but recently I've been working with a little more structure. Luckily, unexpected things still happen. That's a relief.
 
I used to be a pantser until I slowly realized it didn't serve me well in the editing stage. Too many issues with character motivation or things dropping off that should have been carried through to the end. I can't say I'm at the full outline stage, but I'm learning it's better to work with some structure at the beginning. I can definitely see the difference in my stories with some outlining and planning. The trick with using them, though, is to make the story uniquely yours as a writer so it doesn't come across as formulaic or sounding like something anyone could have written.
 
My "method" if you can call it that goes a bit like this.

I get an idea for a story that boils away in my mind for several days or weeks, slowly simmering up to a froth that starts to resemble a potential story. I have scenes stewing in the depths, characters float to the surface and the whole takes on the form of a story that might go somewhere.

Up to this point it's all just ideas and words in my mind. Eventually (hopefully) it gets to the stage where I HAVE to write it down and then I start writing, longhand (yeah! I know! but I like it that way) into A4 spiral-bound notebooks. I write and write as fast as it comes until I've completely drained the "soup" of ideas and scenes and have (hopefully) got something I can work with. This stage can last several weeks.

Then I start to type what I have written into the computer. This is where I give it all a first edit. I may take scenes that have been written and switch them around and add the extra details that have been missed, but mostly I type it out more or less as I wrote it correcting only grammar and sentence formation.

Once the whole thing is in the computer I have a read through and decide what to do with it. Which bits need expansion, which characters don't work, which scenes need to be rewritten or dropped entirely.

Once I've done all that I'll have a first draft. This goes in the draw for 3 to 6 months and is then got out and re-read with a clearer mind and the real work of turning it into something a publisher might really like starts in earnest.
 
Tim, that's very similar to my style, except for the pen and paper. How has that turned out? For me, each novel is better than the last. I lost count at a dozen novels and I feel it will take another three or four before I'm happy with the end result.
 
I write like I'm emitting a quantum of energy: writing sporadically a scene at a time on little bits of paper with little connection sometimes to the previous scene. Once I've got lots of these little bits of sporadically inspired scenes, I decide to piece them together. Through typing them up I begin an edit of sorts. Again a bit all over the place but they're now under the banner of a singular document. Their migration into a story is almost complete.

I then portion them into chapters and then rewrite each chapter. Going on a critique group to test the chapter and then adopt the feedback per chapter. This becomes a loop of a process where I'll find by 3/4 months I've got about a third of the novel may be critiqued. Most of that feedback can be translated into the next sections of the novel.

Having a critique partner to stay the course with me is important to keep me motivated and work to the end of the novel. I am at that point now of finishing with the support of a mentor. At this stage I've worked through thirds of the novel - one third remains and then I'll go back after I am certain the story arc is complete, plot holes are filled, and characters are consistently behaving.

I imagine the final edit is to hone the micro level of words and ensure they actively bring the story to life. Choosing the right words in each sentence is the fun part. I look forward to that, albeit tedious, stage.
 
I do need to be alone, and used to get up at 3:30 AM before work to write. I got the most writing done then. Not the best, but the most. The best was later in the day when the work was done and not on my mind. Good luck, all.
 
I'm a three-phase writer. I have a text file of notes and I'll come in after a long walk (or train ride or whatever) and sit down and type notes:

two athletic boys, george and monty\
locker slam. fist on door. leaning over. echo off tiles.
two clowns in shower. thumb in nozzle spraying water on the other. ignoring MC.
can't tell coach about threats. thinks boys into men this way.


That's phase 1. An entire chapter in about 3 pages of succinct notes.

In a separate plain text file I'm typing the book itself. No formatting, just getting it down, rendering the scenes and sensibilities from the notes into actual prose. That's phase 2.

After the entire book exists in a plain text file, it's time for phase 3. Combing through it, killing the dead scenes and things that ended up not propelling the plot forward, watching for inconsistencies, and lifting a paragraph at a time into a word processor. Adding formatting. Working titles for chapters, etc.
 
I get an idea which comes from random thoughts, a comment someone has made or even an image. It fizzles about in my brain for a bit then I start writing to see where it goes. Once I've started, I need to think of how it's going to end and how to get there.
 
The way I write tends to change with what I write. When I'm writing blogs/non-fiction I tend to research first, outline, dot point, then string it together. I'll often "batch" several blogs together this way (that is, do all the research in one hit, all the outlines, dot points, etc.)

When it's a creative piece, it's a lot more free flow. I may or may not have an outline. Often it starts out as an idea and I'll go with it to see where it takes me. However, once I hit about a third of the way in (basically end of act I) and often realise it needs some direction, and I come up with a vague outline.

The hardest part for me is that I tend to think in scenes or moments. I'll have a scene in mind that I really want to use, but its getting from A (where I'm currently am) to B (said scene) that stumps me.

That said, I'm trying to make more of an effort to plan/plot a creative piece before I start. I'm much more productive (and efficient) when I do!
 
Tim, that's very similar to my style, except for the pen and paper. How has that turned out? For me, each novel is better than the last. I lost count at a dozen novels and I feel it will take another three or four before I'm happy with the end result.

Well results have been varied. I have dozens of "started but not got very far / dead end" note pads, a selection of "that stands a chance, need to work on the idea more" note pads, a few fully typed up first drafts and a couple of full edited novels that could be ready to submit if I can find some time to get down to doing it.
 
Well results have been varied. I have dozens of "started but not got very far / dead end" note pads, a selection of "that stands a chance, need to work on the idea more" note pads, a few fully typed up first drafts and a couple of full edited novels that could be ready to submit if I can find some time to get down to doing it.
Do it, Tim. Or post a chapter from those to confirm they are ready.
 
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