Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Madness of My Method

On forums such as Absolute Write, a frequent question that crops up is "can I do it this way?" Writing out of sequence, longhand vs typing, etc. In other words: "If I do things in some off-the-beaten-path way, am I doing it wrong?"

The short answer is, "No."

The slightly longer answer is, "As long as you finish what you write, then no, you're not doing it wrong."

And I say this as someone who, when it comes to oddball writing methods, stops just short of doing my work while suspended upside down above a tank full of sharks. So, for those who want some reassurance that it's okay to do things your own way, I thought it would be fun to share some of the methods (and madness) of my writing and give a little peek at what goes on behind the scenes here.

Over the last couple of years, I've evolved from typing only to doing some longhand. It started with jotting the occasional paragraph in a spiral notebook. Sometimes, when I couldn't figure out how to word something, writing it by hand would help untangle the brain knots.

I also write out of sequence. Like, way out of sequence. It started out with writing a chapter, then skipping around on the outline, writing and finishing this chapter, then that one, etc. Then I started working on multiple chapters at once. It wasn't unusual to have four or five chapters in progress. With time, it got to the point I'd have every single chapter in the outline started, but I'd be 20,000 words in before I actually finished one. As an example: As I write this blog entry, I'm 41,000 words into The Closer You Get. Out of 23 chapters, 8 are done and all but 2 are started.

These days, I also tend to write chapters in fragments. It's not like those started-not-finished chapters are written in any kind of linear fashion. A few paragraphs here, a few lines there, with a bunch of gaps in between. Then I fill in the gaps, and eventually, it all blends together to form a cohesive scene.

For some reason, though, it's often easier to fill in those gaps by hand instead of typing. So, I'll print out a few not-quite-done scenes. Bearing in mind I print single-spaced, a page generally looks something like this:
All those gaps between paragraphs? Yeah. Those all need to be filled in. The filling can be anything from an arrow connecting the two (when I realize they don't need anything in between) to 1,000 words or more of new material. Just depends on what's going on, what's missing, etc.

I take my pages, my trusty clipboard, and curl up on the couch, go to the beach, hang out in a restaurant, whatever...and start writing. Sometimes it's just pieces of dialogue, sometimes detailed descriptions or actions, sometimes just a note to myself ("go from ceremony to reception; note summer heat + wearing tuxedo" or "brief flashback to scene in chapter 3"). I'm not really after any kind of perfect form or prose at this point, so it's usually half "good stuff" and half "crap that needs to be polished a wee bit when I type it up".

In a few hours, I have a stack of pages that look a little something like this:
Or this:
And what happens if I need more space than what's on the page?

Flip it over, of course.
Yes, my handwriting really is that bad. Don't judge me.

Once all the pages are duly scribbled upon, it's back to the computer to type it up. You would think this would be incredibly time-consuming and labor-intensive. Double the work to hit my word count quota, right? For whatever reason, doing it this way, I can knock out my daily goal of 5,000 words in much less time. I really don't know why, it just works for me, and has for the last dozen or so books.

So, the moral to the story: It doesn't matter how you write it. By hand? Typing? Linear? Non-linear? Backwards? Suspended upside down above a shark tank? Do whatever you need to do.

There is no right or long as you finish it.


  1. LMAO my OCD went crazy just now. When I write I start at the beginning and write through to the end. And I do that because...well the beginning is first and the end is last. There is no filling in until it's done. I am then allowed to add scenes and such things, but not before.

    I really enjoyed reading about how you write, though it broke me out in a sweat. "Oh my god how does she keep track" :O.

    I'm actually stretching my personal boundaries right now by having two WIP. A first for me. Usually not only do Iwrite beginning to end, I do it one book at a time. I feel like your polar opposite =D

  2. Dee - thanks for stopping by!

    The crazy thing is, *my* OCD goes nuts over other aspects of the writing process. Word counts, daily goals, spreadsheets, etc. I have the same reaction you do - breaking out in a sweat - when I read about other people's methods that are completely different. You know, in that sense of "OMG, I'd start twitching...I'd, I'd break out in hives! How do they do it? HOW???" It's funny how people can be such polar opposites, as you said, but still reach the same point: a finished book.

    And as for how I keep track? Excel, Excel, Excel. In fact, I'll probably post an entry soon about Excel, OCD, and writing, because...damn.

    Thanks again for coming by! Always interesting to hear about other people's methods!

  3. *Judges harshly*

    Just kidding! I was actually having this discussion with a new-to-the-craft writer who asked me, "How do you do it?"

    Well, I immediately thought of that scene in Young Frankenstein with the book entitled, "How I did it" but I didn't want to be an ass so I actually thought about my writing method.

    And then I realized that for every writer, there is a writing method. Some use index cards, some outline, some are just total pansters like me. :)

    I think however you get it down on the page is perfectly fine.

    Now, get back to work, you!

  4. I AM working! Or, I was...until I got a notification of a comment on my blog, which pulled me out of my little world. I DO hope you're pleased with yourself.

    And yes, I agree: Whatever it takes to get the words on the page is fine. Just GET THE WORDS ON THE PAGE.

  5. I am so pleased that I crowned myself with my third tiara of the day! Bwhahahaha!

    And I've pulled you away again by posting this! Yeah, I'm on a roll! Well, no, not really. I have to go make dinner. Damn our different time zones!