I wrote a book. (Please hold your applause.) I actually got through the revising and editing parts of the process as well, which are the parts of the process that separates most writers from authors. You have to have the endurance to get to the finish line.
I taught writing for several years and considered myself successful at it based on the well-written thank you letters I’ve received from students who’ve gone on to become lawyers, songwriters, teachers, etc. That gave me all the warm fuzzies a person would need for a lifetime, but it also gave me a bit of a cocky attitude when it came to my own writing process.
I knew what I was doing, right? I taught other people how to do it for years.
When I signed my first publishing contract, this is how I thought it would go:
1. My brain would over flow with all of the amazing ideas I had for the story. They would fall into place as scenes like in the movies.
2. I would sit at my computer and amaze myself and my family by cranking out a final-draft-ready daily goal of 2,000 words.
3. I would finish my draft BEFORE my deadline.
4. I would send my draft to alpha readers and they would write all over my story that they loved it and it was the most awesome story ever. (Thanks, Paul Davis, for actually giving me positives.)
5. I would get my feedback, make some minor changes to the best story ever and send it in for my publisher’s glowing praise.
6. I would wipe my hands off and start on the next brilliant book in the series.
What actually happened:
1. My brain had so many ideas I had to write them down to keep them from crashing into each other. They were like the purple minions from Despicable Me 2 and all needed spankings and handcuffs to keep them in line.
2. I put a lot of pressure on myself to reach my daily word goals and stressed out and turned into a purple minion myself when I didn’t reach it. (I think my kids have pictures.)
3. I did finish my first draft before my deadline. I thought I was awesome, but that quickly changed.
4. I didn’t have nearly as many people willing to alpha read for me as I expected. That was the first expectation to burst in my ego bubble.
5. I got my alpha drafts back. I curled into a ball on my bed and CRIED huge snotty tears because I had no idea where to go from there. I was completely frozen for two weeks until my friend suggested I work on back stories for a while to figure things out. That helped me get past the block.
6. I put my damn big girl panties on (bought new ones just to feel better about it) and hacked through my first draft to make the changes that the story needed. I kept that copy—it looks like an illustrated script for the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
7. I wiped the snot off my face and freaked out about my next book.
Being an author is not necessarily pretty and can even get a little smelly when you neglect working out and showering for the sake of the creative process.
Oh yeah, it happens. Just imagine every author you know in their pajamas and in bad need of a shave. Now you have an accurate picture of ‘the writer’s life.’
Two weeks after my deadline for book two in the series passed, I attended a local League of Utah Writers conference. I hate to sound cliché and say that it changed my life, but it definitely had a major impact.
Clint Johnson, a local author and college writing instructor, presented on the writing process. I felt pretty that day, so I sat in the front row and prepared to pretend to take notes. I knew this, right? I had been teaching it for years and it had worked for my students.
He talked about the brain and the negative effects of multi-tasking during the writing process. He emphasized that we first have to figure out how our brain works before we can write. My brain? I drew a stick-figure purple minion on my paper. Okay, so I was actually taking notes. Then he sketched out the writing process in order: Pre-Writing, Drafting, Revising, and Editing. He emphasized that these are all separate processes in our brains and physically use different parts.
These separate parts of our brain do not play well with each other when they are used at the same time.
For some reason, that’s all I needed to hear. It clicked. I had been trying to pre-write in my head while drafting and all I got was a nasty cat fight in my skull and glossy eyes from staring blankly at my computer screen.
My process: Pre-writing is NOT Drafting is NOT Revising is NOT Editing.
I went home feeling like I had a chance. I had just restructured my plot for the THIRD time and started over—two weeks past my deadline.
The steps of the process as I have adopted them:
1. Pre-Writing is just spilling ideas. I’ve discovered that if I write out a short-hand version of a scene/chapter, I can crank out over 3,000 words in the middle of family craziness. And I like office supplies—pre-writing gives me a productive reason to use them.
2. Drafting is fleshing out my notes into description and dialogue. If I’ve done my pre-writing, my brain doesn’t get in the way.
3. Revising is ‘major surgery’ as Clint Johnson put it. Yep, still a chainsaw massacre.
4. Editing is the Botox and boob job—just polishing up the good stuff that’s already there and buying it a new bra.
Now that I’ve separated my pre-writing and drafting, I’m back to that narcissistic mode of feeling like I can do anything. My draft for book two, Assets, is almost done. Book three no longer scares me.
What have you done to figure out your process? (While you leave comments, I’ll be in the shower—shaving and washing off the purple minion.)