• hypericin
    1.4k
    This topic stems from the recently concluded literary activity.

    I'm curious what people's writing process is. Mine may be unusual.

    I don't have nearly the discipline to write a story linearly from beginning to end. I probably would be unable to write prior to word processors. Instead, I will think of an idea, and form the outline of the story in my head. Then, images and/or phrases will start coming to me. I will put these on paper, maybe a few or one sentence at a time, or even just a fragment. I will quickly become bored and/or stuck, and move on to other parts .

    Since I know the outline, it is easy to know where each new sentence should go. In this way, bit by bit, I fill out the story, until I feel all the gaps are filled.

    Then comes editing, where I read through the story multiple times, each time deleting or replacing sentences or phrases I don't like, and adding bits where I feel gaps remain. Eventually I feel like I have something I am more or less happy with, and I am "done".

    How do you write?
  • Vera Mont
    2.9k
    Conventionally, more or less. I have a germ of a story idea and I ask myself :"What is this really about?" What's the underlying theme? Having identified it, I place it in the appropriate setting. Then I start wondering: What kind of people live there? How do they survive? How do they think? How is their society organized? What level of technology and prosperity? What are their interpersonal relations like?

    By the time I've answered those questions, I've also pretty much picked out a POV - the kind of person whose experience best conveys the theme. Then I need to make up a biography and fill in the details of that person's daily life. When I know my protagonist, I have an idea what kind of major event they need to live through and how they'll react.

    After that, there is enough story to write a plot outline. I prefer to organize it chronologically, without too much complication. The last one was a bugger, since it's actually three different stories, told in the first person (which I don't usually), by three protagonists, each with their own voice, but it turned out - I had no choice! - that one of the stories is half flash-backs (which I also don't, usually).

    Then I just sit down here every morning, idle away as much time as I dare, looking into a couple of forums, doing the jigsaw puzzle, checking email, arguing with the cat who lives on my laptop ... but sooner or later, I have to start doing research, inventing geography (love Google Earth!!), language, culture, names, homes, transportation, food. I have an old spiral diary that was used only sparsely by my SO, and make lots and lots of little notes in pen.

    I do have Scrivener at SO's insistence, but I dislike using it. Too damn complicated.

    Eventually, when I can't put it off any longer, I start writing the actual story. On Page 1 of Chapter 1. When it's done, I take a few days off to get some perspective, and then start editing the hell out of it.
  • wonderer1
    1.5k
    Since I know the outline, it is easy to know where each new sentence should go. In this way, bit by bit, I fill out the story, until I feel all the gaps are filled.hypericin

    Not someone with any literary writing experience to speak of myself, but I find that fascinating. I have a hard time imagining myself writing in such a way at the sentence level. I would love to learn more.

    If you don't mind me asking... Do you think it is a matter of artistically focusing on crafting your language at the sentence level as an aesthetic choice, or would you describe it differently?
  • Benkei
    7.1k
    A spark of inspiration that is either the start of a story or the outline of one and then I just write. It's best that I write as much as possible before proof reading or even reading it back. If I do that I run the risk of disrupting the flow and then it can take a very long while before I get back into it. Poetry is more building it around whatever idea or feeling I decided to convey. It's much more cerebral for me than a story.
  • javi2541997
    4.7k


    My writing process is based on perseverance. I am not a professional writer or novelist, but I fully recommend a lecture on "novelist as vocation" by Murakami. He expressed his ups and downs during the process of his novels. It inspired me the fact that he he puts the effort of writing everyday, and he doesn't leave his desktop until he reaches five or more pages (written in Japanese characters)
  • Vera Mont
    2.9k
    My writing process is based on perseverance.javi2541997

    Yes, I think that's vital. Sometimes it doesn't flow - or even trickle; sometimes you have to wring out every word as from a heavy wet towel. On those bad days, the result is usually poor work, and most of it has to be replaced on the first edit. The important thing is to keep going, because when a novel is going badly, there is an almost overwhelming urge to give up; scrap it and waste those first 100 pages. For me, this low point is usually around the middle, when I need a decisive event to move the plot, and I've neglected to lead up to such an event.

    I've shelved maybe half a dozen novels in the last 50 years, and I always wonder, later on, whether I should go back to them. In the doldrums after finishing one recently, with the looming alternative of washing all those windows before the fall, I've been desperately scrabbling through the pile of rejects for something to revive. Some short story ideas might be worth pulling out of the pile...
  • Benkei
    7.1k
    sometimes you have to wring out every word as from a heavy wet towel.Vera Mont

    But that's easy. A heavy wet towel is full of water. It's the ones you've already twisted in a pretzel that won't give up any more.
  • Vera Mont
    2.9k
    But that's easy.Benkei

    Not for these arthritic old wrists! The wrung-out ones can go hang.

