I’ve been working my way through Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy. It turns out I really needed to read this book. It’s one thing to have a desire to write a novel, but as I learned from my first (botched) attempt, I need to start from the ground up. I’m going to share with you the most important thing that I’ve learned from this book, the thing that helped me move past a self-imposed road block that kept me from making any writing progress. It’s something that I think every writer should take the time to learn – finding your method of writing. You’ve got all the “who, what, and why” ready to go… but if you’re not sure about the how, you may never achieve your goal.
The book outlines four different writing methods that are used by novelists to get that first draft done. (They call them creative paradigms.)
The first method is “seat-of-the-pants” writing – I’d heard this one mentioned by other writers quite a bit during the Nano season. In a nutshell, you sit down and write your first draft straight through with no planning or editing beforehand. You write things down as they occur to you, and worry about fixing it up later. This method involves a ton of rewriting, but it can be a lot of fun.
The second method is editing as you go. A variation of seat-of-the-pants, still writing without planning, but you go back and edit each scene as it is completed.
The third method is known as the “Snowflake Method,” created by one of the authors of the book – Randy Ingermanson. Randy explains how to use it here: http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/art/snowflake.php The idea is that you plan a loose, basic structure, write a little bit, then as the characters and story become more clear you go back and alter the original structure to fit the new ideas.
And the final method is outlining – structuring the entire story, start to finish, scene by scene before you even begin writing the first draft. Those who use this method will often revise their outline many times before starting the actual story.
For the longest time, I assumed I was a seat-of-the-pants writer. Why? Because that’s how I do everything else in life. I don’t like a lot of structure, and I loved the idea of just writing. Freely. Letting the story come as it may. I started my novel by doing a small bit of brainstorming and character creation, then jumping right into the first draft. SotP for the win, right? Well, that story didn’t work out. Things kept changing on me. My mind kept thinking, “Oh, but what if this happened instead? Let’s try that.” All too often, the new course of events would nullify my first few scenes. And let me tell you, that was frustrating for me. Each time, I grumbled about it not working and scrapped it. I had a growing pile of novel and short story beginnings that I kept tossing aside because they weren’t working out. And the bigger that pile became, the smaller my self confidence shrank.
Finally, on the last story I wrote (submitted to DSP in hopes of publication), I tried something different. I pre-planned my key plot points, my scenes, the entire story. I outlined the whole thing before I wrote. I had a real, solid structure. For the first time in a long while I had a sense of direction when I began writing. I actually knew how the story was going to end even before I started. It was amazing. Instead of going into it with a feeling of dread and an expectation of failure, I went in ready and excited. I knew it would work. And I had fun writing it. Something clicked – I knew I’d found my writing method. I still want to experiment with the others, the ones I haven’t tried yet – who knows, there might be another one that’s even better for me. But discovering that SotP doesn’t work for me – knowing that I have options – has given me a new outlook.
The point of all my blabbing is that if you’re having trouble with your writing, whether it’s starting up or completing projects – make sure you’re going about it the way that works for you. Everyone’s going to be different – and if you like rigid structure in your everyday life, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll like rigid structure when you write. I definitely encourage all writers to try different methods and take the time to discover which one is right for you.
I’d love to hear from readers – how do you get that first draft done? Do you use one of the writing methods I mentioned above, or a different one entirely?