Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Is My Head On Backwards?

In an attempt to stay relevant beyond November, the folks over at NaNoWriMo have started offering much-needed help and advice to authors in the post first-draft phase of writing.  I'm not there yet, but I started reading some of my much-neglected writer blogs to try and fire myself up for writing the second half my this year's novel.  I just read a recent blog post of theirs “A 7-Step Guide to Big Picture Revision” and once more I am struck by how completely opposite my writing process is from most everyone else’s.

My official scientific survey of other people’s writing styles (conducted by the method of reading and noticing things) seems to indicate that the great majority of writers—including a large number of published writers—start with some sort of idea about a character or a situation that sounds interesting, followed by a lot of writing, then a period of investigation to determine what was actually written (followed by large portions being thrown out and other large portions being re-written.)

This just seems to be incredibly wasteful to me, like first throwing a bunch of randomly colored paint at a canvas, then deciding what kind of painting you can make out of it.  OK, on second thought, that does sound like a fun creative exercise.  But is that a professional way to do things?

In reading the author’s suggestions for revision, I realized I probably did about half those steps before I even started writing.  Doing it any other way just seems backwards.  I’ll admit that when I first started writing, at least before I started trying to seriously write novels, I did a lot of writing like that, but I don’t know if any of those explorations and exercises ever amounted to anything.

The reason all this surprises me is that early in my self-study of the craft of writing, I came across James Frey’s “How to Write a Damn Good Novel” I & II and his concepts of “step sheets”—mapping out the character’s journey from the initial conflict to the final conclusion.  It just made so much sense to me--(being an INTJ on the Meyers Briggs charts of course I’m drawn to a more systematic approach)--that I assumed that all professional writers did something like that.  Instead I’m constantly finding myself very much in the minority.

So now I’m wondering what other writers’ approaches are.  Is it primarily “write first and structure later” or are there some other modified/hybrid/Off-the-wall approaches used out there?