    What I'm procrastination about now - Hark, is that the kettle? Does Idiot Cat want in again? I'll just check on the tomatoes in case they need watering. Right after I finish this game of Mah Jong solitaire. - is a blog entry. I started out okay last year with a few little essays of random thoughts on our own website, but nobody read them, so I quit. Now I'm supposed to resume on Goodreads, and I've got nothing.
  • Outlander
    1.8k
    A spark of inspiration that is either the start of a story or the outline of one and then I just write. It's best that I write as much as possible before proof reading or even reading it back. If I do that I run the risk of disrupting the flow and then it can take a very long while before I get back into it.Benkei

    Basically this for me. Well, often there's one (or if I'm lucky several) "perfect"/"ultimate" scene(s), idea(s), or moment(s) I visualize in my head and think "wow that'd be an awesome book/movie/what have you..." and work backwards from there.

    You got to "transport" the viewer into an entirely new world... so to speak. Describe things in painfully vivid detail without becoming clumsy or too cumbersome in your wordage. As if you were describing something to a blind person, for example.

    The simple sentence "John sat down at the table and had a glass of tea" could be expanded into an entire chapter with the right nuance, subtleties, visual descriptions, and inner dialog. Whether or not it would be a good idea depends on the context and intent of that particular work.
  • Vera Mont
    2.9k
    "John sat down at the table and had a glass of tea" could be expanded into an entire chapterOutlander
    That sentence immediately intrigued me. Why a glass of tea? Is it iced? Is it hot outside? Has he been doing something strenuous? Or is he having tea the Turkish way? Maybe he's spent time there, an experience that is significant in his life? Where is the table? In his own home; which room? Is he alone or entertaining/being a guest?
    That could be spun in a sinister way: he's be cautious, in case the tea is poisoned. Or a on a comic line: he's at his girlfriend's house, hoping to make a good impression on her parents but unfamiliar with their old-country customs. Pathos: he looks across the table at the person who isn't there anymore. Etc.

    A story can be made out of anything. Witness a pair of teenagers meeting at the mall; a woman boarding the bus with bulky carry-bags; people standing in line at the bank or post office, impatiently waiting out a lengthy transaction... Hemingway hit that one on the nail: Write one true sentence.
  • hypericin
    1.4k


    Thanks for the insight into your novel writing process. It sounds like a truly forbidding amount of work... before you even get to page one!

    And then, you are implying you start from chapter 1, page 1, and end on the last sentence? That is astounding to me, I couldn't do that even for a short story. Much respect!
  • hypericin
    1.4k
    Do you think it is a matter of artistically focusing on crafting your language at the sentence level as an aesthetic choice,wonderer1

    No, its really not a choice at all! Its the only way I know how to write. I simply don't have the focus or patience to do it any other way. Just write the little bits and pieces, from wherever in the story, onto the page, as they come.

    Even though it is by necessity, I do think there are advantages to this process. You are always writing the parts you are actually into, at any given point. Less time on the difficult parts, more enjoyment. I think struggle generally reflects poorly in the quality of output.
  • hypericin
    1.4k
    If I do that I run the risk of disrupting the flow and then it can take a very long while before I get back into it.Benkei

    If only I had a flow button, writing would be a real pleasure. As it is, flow is just so elusive.
  • hypericin
    1.4k
    As if you were describing something to a blind person, for example.Outlander

    Remember though, the reader isn't a blind person. They are actively confabulating all the background details as you write. Truly, they are co-creators, not passive recipients. You are not painting a picture for them, rather you are more a conductor for the symphony of their imagination.
  • Noble Dust
    7.8k
    Truly, they are co-creators, not passive recipients.hypericin

    :cheer: I’ve been preaching this here for years.
  • hypericin
    1.4k
    Murakamijavi2541997

    I will need to read something by him, since my story received several comparisons. Never heard of him before then!

    he doesn't leave his desktop until he reaches five or more pages (written in Japanese characters)javi2541997

    Formidable, I assume Japanese is much more concise in terms of character count.
  • javi2541997
    4.7k
    I will need to read something by him, since my story received several comparisons. Never heard of him before then!hypericin

