How do you come up with ideas for a new book? What is your writing process? Has it changed over the years? Do you have a daily word count? Any advice for beating writers block? I can’t figure out how to plot or outline my WIP. I’ve read the 3 act structure and even tried beat sheets. It gets confusing.
I don’t come up with ideas, the ideas come up with me. I will do damn near anything to avoid writing. It’s hard. I have to work. I don’t like it. But then a character starts talking about an idea that my subconscious glommed onto and I tell myself I’ll just write this one bit of dialogue down and pretty soon I’m up to my ass in demons. Trust me, I don’t go LOOKING for work. It’s just that sometimes a story grabs onto my leg and I can’t get it off.
At that point, however, I do not go near the three-act structure, or in my case the four-act structure. I do not do beat sheets or outlines or character profiles. I definitely do not do a daily word count, that would make me nuts. This is because in the beginning, it’s all discovery. I don’t know what the book is really about until I see what I’ve written. Structure is for revising, not for writing.
I’d tell you what my writing process was if I had one. Mostly I stagger around trying to find out what the story is about, figure it out, finish the first draft, discover it’s not that at all it’s something else, revise the whole thing multiple times, discover that the something else was wrong, too, and revise again. My writing process is awful. I do not recommend it.
I find big-scale editing really hard – e.g. ‘does this scene work, does this character work, what happens if I take this out, put this back in etc. So my question is what are good approaches with over-view style review, redraft and rewrites?
First, don’t edit a first draft/discovery draft until the whole thing is done.
Then, once the whole thing is done, step back and ask yourself, “What is this book about? The protagonist owns it, what is she pursuing that’s so important to her that it informs the meaning of the book? How does her character arc inform that same meaning? What kind of book is this? Why the hell did I write this thing?”
Once you know the answers to those questions, you know how to rewrite the book to focus on that spine you’ve identified. Then look at the act structure and the turning points and make sure that they connect to that spine. Look at the character arcs and make sure they jive with the turning points and connect to that spine. Look at the conflict and see how it illustrates that spine, especially how the climax reinforces that spine.
Writing Nita, I got caught up in mysteries and my anger about what’s happening with immigration in this country and about greedy, selfish leaders, and breakfast food, but when I looked at the finished discovery draft, it was about outsiders trying to connect, about very different people becoming a family, and above all about two damaged people falling in love. So that spine was about connection in a hostile world, about outsiders coming in from the cold. That meant a lot of stuff could go, and some things I thought were just me having fun—all those breakfasts—were actually part of that people coming together in warmth. With eggs.
Find the spine, but finish the discovery draft first. You don’t know what it’s about until you see what you’ve written.