Sunday, June 28, 2009

Learning to Love the Writing Process

Writing a book is not easy. If it were, everyone would do it.

It’s not like writing a term paper. Yes, it requires hard work and research, but the thing that makes a book special is the heart and soul the author puts into it. It really is like childbirth. There’s a lot of pain and sweat and maybe some cursing, and then finally a new project is brought into the world—a unique and wonderful project that is nothing like anyone else’s. Just like a baby.

When a writer first decides to write a book, most of the time he or she is not quite sure how to go about it. The non-writing part of the population figures you just need to sit down and put in some time and poof—a book is born (See term paper reference above). Yes, writing an entire book does take time. How much time? That depends on the writer. And you can speed up your writing time by accepting and loving your Process.

What is your Process? It is how you write your book. Not how I write my book—that’s my Process. You need to figure out your own process—what works for you that gets you from Page One to The End. And the best way to do that is to write a book, all the way through.

Every writer has his or her own process. I’ve written and published twelve books over the past ten years or so, and I still call up my friend when I get stuck. And I still get stuck at the same place in every book—between chapters five and nine—where I spend a long time banging my head against the wall and wondering if I will ever finish another book in my life…EVER. And you know what my friend says? “Oh, that’s just your process.”

For some reason, knowing that this is my process immediately makes me feel better.

“You do this with every book,” she says.

I do?

“I’ve been studying your process. I’m trying to learn from it.”

You are? Can you clue me in?

I have learned some things about my process over the years. There’s the chapter 5-9 problem. Usually when I’m in the middle of a frustrated, Tasmanian Devil spin, the realization that I am at the end of chapter six calms me down. Okay, this is what I always do. Grit teeth and tough it out.

Then there’s the fact that I am sort of an organized pantser. I’ve been selling on synopsis for about eight or nine years now. I write a synopsis and get approval from the publisher, and then I start writing the book. I write the first couple of chapters. Go back, change them. Decide no, that’s not where the story starts. Write a different beginning. Okay, this one might work. Write some more (usually just up to chapter 4 or so—don’t want to hit the No Man’s Land of Chapters 5-9 while still wrestling with the beginning). I might even write a third incarnation of the beginning of the book. Send to writing friends for review. Get comments. Maybe I hear a speaker or read a writing book that makes me reconsider the beginning. Maybe I try storyboarding, but something still isn’t right. In the end, nine times out of ten I will end up going back to my first version of the beginning of the book. Turns out that was the right place to start after all.

Once I have accepted the beginning few chapters, and I have wrestled with my chapter 5-9 issue, I usually get to the first love scene in the middle of the book—around chapter 10 or so. Writing love scenes and sexual tension is easy for me, so once I get to that point, the rest of the book flies. I am able to surge forward at warp speed and finish the book on time.

With every book I write, the frustration is still there. The certainty that my last book may well have been my LAST book. Every beginning I chase myself in circles. Every second quarter of the book I bang my head against the wall. Then I hit the middle and suddenly the words fly almost faster than I can type them. And when it’s all over, I have a book to submit.

Then I have to do it all again for the next one.

Understanding my process definitely makes it easier to accept while I am in the midst of deadline angst. Loving my process is harder, but the two of us are joined irrevocably. We create wonderful stories together, and that makes it all worthwhile.