    I will always recommend his works. I understand that he is not everyone's cup of tea, but even those accept that he is an exceptional novelist.
  • Vera Mont
    2.9k
    And then, you are implying you start from chapter 1, page 1, and end on the last sentence?hypericin

    By a somewhat tortuous route.
    I have to proceed logically and chronologically, or I get confused. Even so, it's hard to keep track of consistency in names, places, sequence of events. The first draft is far from complete. Even on the second or third edit, I keep an 'outtakes' file, where I put questionable paragraphs on probation. Some may go into a different chapter, some will be put back modified, some scrapped altogether. I lost a quite good observation that way: I repeated it in a later chapter, so I took out both, not sure where it should go and forgot about it on final edit.
  • Vera Mont
    2.9k
    I think struggle generally reflects poorly in the quality of output.hypericin

    Oh, Calliope, I hope not!
  • Amity
    4.6k
    I'm curious what people's writing process is. Mine may be unusual.hypericin

    I've been asking questions about 'The Writing Process' for as long as I can remember.
    Until now, not many on TPF have been forthcoming, even in the fiction feedback. So very happy to see the various and open responses.

    Interesting to read about the importance of an outline, either in the mind or on paper.
    But before that the necessary idea or the questions.
    The spark of inspiration, where it comes from and where will it lead...

    Then how much of an outline needs to be filled, organised; chronologically or otherwise:
    With questions already answered à la Vera .
    Or as a very skinny skeleton, the flesh added to head, feet - wherever, whenever:

    Since I know the outline, it is easy to know where each new sentence should go. In this way, bit by bit, I fill out the story, until I feel all the gaps are filled.hypericin
    It fascinates me how images and phrases start coming then...fragments at a time.

    My writing process is based on perseverance. I am not a professional writer or novelist, but I fully recommend a lecture on "novelist as vocation" by Murakami.javi2541997

    Perseverance is clearly important for a polished end-product.
    It's the method, style or techniques that intrigue me.
    There are so many books on the subject...I think I have them all!
    Now, of course, there is YouTube. My latest find, after buying Updike's 'Problems and Other Stories':



    ...often there's one (or if I'm lucky several) "perfect"/"ultimate" scene(s), idea(s), or moment(s) I visualize in my head and think "wow that'd be an awesome book/movie/what have you..." and work backwards from there.

    You got to "transport" the viewer into an entirely new world... so to speak.Describe things in painfully vivid detail without becoming clumsy or too cumbersome in your wordage.
    Outlander

    That makes sense to me. Sometimes a story can take place in one space. Like a bar!
    The characters, appearance and their interactions can be visualised. The dialogue, their shared concerns, especially if it's a local. As in so many English soap operas.
    It's the description part that's difficult, see underlined, how to finesse?

    Just write the little bits and pieces, from wherever in the story, onto the page, as they come.
    Even though it is by necessity, I do think there are advantages to this process. You are always writing the parts you are actually into, at any given point. Less time on the difficult parts, more enjoyment
    hypericin

    I had fun with my first TPF story 'Red, White and Blue'. I had an 'interesting' time filling blank A4 sheets with pencil scribbles, hard to decipher once the word vomit was over. The ideas that burst from my brain were circled, underlined, numbered, asterisked and arrowed. There has to be a better way.
    I had no plan and no great intentions before I started - things just came to me.
    Difficult to pin down.

    My story was difficult to follow, for some. For others, they enjoyed the ride even if they didn't understand.
    I think it is important that a story is enjoyed AND understood. Otherwise, what's the point?

    Truly, they are co-creators, not passive recipients. You are not painting a picture for them, rather you are more a conductor for the symphony of their imagination.hypericin
    I agree that gaps don't always need to be filled. But I've tried to answer your concerns:
    So, a sort of ying/yang of bad/good that left me a bit flabbergasted and confused. I want to say other things...Good job here, but, dear author, I'm still left a bit confused.

    Not sure if my responses have helped or hindered!?
    After my feedback, I struggled to explain my 'process'.
    I have asked for help, here:
    https://thephilosophyforum.com/discussion/comment/832938

    Any advice gratefully received...
  • javi2541997
    4.7k
    Aren't you considering perseverance as a method? :chin:
  • Jack Cummins
    5k

    I am afraid that I don't have wonderful advice because I struggle with the process. However, I have got to the point, where based on feedback, I think that outlines and plotting are essential. They are probably where I end up falling down because my stories end up meandering up in no man's land.

