Thursday, November 21, 2013

Writing Misconceptions: Diving In

There's a major misconception about writing that it seems most people have, including many new, aspiring authors.  It's reinforced by television, movies, and even novels, which seems strange to me, since those are created by writers who should know better.

I'm talking about the idea of just diving into a piece of writing without any preparation.  I most recently encountered this meme when watching the second season of "Six Feet Under."  (Yes, I'm just watching the series now.)  Brenda Chenowith decides to write a novel, and, without any preparation, just dives in and starts writing.

Well, not quite.  She does have writer's block the first time she tries, and no wonder.  She sits at her computer being mocked by the blank word processor page.  That part, at least, was accurate.  Don't get me wrong.  I think this show is a brilliant character driven drama, and well written.  I can only suppose that the writers didn't want to bother clarifying to the audience that writing a book or story doesn't work that way, because later, Brenda starts writing and is able to keep it going from then on, not even knowing if she's writing a novel or something else.

In "No Plot? No Problem?" which is a book written specifically for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), author Chris Baty argues the same thing!  It's his contention that one can just start writing a novel without a plan and crank out 50,000 words in a month.  He believes that humans are born storytellers.  I agree with the sentiment, but not with the process.  While I love NaNoWriMo, and am a participant this year (the link goes to my personal page there), this won't work for most people.  I've tried it myself.

Think about it this way.  Could you build a car, or a house, without a plan?  Well, writing needs to be planned out as well.

I'll share more of my own writing process in later entries to this blog.  For now, I'll give a summary of what works for me, and what should work for most writers.

My stories start with an idea or character.  Nope, that's not enough to start the actual writing process.  From there, I take notes and build on the idea.  In doing this, I fill out important information that generates more possibilities.  I may write a character description, and figure out what sort of world he or she is in, or I may start with the idea for the world.  Ideas for conflict begin to emerge, as do possible scenes.

At this point, I keep taking notes and filling in details.  I change what doesn't work.  New characters become necessary, and I create them as well.  Eventually, I have characters, a world, conflict, and I know what the characters are likely to do in pursuit of their goals.  At that point, I start taking notes on scenes.

Eventually, I'm able to put together a plot outline.  For me, outlining most of the story tends to work well.  For a novel, this process may take a few days, or even a month or more.  At that point, I start writing the novel.

A similar process is important for writing articles or school papers.  For those, I start with the topic, and do some research if I need to, noting interesting points.  I jot down what I want to cover, and may brainstorm on more subtopics to include, and write out the order in which I should present those ideas.  That's when I can dive into the text.

I call this sort of work "pre-writing," though different writers have different names for it.  This preparation will save you time and a lot of headache.  Neglecting this stage is the number one cause of writer's block.  Master this process, and your writer's block should all but vanish.

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