Writers love hearing about writing process. Whenever you get two writers together or go to a panel or talk about writing, questions about process always come up. Not surprisingly, we’re all trying to crack the code, to figure out the best strategy so we can increase our chances of success. Should we write every day or take breaks? Should we work by the hour or by word or page count? Should we write in the morning or at night?
I guess all this curiosity about writing process is to be expected. After all, writing isn’t easy: it’s time consuming, messy, and good results aren’t guaranteed. So any tip or trick that can help you beat the odds is worth considering and even glomming onto.
But there’s a caveat here: You can waste a lot of time and energy trying to make someone else’s system work for you. Just recently, I read a great feature story in the writer magazine with helpful advice from Gilbert King, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Devil in the Grove. His first tip? “Do what works for you.” Although many writers work with outlines, for example, that doesn’t float Gilbert’s boat. As he put it, “The idea of spending any time on one gave me a headache.” So how did he pen his meticulously researched book? Here’s what he says,
“What I did do was think about the story constantly, in a very visual way, almost like a movie, until I had a narrative structure in my head. Then I started to write, but I had long lists of thoughts, notes, and sources for each chapter. Those lists worked well for me. Do what works.”
Gilbert’s approach is very familiar to me, because This it is more or less the way I put together my YA novel. Basically, I imagined scenes and then put them down on paper, played with them, and began stringing them together until some sort of plot emerged. There were lots of holes and so I came up with ways to fill them. Gradually, the book took shape. I didn’t start with an outline, though, like Gilbert, I had lots of notes and ideas which I jotted down as they came to me. I’m fascinated by the idea of working from an outline — having a blueprint sounds very seductive — but I’m dubious about whether it would work for me, so I think I’ll take Gilbert’s excellent advice and simply “do what works.” How about you? what writing strategy seems most effective? Write on!