    I do read books on writing but there are just so many that it would be possible to spend all one's time reading them and not writing at all. One of my favourites is Stephen King's 'On Writing' and I see him as a wonderful storyteller. I am not sure if he outlines but for most of us it's probably essential. I can remember making clear plans for essays at school and how it helped so much. Personally, I have probably gone too far in therapeutic writing, especially based on Julia Cameron's idea of 'morning pages' and realise that the craft of story itself is essential. For some, it may come easily, just like cooking or sport, but I find it difficult and know that I need to work on it. I am not sure that this post will be helpful but sometimes it can be reassuring to hear the voices of those who are struggling rather than simply those of the 'successful'.
  • Amity
    4.6k
    Aren't you considering perseverance as a methodjavi2541997

    Good question. Let me think...

    I think of perseverance as a concept like resilience or determination. The ability to overcome obstacles to reach a goal, no matter how many there are.
    Perhaps, yes, this involves skill and techniques but overall I think perseverance is more of a positive attitude. Depending on what the goal is. Bank robbers might persevere if first attempts fail!

    A method is how you reach that goal. It's a process to be followed to complete any given task.

    Your thoughts?
  • Tom Storm
    8.1k
    I used to have the same approach as yours. Side hustle as a writer some years ago now - I wrote some TV drama and a lot of newspaper journalism and an unpublished novel some years ago. I have friends who are novelists - there doesn't seem to be a right path. Some plan meticulously, some let the characters write the tale. I suspect the key is to just keep writing and reflect on how it can be improved. Read a lot.
  • Amity
    4.6k
    I am not sure that this post will be helpful but sometimes it can be reassuring to hear the voices of those who are struggling rather than simply those of the 'successful'.Jack Cummins

    It is most helpful and indeed reassuring!

    I think that outlines and plotting are essential.Jack Cummins

    I think I'm coming to that point of view too!

    One of my favourites is Stephen King's 'On Writing'Jack Cummins

    Yes, I have his book. I'll look it out to see what he says about outlines. Thanks for the reminder.

    I can remember making clear plans for essays at school and how it helped so muchJack Cummins

    Yes, I struggled with the very idea of making an outline but eventually got there in my OU studies.
    It helped enormously!

    I have probably gone too far in therapeutic writing, especially based on Julia Cameron's idea of 'morning pages' and realise that the craft of story itself is essential.Jack Cummins

    Well, only you know when enough is enough. I haven't tried that kind of writing. Sounds helpful.

    the craft of story itself is essential. For some, it may come easily, just like cooking or sport, but I find it difficult and know that I need to work on it.Jack Cummins

    Ah yes. Cooking is a good example. The ingredients, methods and right tools to make a tasty dish.
    Some have an inborn talent, they don't need a recipe or outline. Others like me have to work at it...with or without a recipe. A picture can help. What does a good story look like.

    So, yes
    Read a lot.Tom Storm
    I did and do. But not always as a potential writer. I've also started to listen to audio books.
    The musicality, tone and clarity of a good narrator can bring so much pleasure and inspire.

    I suspect the key is to just keep writing and reflect on how it can be improved.Tom Storm

    Yes, I think so. It helps to have friends and critical readers. As in TPF!
  • javi2541997
    4.7k
    Well, I think perseverance is a method. It is about of maintaining the pace every day constantly. It doesn't depend on positive attitude because even in "bad days" those writers still have the attitude to keep writing because they developed such method. At least it is just the way I see it but, if I say I want to write a 1,000 page novel, I will do it for sure. That's what perseverance is about, the technique comes later on.
  • Amity
    4.6k
    It is about of maintaining the pace every day constantlyjavi2541997

    I understand that daily practice would be helpful, if not essential when writing a novel:

    Yes, I think that'svital. Sometimes it doesn't flow - or even trickle; sometimes you have to wring out every word as from a heavy wet towel.Vera Mont

    But that is not everyone's goal and it's not always possible for those would-be writers who have other priorities. Only the most determined and they already have that value or motivation to persevere in them. Success at all costs.

    if I say I want to write a 1,000 page novel, I will do it for sure. That's what perseverance is about, the technique comes later on.javi2541997

    Are you sure? Isn't that just as much about confidence?
    What is it that you are persevering with? Writing.
    And that already includes some degree of skill and capacity...technique if you will. A way of carrying out the task. All part and parcel.
  • javi2541997
    4.7k
    Are you sure? Isn't that just as much about confidence?Amity

    I think more than confidence, it is finishing what it has started.

    A way of carrying out the task.Amity

    I agree, and I couldn't have said it better. This is what is expected from a qualified person. Don't you think?
  • Amity
    4.6k

    I think we agree on the importance of writing, process, technique and perseverance. All good!

