I love that word, “process.” Makes it sound like writers know what they are doing, when we’re actually just faking it and hoping no one will notice.
Now that I’m working on a fantasy novel, though, I have noticed that my fiction process is totally different than my nonfiction process.
My nonfiction process looks like this:
1) Get an idea. This part is truly easy – ideas are everywhere.
2) Figure out if anyone besides me cares about the idea. Much harder.
3) Research, read, synthesize, understand. Research is time consuming, but awesome. For starters, it’s like the grown-up version of a treasure hunt. For seconders, it’s like getting paid to learn. How cool is that?
4) Outline and start writing. I know I’m ready to write when I can see the shape of the story in my head. It feels like that part happens all on its own.
5) Fill in the gaps. More research, but it’s quick, because now I know what I’m looking for.
6) Revise. This goes on until I’m convinced there’s nothing else I can do to make the manuscript better organized, easier to understand, or more fun to read. Usually 3-4 drafts does the trick.
Fiction, in comparison, is torturous, labyrinthine work, because you have to make it up, but it still has to make sense. And now you’re dealing not just with settings and ideas and action, but human emotion and behaviour. If all moving parts don’t want to fit together, fiction is a hair-pulling, despair-inducing nightmare of insecurity and self-loathing.
This is my fiction process:
1) Get an idea.
2) Get really excited about the idea. Start writing.
3) Realize that everything I’ve written is sewage and start over.
4) Decide to write smarter. Sit down and develop character profiles, a setting, and try to come up with some kind of plot outline. This can go on for months.
5) Write a complete first draft. Be overcome with joy in the act of creation.
6) Realize first draft is still sewage.
7) Roll up sleeves. Hack out offending passages and replace them with something better.
8) Realize second draft is sewage, it just smells slightly better.
9) Identify lingering problems with the manuscript.
10) Stare at offending passages.
11) Stare out the window, while possible solutions flit in and out of head. File nails. Clean office. Stare out the window some more. Write three different opening sentences for the same paragraph before coming up with one that will allow a second sentence.
12) Repeat through a dozen drafts.
13) Send out manuscript.
14) Stuff unsold manuscript in drawer for several years.
15) Remove manuscript from drawer, decide there might be a way to fix it after all, and go through another dozen drafts.
16) Write nonfiction so as to avoid feeling like a total literary failure.
17) Realize I’m still obsessed with telling that troublesome story and get it out again.