Having recently plowed through all three of Kristin Cashore’s books, I ventured over to her blog and found this fascinating post on her writing process. I thought maybe I’d share the details of my own with whoever might be interested (all three of you, haha).
In general, I need the following things in order to write: time, a distraction-free zone, and my laptop.
Time: I am not one of those writers who is able to write for five minutes at the drop of a hat. I need to have at least an hour of open time yawning in front of me … better yet, five or six hours.
No distractions: I can listen to music but sometimes only without lyrics. I can write with friends, but only if they have their own projects. I cannot write while there is a movie on. It just isn’t going to happen. This does not, somehow, apply to the internet.
Laptop: I can’t write freehand anymore. My thoughts are too fast, and I edit so furiously that I would shred the paper with my pen. Plus, the idea of having to transcribe it into the computer seems like a terrible waste of my limited time. I like to keep everything in its place. (I don’t even like to edit a copy on my work laptop during my lunch break because then I have to make sure to copy and paste it into the right document on my personal laptop.) Such a hassle. I just need to have my laptop. If I am without it, I will journal thoughts here and there on pieces of scratch paper, but I won’t tackle actual novel work.
I have to have access to the internet. I go absolutely insane without it. I can have Facebook and Gmail and Words with Friends all open, and it just blends into my whole writing program. I do a lot of in-the-moment research, so I need to have access to the web (for example, I will just NEED TO KNOW in that EXACT moment what that heavy bib is that you wear during an X-ray … lead apron. Okay, lead apron. Moving on.).
I start with characters. In fact, I like to start with names. And then I find a picture of that person. (Sure, it’s some random picture from Google images, but I find a picture that matches the name and the image in my head.) And then I write down a few thoughts about that person. I keep this document with me the whole duration of the writing and refer to it often (mostly since I am terrible at descriptions and need to use the photos for inspiration).
With this last novel, I gave myself six months to write a first draft– and didn’t allow myself to rag on myself while I did so. The first draft is just the bones (and probably weak ones) of the story– I still don’t know my characters super well until the first draft is done. Only then can I go back and know them well enough to see how they really would react to the situations that took place. (I know that seems backward … but it’s not.)
I trust my writing group and other creative friends to catch the glaring imperfections for me. You’d be shocked at what things seem clearly obvious to the plot that would have never been included if a friend hadn’t said, Um, this needs to happen here.
I can write from my couch, but it’s better if I am at a coffeeshop or Barnes & Noble. There’s no laundry waiting to be done there. If I am particularly inspired, though, I can sit at my kitchen table for 10-15 hours. I am not joking.
I am terrified of losing any edits I make, so I email myself my draft after every writing session, and if I am not at home, I email it to myself before I leave the coffeeshop, etc., just in case I get into a car accident or my laptop (or car my laptop is in) is stolen by bandits or the laptop has a total meltdown. My latest draft is always safe and labelled in the right folder in my Gmail account. I have been working on my current story for a year, and there are 176 emails in that folder.
When I decide to cut something that I kinda liked, I save it in a separate document called “extries.” Over the months, this file grows ridiculously large itself. Also, if I am completely re-doing a scene, I have to edit the scene in the extries file and then copy/paste it into the actual document file. This seems to go against what I said earlier about keeping things in one place, but it doesn’t: same laptop counts.
I am always thinking about my story, particular scenes that are giving me trouble, my characters I don’t know how to help. I pray when I get stuck. I cry. I ask close friends to discuss problems with me so that they can help me muddle my way through. Whenever I get an idea and I’m not around my laptop, it goes into my phone. Later, I dump all of those ideas into the extries file and work through them. The ones I write down at 3 am sometimes make no sense.
I also keep a fake calendar of the time the story takes place and list out events on the calendar to make sure I’m keeping track of time right. (There can’t be 6 weeks in June.)
And the whole time I am riding the world’s longest rollercoaster … I love what I wrote tonight! … I am a terrible writer who will never be published … people like this story … it’s not good enough. The lows are hard, but the highs are fantastic. And I love the process. I love the act of creation. LOVE IT. My characters and I feel each other out, and they make some of the decisions, but I usually get the final say. Usually.
Writing a book is kind of like volunteering to be crazy. Not just to spent time in the loonybin … but to legitimately be crazy. But then again, maybe that’s already a given if you’re a writer and writing a book is just your way of acknowledging it.