    Well, I think perseverance is a method.javi2541997

    I persevere with my argument:

    There are ways, and then there are ways...

    Where there's a will, there's a way. [=if you have the desire and determination to do something, you can find a method for accomplishing it]

    Perseverance and Method are different.

    Method is a procedure. Steps to follow. Processing the different ways of doing something. This can be taught. Nurture. This is what I want to learn. The How to...

    Perseverance is persistence and effort in the process, despite setbacks.
    A way of being or attitude. Personal attribute. Nature.
    Can be developed by a person with self-knowledge.
    Knowing what is stopping the process. The psychological element.
    Talking with others can help but can it be 'taught' as a method? Hmm.
    Perhaps...this is what or how I need to be.

    I think I've changed my mind...again...

    Both are important to produce a prize-winning cake. We agree.

    @Jack Cummins your thoughts?

    Apologies, if this perseverance of mine is a distraction from the main thread topic.
    Back to the question of:
    How do you write?hypericin
    With little to no perseverance. I'm bad!
  • Count Timothy von Icarus
    1.7k


    I'm sort of the same. I have key scenes I want to write and so I do those and then fill them in. Mostly I've done short fiction but I have two larger projects that require this.

    One is about humanity slowly, one by one, waking up in an infinite house. Think about vacant homes or office buildings when they are being shown for sale. There is furniture, but no clothes in the wardrobes. There is food that magically appears in cupboards and fridges, else how would my people survive, but only when they are unwatched.

    So you have some continuous stairwells that go up for thousands of miles, large gymnasiums miles across, but mostly just a maze of small regular sized rooms. Then the story is about one guy from our world waking up there at some earlier point and also the people who are descended from human beings who showed up there centuries ago and how their culture and knowledge has changed over all this time.

    The other is a fantasy book where the different schools of magic roughly map to philosophical positions. There are Platonic mages that manipulate pure forms, Aristotleans who can enchant things by messing with their essences, cause thorns to sprout from the ground, etc. Pythagoreans who attack using beams of pure light and geometries of energy, and the most powerful form, entropic energy, which works around the concept of information. Entropic magic is the most powerful but do too much and your brain gets damaged and you're ruined, while entropic mages have a habit of bursting into flames (which won't burn them if they keep control) while casting their magics.

    This second one I have to write more out of order because it has a less defined scope and thus I need to figure out what can be fit in one book. I know I want a good duel scene. I want to introduce higher magic, based on abstraction, versus lower magic, based on drawing on the power of Jungian archetype creatures from the "Inside." Basically, the magic schools are roughly divided by intuition/emotion/Inside and abstraction/knowledge/Above, but they begin to run into each other for the most powerful sorcerers.
  • Vera Mont
    2.9k
    But that is not everyone's goal and it's not always possible for those would-be writers who have other priorities. Only the most determined and they already have that value or motivation to persevere in them. Success at all costs.Amity

    Perseverance is not about success for me. It's a life-vest: I have to get something written every day, good, bad or lackluster - and it may well end up deleted on the next good day - simply in order to keep doing it. Just so I won't throw the malformed, stillborn monster against a wall* (You can't do that on a computer. I quite miss the dark satisfaction of a sheaf of despised paper splatting against the wall and flying all over the room.) One novel took over 35 years to write, I gave up on it so many times, for years on end. My SO nagged me into reviving it after retirement, and I think it turned out better than it would have the first time.

    The other thing is, the last two novels were complicated SF; three very different settings and a huge cast of characters with different time-keeping and seasons; different cultures, funny names, so they absolutely required planning. I'm a plodder - that's what works for me. My SO is a seat-of-the-pantser. He doesn't outline anything: he has an idea, makes up a protagonist to carry it. From the initial situation, he just keeps asking, "What needs to happen next?" and writes it down. He doesn't have patience for polishing, either, for taking out redundancy, varying sentence structure, adding descriptive touches. I spend a lot of time on that - maybe waste a lot of time; I don't know whether it accomplishes much, but it's another opportunity to introduce mistakes.

    I wouldn't recommend either method to other people, because everyone has to find out what works for them. But I can give one tiny piece of general advice: It you want to improve your description, read Bradbury. When I was 19, my first chief tech gave me an old paperback copy of Dandelion Wine. It was a revelation worthy of a fanfare by the celestial brass. I still consider him the grand master of evocative description.

    PS - * I'm not really that volatile, as a rule. I've actually only ever thrown a very few things against walls, none of them animate.
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