Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Writing Process: Short and Sweet

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

This past year I heard dozens of speakers talk about writing fiction. I loved every minute of it. A few weeks ago, I wrote about my favorite bit of advice I picked up this year, which was studying the firsts and lasts during the editing process. But I also heard two writers explain their writing process in such a clear and succinct way that I really wanted to share it with you.

Because it's my writing process too. And it makes things very simple.

Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant write novels together. They also blog about self-publishing, if you'd like to check them out. They taught a webinar about how they use Scrivener to write books together. It was pretty interesting. One writes the outlines and character descriptions, the other writes the book. Seems like a very well-oiled machine. And here's how they explained their writing process:

1) Write it.
2) Write what you mean.
3) Write it well.

Don't you just love that? So simple, and yet it says so much.


1) Write it.
This is the first draft stage. When you sit down to start a new book, like those of you currently doing NaNoWriMo, the goal should be to write that first draft as quickly as you can. Give yourself permission to be messy. Don't worry if things don't make sense. Don't worry about great opening lines. Don't even worry about telling vs. showing. Just write it. Do the thing. From start to finish. Get her done! Because you can, and will, fix it later.


2) Write what you mean.
This is the macro edit stage. Once you've completed that first draft, you know so much more about your story. You know where the holes are. You know what needs to be fixed. You know if you have too many characters or not enough. So go back through that book and write what you meant to say. Add description. Get all your facts in order. Put the right characters in the right place. Make sure the characters are saying things they'd actually say. Add those missing plot threads. Add scenes that need to be added. Delete scenes that were unnecessary. Get your character quirks and eye colors right.

Stephanie wrote a post on the editing process here that is quite helpful. The point is, take the time you need to mold this messy first draft into something that at least makes sense to read.


3) Write it well.
And now you're ready for the micro edits. You're going through your book this time to write it well. Tweak your prose for flow, for character voice, for rhythm. Weed out weak verbs and repetitions. Search for your own personal author quirks and make changes. Search for weasel words and those tricky words that often get misspelled like through, though, and thought. Put contractions into your dialogue if you're the type to forget them. Study your firsts and lasts and white space. Read the book out loud and edit for how it sounds.

Stephanie wrote a great post on the micro edit here. This stage takes as long as it takes--or sometimes as long as you have before the book is due. But this is where your editing skills shine, where you add the finishing touches on your masterpiece. It's a beautiful thing.

So, write the book, go back and write what you actually meant, then re-write it well.

And if you haven't downloaded the Self-Editing Checklist from the Go Teen Writers book, click here to get it for free.

When people ask you about your writing process, what do you say?

29 comments:

  1. ...Bekah here.
    I love it when writing uses the KISS pricnciple- Keep It Simple, Stupid.
    I REALLY like this one.
    My worst problem is with #1. I tend to edit as I go.

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    1. Anon and Ashely, see my comment below about my friend Bill Myers and his writing process. You may find you like it.

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    2. Try ilys.com. I have the exact same problem, and this website helps so much. It only lets you see one letter at a time and you can't edit it until you've reached whatever you tell it is your word goal for the day or the time or whatever.

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  2. I entered my entry for the 115-word contest, last night, but I noticed some things I need to change. I think you (or Mrs. Morrill) said something before about typing something at the beginning of the entry, when you enter again. Could I do that? Thank you!

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  3. This sounds like a great process. Simple is best, I think. However, I really struggle with just writing and not editing. I get really wound up if I know something's just sitting there that needs fixing... I WANT to be able to write a fast draft, but it's eluded me for years. :(

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    1. Same here, Ashley. :( :(. I edit as I go and I cant go on if I know there's something that needs fixing.

      PS Good luck with finding a way to write a fast first draft!

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    2. I recently finished my first draft. It took about ten months. Let me tell you, being the perfectionist I am, if bugged me endlessly- I did my best not to edit as I go along. I would just say try to get words down on paper. You can worry about perfection later. Here are two posts about turning off your internal editor: http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2011/05/how-do-you-turn-off-internal-editor.html and http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2010/09/tip-on-turning-off-your-internal-editor.html . I hoped I helped a little, Ashley and Jonathan! :D

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    3. Wow, those are old posts! Wonder if I still agree with me :)

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    4. LOL! Steph... I think that too sometimes with old posts.

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    5. It's a hard thing to learn, Ashley. It was for me. But I've found that I can write faster and more effectively this way. I know now to trust the process. You don't HAVE to write this way. But if you have trouble finishing books, learning to write fast and ignore perfection is one of the best things you can do.

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    6. Haha I didn't realize they were that old..... I looked at them the other day. Lol.

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    7. Thanks for the encouragement, Jonathan! :)
      Emily, I've thought about actually writing (on paper) just to keep me from being able to go back and edit easily. I don't know if that's what you meant, but I'm pretty much to that point... As for those posts, I think I remember one of them. Lol.
      Ms. Williamson, I do have trouble finishing stories and books and this is why. I guess I need to learn to trust the process, too. :/
      Thanks everyone for the advice and encouragement!

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    8. Ashley, I write on paper :) That helps too.

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  4. I'm glad my first draft is ok, because I'm just writing it. I can't wait to get to step #2! This is actually how I write most of my short stories...this process.

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  5. Wow, this is great!

    I tend to do #1 and #2 at the same time - roughly. I normally, say, write a page, quickly read it through to see if it's vaguely okay and go on.
    Then, when the whole book's done, I reread it several times for #3.

    ~ Naomi

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  6. I love how simple the process is, but I think it's hard because my first drafts seem so outrageous that I often feel like they're impossible to finish. I could micro edit, and I could first draft, but getting in between those two is HARD. Blah.

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  8. This might not be your process, and THAT'S OKAY! My friend Bill Myers writes a book straight through. He writes chapter one, then comes back the next day and edits chapter one and writes chapter two. Day three he re-edits chapter one, edits chapter two, then writes chapter three. Day four, he starts on chapter two and etc with the process. But he does a lot of outlining and "rewriting" his outline before he stars, so he finds most his plot holes then, I think, and fixes them before he starts writing.

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  9. Wow, this is a big help. Short and sweet. I love it. I've never finished a first draft, but when I do, this'll be a lifesaver. Even though I edit as I go ;).

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  10. Wow, this is genius. It's going on a Post-It Note right now. :) Thanks, Mrs. Williamson!

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  11. This helped me so much. I was starting to "worry" with NaNo and everything that I was doing a really bad first draft, because usually I edit as I write and with NaNo I'm kind of forced not to edit as I write. This totally made me feel like I'm not a terrible writer and helped remind me that I can go back and fix everything when I'm done! Thanks so much Jill!

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    1. Absolutely! NaNo drafts are supposed to be a mess. (Ha ha.) So keep at it! You're over halfway there!

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  12. Thanks for the post. I love how they phrased part two as "write what you actually meant"...LOL, that's exactly how it feels. It's like your second chance as a writer: "Hey wait that wasn't what I meant! Let me tell you what I really meant." :)

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    1. Yes! This happened to me all the time on my first book. People would read it, tell me something, and I'd frown and go read the scene again and think... oh. Wow. I guess that is what I said. :-) It took a lot of practice to learn to use the right words to translate what was in my head onto paper.

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