A few months ago I was talking to my friend about my lack of progress on my current project:
“I SHOULD HAVE A PROCESS BY NOW, BROOKE! WHY DON’T I HAVE A PROCESS?”
You see, I’d just read a book on writing that addressed how to write fast and regularly. It all sounded so easy, but when I tried it, I stopped after only two days. This is most likely due to my general lack of follow-up. Seriously, it’s a minor miracle I ever completed one manuscript, let alone five. But, this borrowed process I was testing out didn’t click. So, I went back to my higgly-piggly way of writing when inspired (which means I spent most of my time procrastinating).
Turns out, that’s an even worse process than borrowing someone else’s. Which is why I’m going to lay out, right here, what my actual, real-deal process is. And hopefully it will help you figure out yours.
First, what is process? Is it the way you create a book, or the way you get it down on paper? I think those are two different things. Let me explain.
Creating a book starts with an idea, a character, a plot, a setting, and everything spirals out from there. With Sawbones, it was the setting. With Stillwater, it was the character of Ellie Martin. With my current project, it was the plot. (You see why I say I have no process?) Inspiration comes when it comes, with little regard to what I want, or what is the easiest way for me to create a story (FYI, it’s with character). During the creation phase there’s a lot of reading, thinking, sitting around and staring into the distance, note taking. Regardless of the genesis of the story, it never clicks until I get a handle on the characters, and who they are. Once I have that, everything else falls into place.
Now, to get the story down on paper. Am I a plotter or pantser? Morning writer or evening writer? Daily word goals or time goals?
I winged my way through the first five books, with a good idea of main plot points, but nothing at all like an actual outline or plan, though I had a clear idea how each ended, as I do with my current project. When writing BLOOD OATH, I sat in front of the computer every morning and said, “What happens next? Let’s have them get caught in a thunderstorm on the plains with nowhere to hide! And Laura gets separated from the group! And, almost dies! There’s a fire!”
I’m not making that up for this article by the way. Read all about it May 23! (shameless plug)
My current project started with a plot, and an outline! I’m not surprised that it’s been tough going; I hate being told what to do, even by my well-intentioned plotting past self. My early struggles stemmed from my lack of character understanding. Once I had that, and had decided on “how” to tell the story (POV, etc), the words started to flow.
My advice: It doesn’t matter when you write, or what your daily writing goals are, only that you write daily and have goals. Do what works for you, however imperfect or wheels off it may sound to the disciplined writers who love to humblebrag about their daily schedule of early rising, writing, mid-morning walk, writing, power nap, writing, all of which leads to their typical 5000-word day. When it comes down to it, the reader doesn’t care how the sausage is made, only that it is, and that it’s delicious.
Melissa Lenhardt is the author the Jack McBride mystery series, as well as the Laura Elliston historical fiction series. Her debut mystery, STILLWATER, was a finalist for the 2014 Whidbey Writers’ MFA Alumni Emerging Writers Contest, and SAWBONES, her historical fiction debut, was hailed as a "thoroughly original, smart and satisfying hybrid, perhaps a new subgenre: the feminist Western" by Lone Star Literary Life. A lifelong Texan, she lives in the Dallas area with her husband and two sons. Her latest book, SAWBONES is now available in paperback. Her next novel, BLOOD OATH will be available on May 23, 2017 (as shamelessly alluded to earlier).