Do You Define Your Writing Process? Maybe You Should.

Writing Process_Confused_Photopin

Whether you’re a writer, blogger or a businessperson, it’s important to define the writing process that works for you so you can be faster and more effective at it.

  • Are you someone who likes to gather tons of research and then write from there?
  • Are you a “big picture” person who likes to understand end goal as well as the facts?
  • Do you prefer to free-write until you find the point, and then gather facts to support it?

No matter what kind of writing you do, understanding your process is the key to being successful at it. At least, it’s worked that way for me.

What got me going on this topic?

Our own lovely Jane Sadek tagged me in the Writing Process Blog Hop and, well…I’m just not hopping very quickly these days. [This was due out on the 26th.] We’ll blame it on the Dog Hip.

Jane’s super special in a million ways, and she’s a hell of a travel writer. But you know what I will always smile about when I think of Jane? She’s the first person who ever looked at my name tag at a conference and lit up like a Christmas tree. She’s the first person who ever grabbed me and hugged me and told me she loved my blog. You never forget your first. 🙂

When I said yes to Jane, I didn’t know what questions would be asked. I’m happy to say, they’re fascinating! I’m actually going to list them before I answer so you can start asking them of yourself. This is a valuable exercise, whether you choose to “hop” or not.

  1. What am I working on?
  2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
  3. Why do I write what I do?
  4. How does my writing process work?

Four tiny little questions and I’ll bet many of you have never sat down to think about them.

What am I working on?

Being me, I’m moving between three different projects. Not only does this keep me fresh and in a forward-moving mode, they’re all very different and special to me.

I’m 80-90% done with the first draft of a contemporary women’s fiction novel focused on the relationship between two sisters. The logline:

Desperate to reconnect with her estranged, mortally-ill sister, a faith-challenged nun agrees to fill in as a nurse at her sister’s business: a porn clinic.

I’m also writing short pieces about my mother, who died in 2004. My mom’s four grandkids will never meet her, so I’m trying to transmit the magic of her through stories. Any of you who have read about The Almost X-Rated Garage Sale will see what I mean.

Last of all, I want to finish a memoir on high-worry pregnancy. Today, there are more women than ever who experience pregnancies where the outcome is unsure. I was one of those women, and the road is rocky and very, very lonely. As the survivor of 50+ blood clots and a high-risk pregnancy, I have a lot to say to these women.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Since there’s only like six plot ideas in the universe, the thing that makes every piece of writing stand out is the writer’s voice. This is just my opinion.

It doesn’t matter if someone has already written a book like yours, you’ll tell it your way. If your writing is good, your structure sound, and your characters are engaging, the reader is gonna be happy to take the journey with you.

The one place where I have some very unique experience is on the pregnancy front. Let’s go by the numbers:

  • 1% – the percentage of people who survive the kind of blood clots I had
  • 6% – my chances of conceiving a baby
  • 30% – my chance of carrying the baby to term & surviving the pregnancy (w/o meds)
  • 50 – number of weeks I injected meds in my stomach to prevent a blood clot

I’m very grateful to even be alive and have my daughter, but there are also some tools I learned along the way that could help women like me, and others who are not as lucky.

Why do I write what I do?

I have a curious mind and I’m interested by people and their relationships. I was a shoo-in for women’s fiction with romantic elements. I write the stories down to find out more about the people in my head. I’m learning not to mind that the first draft of a long piece of work is a gigantic ball of suckitude.

The other stuff? I’ve always written poetry and short stories that (thankfully) come into my head fully formed.

How does my writing process work?

Warning: All you organized types are about to run screaming from the blog.

Here’s how writing book-length fiction works for me:

  • I lay out some character sketches – often in the form of short stories.
  • My critique group helps me hash out the basic 3-act structure and turning points.
  • I scribble up a list of all the scenes I know (sometimes this takes a few sessions).
  • I write those scenes as they come to me, with an approximate idea of what comes before and after each one.
  • I stitch it all together later.

Diana Gabaldon and Lorna Landvik write like this too, which makes me feel better since I love their books.

Writing like my linear pantser friends gave me nothing but frustration and bad self-esteem.

Using other peoples’ processes ensured that somewhere between page sixty and one hundred, I’d start moaning to the Writing Gods about what a failure I was. My old ways guaranteed that I’d grow bored with my books because I never progressed past the beginning of the second act.

My way lets me see pages pile up and allows me to participate in challenges like ROW80. Plus, now that I’ve figured out “my system,” I’ve got about 9 books to finish. Sweet!

Defining your writing process comes to this:
You must write your stories in a way that allows you to finish them. Period.

It doesn’t matter if you’re surrounded by linear, plotting writers. If YOU aren’t linear in your process, nothing — not rivers of chocolate or jiggy dancing tunes — is going to lure you to The End of that book.

No magic potion will help you zoom straight through to the end using “someone else’s methods” because you can’t. Your brain doesn’t work that way. It works your way.

Learn good craft, but above all learn your own process! Part of why I’m unpublished is it took me so damn long to figure out I’m a scene writer. I don’t write straight through a book. I simply can’t do it.

What I can do is build a basic structure to work in, even though I write my scenes out of order.

(Okay, all you organized linear peeps can shake off the heebie-jeebies and come back now.)

Tag, you’re it. Seriously, if you’d like to define these for yourself, link back here so WE  can read about it. 🙂

Have you ever asked yourself these sorts of questions? What has surprised you the most about your writing process? Which part of it drives other people insane? What would you love to change about your process? Enquiring minds always want to know these things here at More Cowbell!

