The lovely Melissa Barlow of Surviving Writing a Book tagged me to answer some questions about my writing process. I warned her that my answers were probably all going to be some version of “overdosing on caffeine” and “glaring at my computer screen until words happen,” but she insisted and so here we are.
1. What am I working on?
Do you mean in terms of what I’m writing or the manner of my writing? Never mind, I’ll address both.
The project at the top of my very long, annotated, prioritized list is a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. I have a whole shpeel in my drafts folder about how I got started on it and the process behind, so I won’t bore you with that bit here. I’m aiming to finish it sometime over the next two weeks and get it ready for submission. After that, two more short stories and then I dive back into my novel, Nevermore.
As far as things I’m working on regarding the way I write? In a word: brevity. I am a wordy asshole, to be sure. I’m better than I used to be, but it’s still a challenge. An example? Before I tore apart my original Nevermore draft and restructured it into something sleeker, shinier, and two characters and a subplot lighter, it was over 150k by the end of the second act. And the previous sentence has 33 words. You get the picture?
And even when I manage to get my overly verbose tendencies under control, I have a sick love of creating big, complicated stories. I inevitably push the word count limit of everything. My brain is so detail oriented that I’m compelled to get down all the actions, all the details, to give the reader as complete a reproduction of what’s in my head as possible. But I know that gets tedious to read sometimes, so I’m trying to be more aware of that and focus what the reader needs to know first.
Also, punctuation and grammar. I’m not bad, but I’m not great either. And while I can fix someone else’s grammar, I can’t fix my own. It’s beyond frustrating.
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Ummm, they’re written by me? I’m not sure I can fairly answers this; it strikes me as something a reader would be able to pinpoint more easily than myself. I’m usually too concerned with getting a story out of my head, on the page, finished, and good to compare it to anything else. Also, my faith in my abilities swings between extreme narcissism and crippling doubt with absolutely no middle ground, so I tend to shy away from any comparisons at all.
But is there anything that I think is particular to me? I’m very interested in the ethereal and in death and the many ways reality can become a soft, malleable thing. I like exploring the way people’s wills can bring order out of chaos, both real and metaphoric. I’m not sure if anyone else sees this in what I write, but to me, it’s a constant of the things I create.
3. Why do I write what I do?
Because if I don’t, no one else will.
Lots of authors pass on the advice to write the story you want to read. I love the stories in my head. All through school, from elementary through college, these worlds and characters and stories were places I could run to when things were hard. Writing them down allows me to still enjoy them while I pretend to be a grown up.
More than that, though, I believe the world is still a beautiful, marvel-filled place, despite all the trouble and tragedy. When things in my life were the worst, sometimes the biggest rebellion I could mount against the world was to recognize and rejoice in a beautiful sky or a song on the radio or a familiar book. Through other people’s eyes, I eventually learned to see a better world than the one I believed I was trapped in. I want to help people find that beauty and hope, to relearn what it is to feel wonder, and make their escape.
So I write about magic.
Because when you go looking for magic, you find it. And in a world were there’s magic, anything is possible. Even surviving middle school.
4. How does my writing process work?
Okay, it does, but only with a lot of planning, false starts, and a begrudging openness to improvisation.
After a lot of trial and error, I’ve discovered I work best if I take a lot of notes first. Find pictures that resemble the environment or characters. List the original concept and early influences. Add to the influences. Write down any bits of dialogue/narrative/exposition that pop into my head fully formed. Figure out who my protagonist is. Discover side characters. Flesh out the core of the story and develop a tentative outline. Then get to work and see what happens next.
This sounds like a lot of work before even writing a story down and sometimes it is. But it’s easier for me to do a lot of legwork first then to stop and start while writing to figure out where I’m going next. Even with all that work, however, my stories have a tendency to run away from me and I have to be open to scrapping a plan and working with whatever new material my characters give me. And they usually give me something good, so I don’t complain often. The benefit of the planning is that the more aspects I’ve solidified in my mind before hand, the less likely I am to have to ditch everything and start from scratch.
Once I’ve had fun filling a journal with snatches of dialogue, a lot of notes, some art and maps I print off the internet, and my own doodles, I start slowly and write maybe a few dozen or even hundred words a day. Then I gain momentum and start writing a few thousand words a day. At some point I’ll realize I’m stuck on something or need to integrate some new information. I try to put off going backwards in a manuscript before I finish, as it throws off my groove, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. I’ll consult/amend the outline and usually realize exactly what the problem is. Then my overly dramatic, self-effacing tendencies rise up and I spend a month despairing over how much I suck before getting back to the grindstone.
So there you have it! Whew!