Writing Algorithm

There are two kinds of writers*: planners and non-planners.** Planners think, brainstorm, outline, and do all of the other stuff that your writing teachers taught you to do in elementary school. Non-planners just write. Both methods are valid, but if you know me at all then you can guess that I'm an obsessive-compulsive planner.

I have to plan.

Mainly, this is because I don't like major revisions. I know, I know, revision is part of writing - the most important part even, but to me it still feels like wasted work. The idea of writing half of a novel only to then figure out what the story's really about, and consequently throw away that whole first draft, is too painful.

That doesn't mean that everything goes according to plan. It hardly ever does, and no matter how much planning I do, the beginning bits often get heavily reworked by the end of the novel. And so far, in both novels, I didn't really know how the ending would work until I got there.

I've never been good with endings.

Anyway, once the writing begins, I have a pretty established process - so much so, I refer to it as an algorithm:
  1. Given: A chapter-by-chapter outline in which each chapter has a 1-2 sentence summary.
  2. Brainstorm events/scenes that must happen in this chapter.
  3. Create an event outline of the chapter. The event outline is what actually happens, whether behind the scenes or not.
  4. Convert the event outline to a plot outline. The plot outline is how I choose to reveal the event outline to the reader - it's what I actually write.
  5. Write the chapter.
  6. Read the chapter once and revise it.
  7. Give the chapter to my wife, Cindy.
  8. When Cindy finishes reading it (this could be in four days or four months, but I'm writing while I'm waiting), go over it with her.
  9. Revise the chapter again based on Cindy's critiques.
As you can see, I revise as I go. If I make a major plot change, that ends up being wasted time, but most of the time it makes the draft mostly usable by the time I get to the end. It also helps me to feel like I'm accomplishing something; when I say I'm done with X chapters, I mean I'm really done. Basically.

*Actually that's not true. There are as many kinds of writers as there are writers. But stereotyping people with convenient labels is what separates us from the animals.

**I've often seen non-planners referred to as "pantsers", a reference to writing by the seat of one's pants, but since for me this word only conjures images of junior high school bullies, I won't be using it.

1 comment:

The Wannabe Scribe said...

I like outlining!

I did a bit too much on my novel though. I'm about a third of the way through, and I've definitely learned to keep my outline's brief.

I just love the way stories can just veer off on their own and surprise you, and how sometimes you learn new things about your characters too!

Great fun!