How I write

Why would you care? Well, it’s always interesting, if nothing else, to see how other people do the things you do. Perhaps some small parts of their routines may be useful. Even in a negative sense. The scientific method is like that, finding out what doesn’t work (for you, with writing) is a valid result.

I don’t use a quill pen, as in the image. That would be cool, perhaps. But my writing method is one of revision after revision after revision. And that’s even before I’ve begun writing what will become the first draft. It may sound very tedious but I’l explain how it isn’t for me and it (I think) makes for a better story and wastes the least time. And, also, it’s a lot more fun allowing for the inexact nature of story creation.

I use Scrivener. I REALLY use Scrivener. I use most of its organisational features for notes, character ideas and arcs, location descriptions, even weather. I add useful links. I pretty much drop everything book related into a single (searchable) dump of knowledge. I have lots of ideas, many are contradictory, most are idiotic, but they are all there and nothing is ever lost. Last month’s stupid idea is this month’s brilliant one (because of what has changed in the story in the meantime). And vice-versa, of course. With Scrivener I know that everything is in one (perhaps shambolic) location. I don’t need to search notebooks, loose papers or various documents that could have been saved anywhere (and probably badly named).

I use outlines. I really, really use outlines. I create a separate section in Scrivener just for them. I create multiple outlines for the same story. Each one is a revision of the previous one. I write everything down. It’s exactly like a writers room meeting with me taking the notes. I argue with myself. I raise the reasons why something won’t work and then object to that, myself. With reasons. I write a stream of consciousness of what’s going through my head at the time. No finesse. No grammar. Odd punctuation, if there’s any at all. And if the automatic spell checker doesn’t alter an incorrectly typed word then it stays as it is. Sounds messy, doesn’t it? Absolutely. But when I have a stream of ideas I don’t want to stop them. It’s idea time, not writing time. And that’s what I use outlines for. It’s a lot of fun. I say all kind of crap (in my head) and write it down. Things like ‘No, you idiot. That won’t work because… A better idea would be… No, no, that won’t work either because…’

Each subsequent “revision” of an outline will add some of the finesse, and there will be fewer “disagreements” in the freeform meeting minute taking in the writers room in my head. Some earlier ideas are seen in the cool light of the next meeting as being absolute shit. That’s fine. I haven’t written anything, I can change the idea and I don’t have to re-write or delete a chapter because the basic idea is crap or doesn’t fit the story.

I don’t edit outlines. I keep what’s there and create a new one. Even if some or most of it is just cut and paste from an earlier outline. I like keeping history. You never know… And to facilitate this I use the Scrivener option of displaying documents side by side (or one above the other). My subsequent writers room meetings take the previous meeting as the starting point and re-engage in the story and see what fits and what works best.

I end up with two to five complete freeform outlines. That doesn’t include “notes” where I’ve had mini-meetings with myself about some small aspects of the story. They’re still outlines, I guess, but they haven’t been slotted into the whole flow of the story. That’s what the “next” writers room meeting will do, as it incorporates all sources into the next outline document. I really enjoy that creative process of throwing ideas around and seeing what sticks. Then working those ideas forward and seeing which ones are worth keeping. There’s not much lost if you take one idea through the equivalent of 20 chapters and then realise it just doesn’t work, or there is a better idea. It’s no big deal to re-write 20 chapters of an outline. It’s a major deal to re-write 20 chapters of completed prose.

I add bits of dialogue, or description, or internal monologue as I’m doing each outline. But only if they appear in the stream of consciousness, and I don’t try and make the prose good (Haha Just like that). My final outline is often around 20% of the size of the final book. And it’s been a lot of fun producing it. (Who doesn’t like arguing with themselves in their head?)

It’s only at this stage I’ll begin to formalise the structure of the book. This will include things like: pacing, pinch points, important events, character arcs, etc. The storyline is pretty much set by this point so I can make sure all of the extra bits fit in and are in their right place, to make the story interesting to a reader and match with expected structures. Like it or not, people do expect stories to adhere to one of the few story structures that have evolved. Geniuses can get away with differences; I can’t.

I don’t see any of that creation structure as a problem. I enjoy the full journey to book completion. I don’t want to just get there quickly, although I do want to get there, of course. I want to maximise the enjoyment and minimise the frustration. And I do know the frustration of writing without thinking the story through. I have written (in the past) a 90,000 book that was based on a flawed idea. I just wrote it without thinking it through in detail i.e. no outlining. I wrote another book and reused a few pages of dialogue, and the names of some characters, but most of it was deleted. That wasn’t fun. I won’t do that again.