~ Jenny

photo credit: CarbonNYC via photopin cc

About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm ( Write on!
This entry was posted in Inspiration, The Writing Journey and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Do You Define Your Writing Process? Maybe You Should.

  1. Hey, Jenny … two home runs for you in one day. Over at WITS and here. I admit I am one of your “lurkers” and don’t always comment. BUT you did something very important today. You defined why you are obsessed with gardens and food stuff, why you have that magnificent smile, and why you are forever seeking out the humor in life. Anyone who has gone through “shit” has the insight to be very funny. Since lots of humor has its start in life’s tragedies and challenges.

    NOT TO MENTION … my 42 yo daughter is about to have her first daughter. After five misses, and the loss of six children (she lost twins) … she is finally carrying one to term. And me, the mother who was pregnant four times in three years and kept two of them … won’t have a decent night until I know they are both okay.

    Thanks for the insights and don’t stop until you tell those stories. I bet your mom was great. I am sure you have so much to tell. And maybe the next time I see pictures of fruits and vegies on Facebook … I won’t think you’re just another “garden variety” foodie 🙂


  2. Sue says:

    Wow- so happy I choose to be late for work today to finish reading this – :). Your insight just saved my writing life. I have never written more than a short story because I kept trying to be a linear writer. I thought that was how it was supposed to be all this time. But reading your post just flipped on the light bulb. No wonder I am walking around with all these “scenes’ in my head, all dressed up with nowhere to go. Seriously- I think you have just changed my life. Incidentally, I clean my house EXACTLY this way- start in one room, remember I wanted to do something in another, wander to the kitchen, until I have the house tore apart while I am “cleaning” (which drives my hubby CRAZY) but then “stitch it all back together” in the end. Should have been a clue! And literally just realized this is how I work in my day job too….THANK YOU!!!!


  3. It took me a while to figure out MY process and YES, do it your way and don’t listen to those who tell you that you’re wrong. Each book will present special challenges and problems. I have learned to embrace that, too, so that I can continue to grow and push myself. Sounds like you have some great projects you’re working on. If we’re ever in the same room, prepare for a squee and a hug from me, too. I love the cowbell. 🙂


  4. K.B. Owen says:

    Hi, Jenny! Fab post. I know the answers to a lot of these questions for myself, except the writing process. I know BASICALLY that I’m a linear plotter, but other than that, my process (and my plot occasionally) keeps changing! Maybe that’s why it’s taking me so dang long to get book 3 finished. That, and reading/commenting on blogs. 😉 Sigh.


  5. Yes! I, too, am a scene writer, and it’s the only that works for me. For a long time I felt unsure about it because I was always being told I was doing it “wrong,” that writing that way would only make more work for me down the road when it came time to stitch everything together, or that I was sure to miss something in the end. Nope, nope and nope. I tried a time or two to write in a linear fashion, but that was what made more work for me since I had to throw it out and start over. 🙂 Then one day, like you, I read that Diana Gabaldon is a scene writer, and that’s all I needed to hear. If Herself does it that way, then it’s not “wrong.” I know it drives my critique group nuts to read a chapter from the beginning of my WIP only to have me throw the next one at them and it’s something from near the end of the book, but they’re used to it now.

    Oh, and if I ever meet you in person? Be prepared for confetti, badly executed cheerleader-type leaping about, and big hugs!


  6. Sharla Rae says:

    As one of Jen’s crit partners I can tell you she really does write differently from anyone else I’ve know. Drives us crazy but at least now she “is” writing and that’s what’s important.


  7. karenmcfarland says:

    ◾Are you someone who likes to gather tons of research and then write from there? check!
    ◾Are you a “big picture” person who likes to understand end goal as well as the facts? Check!
    Yep, this would be me. The way you approach this Jenny sounds a little like an ADD form of writing. lol. I can’t imagine jumping from one scene towards the beginning and then to another one towards the end and visa versa. It is obvious that you are much more talented than I am. I bet you’re good a juggling balls in the air too, aren’t you? Hey, whatever gets the job done. So glad you’re nearing the end of the first draft on your piece of fiction girl. Sounds like all of your projects are moving along. Yay!!!


  8. ericjbaker says:

    I got tagged to answer these questions on a recent post of mine.

    I’m happy to see that you write out of order as well, though I don’t even do character sketches or make notes. I start with an idea (or less) and start typing. The characters appear as I need them. I’ll figure out who they are and what motivates them (aside from the obvious requirements dictated by the unfolding story) as I go. Then I’ll discover where they end up, figure out their arc, and go back to make it make sense. I find myself having to borrow books on unexpected subjects and doing a lot of Google-map street views, owing to my bad habit of arbitrarily choosing settings.

    It sounds like chaos, but it works for me.


  9. ericjbaker says:

    By the way, I actually have a cowbell.


  10. Jeez – I think I am a combination of all three of these –

    Are you someone who likes to gather tons of research and then write from there?
    Are you a “big picture” person who likes to understand end goal as well as the facts?
    Do you prefer to free-write until you find the point, and then gather facts to support it?

    Honestly, sometimes I just wing it and others I do some research. As a humor, lifestyle, and food blogger I can be free to be a bit looser when constructing a post. Seems to work for me. I don’t think I could be structured and organized. Hey, I blog naked, so I guess it’s working!


  11. Debra Eve says:

    Loved this, Jenny. I like your writing process and think mine might be similar (at least for fiction). I’ve never really thought about it, but I now I will. “You must write your stories in a way that allows you to finish them. Period.” Brilliant.

    Your little daughter is such a miracle! I’m just floored by what you went through, and yes, other women need to know. Look forward to updates on this story’s progress!


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