Saturday, May 7, 2016

My Writing Method

I've been writing for a long time. But I don't think I've ever described my method.

In an effort to be totally transparent, I'd like to share mine. Maybe you've come to this blog to find out who I am. Maybe you're an aspiring writer yourself and don't know how to get started. Maybe you've started a book and are stuck and are looking for an inspirational push in the right direction. Whatever the case may be, I hope this gives you a peek at my process and maybe figure out your own. Just so you know, the process can always change, and in my case it often does. It evolves. And you would be better served to know that now rather then later. So, here we go.

1. The Seed

Well, it starts with an idea. Something that gets planted in my brain that I can't dislodge. If it's completely unshakable, let's say for three to four weeks, then I seriously consider putting the idea on paper. The idea can either start from a line of dialogue, a piece of description, a unique character, or just one well-crafted scene. It also can arrive in my dreams. Sometimes they are garbled, on the fritz and I have to do some deciphering. Other times it can be very vivid and I remember everything. Wherever the idea comes from, once its planted, I am committed to caring and pruning that story tree.

2. The Title

Before, I used to not fret over title. But now I do. I like to think of the title before I even start writing. It can serve as a good placeholder should I decide to change it later. It's best to keep it short, snappy and memorable. It's an effort to describe the story, or at least one aspect of it, in one to eight words. This is still moldable, but I try not to bounce around too much with it.

3. Outlining

I used to do extensive outlines. With my first book I'd spend a paragraph describing what needs to happen in each chapter. Each chapter, I thought, needs at least one conflict to overcome. But then I realized this doesn't give the reader time to breath. My first outline was 15 pages.

Then I started doing one sentence descriptions. While this may be a good start for some, for me it just bogs down the process. Then, I later find out that I've only used 20% of the outline in the actual story. And that made me feel like a story was too scripted. 

Here's an example I pulled from Pickpocket Frankie. This outline was written years ago and I have strayed heavily from it.

4. Let The Characters Talk

Here's something they don't tell you about writing. You have to disappear. What I mean by that is you have to write something that doesn't feel like it was written by you. Whenever I tackle a project, I try to remain as a causal observer. The characters often lead me to surprising revelations or unexpected twists and turns. The more I let them play, the more they are controlling the story. The more they tell me things.

5. Layout

When I first started writing, I'd focus on one single page. And that produced a lot of headaches and anxiety. There's nothing more intimidating than that little blinking cursor. Eventually, I found out that focusing on one page at a time was too claustrophobic. I needed a full perspective. So, I decided to zoom out. With this layout, I can see what I wrote before and what comes after. Again, here's an example of my writing view with Pickpocket Frankie.

6. How I Type

I use two fingers. Both my index fingers. Yes, yes, I know it's not proper writing etiquette but I don't care. This is the fastest way I can type and a way to get all my thoughts onto that page. Even with writing blog posts, I write with two fingers. It's my preferred method and I'm sticking to it.

7. Silence isn't Golden

When I first started my very first book, I wrote in complete silence from the hours of 11pm till 3am. It was a hellish work schedule, especially when I needed to be up in time for school, but these were the best hours at the time. Later on, when I started taking on short stories, I realized that silence was slowing down my progress. My characters are no longer happy with the stoic, concentrating silence of yesteryear. Now they have a rhythm. Depending on the mood of the scene, or the story itself, my characters often choose a soundtrack for their actions. And, depending on the music, the words really seem to take off. Now, I don't know which is your preferred method, but I would suggest that if you can see the story like a movie in your head, why not have a score for it?

8. Word count

I think of the word count as a budget. Before, I didn't worry about it. But now I do. I researched genres. Fantasy books are usually around 100,000 words. Thrillers: 70,000 - 80,000. Crime Fiction:50,000 - 60,000. It's okay to go a little over but I constantly want to be concise.

9. Editing and Revising

I usually rewrite and revise as I go along. I'll write two chapters. Give it a few days to cool off, then come back to it and re-read the scene. If a sentence is clunky or doesn't serve a purpose or can be re-worded in any way, then I cut and revise. I heard that Dean Koontz rewrites his books in a strange way. He revises a page of work 40 times until it is perfect. Then he moves on to the next page. And if this is a 300 page book. That's a total of 12,000 revisions. Yikes. I don't think you have to go that far. Just try to do the story justice.

10. Read it Out Loud

A story will not make sense unless you read it out loud. We all have an internal reading voice and sometimes that voice can be misleading. Sometimes it will substitute through with threw or there and their or then and than. You get the idea. The best form of revising is reading it out loud. You can even perform it like an audio book to yourself.

11. Audience

In this profession you can't just write something and expect to know how to present it. You need to know your audience. I write for an audience of one. I write with my wife in mind. She's a reader as well and has read a good majority of my work. In the scenes I try to make her laugh, gasp or even keep her on the edge of her seat. And when I read her my work out loud, it can be a real big boost to see her reacting to the story. Whoever your audience is, find a person you can trust who likes to be read to and ask them to be your own personal story observer. Ask them what they like. What they didn't like. If a sentence made sense. If a character seems too thin. It will have huge benefits in the future. Besides, your audience member might be thankful and curious to see what you're working on next. Just make sure you are writing in a genre they enjoy.

12. Mindwriting

As I've said before, I used to write outlines. But now I just write in my head first before I start physically writing. I think of the project like a movie, one where I get to watch the dailies and figure out what I like and what can be cut. After I've seen the whole thing in my head, the scenes write faster than anything before and my keyboard is smoking with friction burn.

13. Preferred Tool

I've tried pens and pencils. I've tried desktop computers. Now I only write on laptops. They're compact, lightweight and are, I'm convinced, the only thing I will ever write on.

14. Where to write

Some writers retire to a room. Something that they've set up to be the perfect shop for inspiration to strike. I've heard of two authors, Wally Lamb and Chuck Wendig, who have actually built their own private Writing Cabin or Shed. Now, unless you've got the money and time to shell out to make this dream come true, there's a universal truth you need to admit: There will never be a perfect place or a perfect time for your writing. Jack Kerouac wrote on one long scroll, Jame's Joyce wrote in a white suit, Mark Twain wrote in bed, Ernest Hemingway would write while standing up on a typewriter that would sit on his dresser.

I wrote Village Americana at Starbucks. I wrote Ye Olde Idea Shoppe in the living room of my very first apartment. I wrote my first short story in an attic. It doesn't matter the place or the time. What matters is that you actually write the damn thing.

15. How to End a Story

Believe it or not, this one still eludes me. Sometimes it just hits me. Other times I have to dig. And digging takes time. And it takes commitment. If you're willing to get your hands dirty and not let your story stagnate, I suggest you pick up that metaphorical shovel and pry it out of that deep dark hole.

16. Always leave room

Hemingway once wrote that he would never write to completion. He'd always leave, what he called, a little bit left in his story well. Enough to write something for tomorrow. My normal writing session was 500 words at a times. Now I can pound out one or two chapters if I have a good writing flow.  

17. Notes, notes, notes

When I feel like I have a really good idea but need more time on it. I keep all my notes in one file, which I call my Jumble Box. There's really no rhyme or reason to it. I just write down the title, form and something short to describe it. 

That's pretty much my entire writing process. Hope it works for you. It has for far.

Until next time, keep writing.


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