Chapter 9: The Writing Process

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Here's a question for you...

Why do people do what they do?

Now, I know I said at the end of the last chapter that we were done with theory, but bear with me a second. This is going to relate to something concrete, I promise.

As writers, we want to ask that question of our characters. We want to show our characters doing things that drive the plot, but asking why enables us to show that internal element, which in turn helps hook readers.

But, as writers, we also need to ask that question of ourselves.

We could stay in the theoretical world and talk about why we write, but I think you would all strangle me. That's a hard question with a lot of very subjective answers.

Instead, let's ask why we write the WAY that we write. Why do we use one process instead of another?

The most common answer to this is usually a sad one. We tend to write with one process because it's all we know. We've only been exposed to one way, so that's what we use.

One thing I have to say about this is, if that method has worked for you, even a little bit, then there are good things in that method.

But, there's a sad part too, and this is going to take a small theory diversion (just hold off on the strangling, okay?).

There's a strange quirk in the way that our minds work, and it's one that's not very healthy for us. This problem, that every single one of us runs into at some point in life, is that we think that our point of view is the only valid point of view.

Different developmental psychologists have studied this, and this is a stage that everyone goes through. It's actually natural and is often beneficial.

But, here's the thing. If we want to grow, as writers or as people, we have to open ourselves up to other points of view every now and then. We have to admit that someone else's opinion might be right, and, that maybe you are actually both right.

Or, as we shall see, maybe both of you are wrong and you need to come together to figure something out.

So, let's dig into the two main styles of writing, plotting and pantsing, and see why we do things in a certain way.

Plotting vs. Pantsing, the False Dichotomy

One of the things that writers love to argue about is their position on plotting vs. pantsing (and yes, that is the official name...pay no attention to that other term "discovery writing"). The plotters believe in planning things out ahead, and the pantsers believe in just getting to the prose and figuring out how things fit together later. People almost always come down on one side of the argument or the other, and they generally announce their opinions quite loudly.

But here's the thing. They are all wrong.

Here's the real secret. What this argument is really about is how we approach the first draft of our story. Is it a big first draft or a relatively skinny one? Is it something we add to when we rewrite, or something we cut down? A good analogy for it is sculpture. Is our first draft a giant block of marble that we then have to chisel down to reveal our statue, or is it an armature that we build onto?

There's a key here...the first draft is not the finished product. No matter how you approach it, you still have to polish it. That's when the real work begins, in the rewriting.

When some people write their first draft, they sit down and let everything flow. By the end, they have a draft that might be 900 pages long. From there, the rewriting process is about dissecting those pages to find out where the heart of the story is.

For me, the first draft of a 100,000 word novel is under 100 pages. It's filled with strange notes. Sometimes it goes backwards and it might have a chart or two. Most people would think it's an outline, but it's got everything that a long draft has, just in less space.

And that's the thing. If you work on notes first or prose first, all of the tools of writing are always available to you. Your characters can grow and change, you can work on tone, pacing, structure, POV...everything. Neither approach is right or better. It's all about experimenting and finding what works best for you. Just know that neither approach locks you into anything and you are welcome to find a blend that fits you best.

Just think about it this way...how do you like to work on your second drafts? Do you like to chisel away to reveal them or build onto an armature to fill them out? Maybe you want a combination of the two? It really is up to you, and it's all valid.

You can end up with something amazing either way. My biggest recommendation is to take time experimenting so you can figure out which initial approach really works best for you.

Now, for a quick moment, let's get back to the why question.

Think about your preferred approach so far. Is there a reason why you've gone for plotting vs. pantsing on your first draft? Like we talked about before. Most of us only learn one method, and even worse, most of us are taught that only one method is "real" writing.

And when you think about it, that false dichotomy isn't fair to you. As a writer, you should be able to pick what tools you want to use and when you want to use them. And that's my big aim in this book, to give you a wide range of tools, so you can use them as you see fit.

There we go, that's an end to the theory stuff. For now at least (you can imagine my villain laugh here). From this point on, we will dig into the details of structure so you can use it to shape and refine your stories into something really addictive.

Questions:

Have you been mostly a pantser or a plotter, or have you combined the two? And the big thing...why have you preferred one over the other?

Can you see other areas of writing where different approaches can begin to meld together into one?

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