Thursday, February 9, 2012

One size fits all?

Writing is not a one size fits all process. There is no standard method to the madness of different writers. Most of all, what approach works for one writer may not necessarily work for another. No time was this more evident to me than this month seeing my third grader write her book report. The assignment was quite creative. They had to read an incredible (unbelievable) story and write a sequel to it.

The kids had a month to complete this assignment. Knowing my daughter is a consummate procrastinator, I pressured her to begin the assignment as soon as she got it. She chose “Pirates at Port Royal,” written by our fellow novelnaut, Carol Ottley-Mitchell. Two weeks before it was due, she’d completed the reading and I insisted that she begin writing. I wanted her to follow the formula for writing: brainstorming, writing an outline, writing a complete first draft by hand and revising it before typing the final draft on the computer and doing some more editing.

She began by throwing out ideas using me as a sounding board, however by the time she went to write the ideas down she’d forgotten them. It continued like that for a day before I suggested recording the ideas. She happily used her Nintendo DS to video tape herself as she brainstormed and refined the idea. Unfortunately, she spent the next few days playing around with the video, altering the sound and adding all kinds of weird special effects.

Of course I put my foot down and told her it was time to write the outline. She made a feeble attempt at an outline, spending two days trying to convince me to let her write the story on the computer, without a rough draft or an outline. I was not having it. I felt she needed to learn the writing process and writing her story long hand without the benefits of spell check and auto correct on the computer would improve her English. Plus a turtle could type faster than she could.

Three days before it was due, she finally got around to writing a rough draft. After spending the entire afternoon she got only the first terrible paragraph done. Two days before it was due, fearing she would be up long past bedtime the next night, I again pressured her to get it done. She politely informed me that her friend’s mother wrote her book report for her and she hoped I would do the same. When I told her that was never happening I became the evil mother. She managed to reach to the middle of the story by bedtime. I read it and cringed.

The night before the report was due I finally gave in and told her to type it on the computer and edit it when she was finished. I fully expected her to transcribe what she wrote by hand and then continue the story. She was still typing well past her bedtime. To save time, I told her to print it and I will proofread it while she worked on the rest of the story. To my surprise the story she wrote on the computer was completely different to the story in the hand written rough draft. It was also surprisingly good with few mistakes. She edited while she wrote.

Here I was trying to get my daughter to stick to a specific formula for writing, and she was forging her own path. What worked best for her was writing by the seat of her pants, starting on the computer and editing as she wrote. The funny thing is, it is the same method I use.

Not that I hadn’t tried others. In effort to improve my writing skills and efficiency, I have tried many different things. I have recorded ideas. I have written detailed character sketches and outlines. But none of those have really worked for me. What works for me is writing and editing the story mentally, then going on the computer and writing, editing as I write.

There a lots of tools available to writers, but no one approach fits all writers. Some write by the seat of their pants. Others need detailed outlines, even chapter starters. Some write everything in notebooks before going to the computer. But each writer has to find his/her most effective writing process. Even children, though they need to learn the “writing process” have to forge their own paths and find what works for them and what doesn’t.

What method of writing is most effective for you?


G. B. Miller said...

It kind of has evolved over the years.

I started by writing on the computer, then when small complications arose, I'd switched to handwritten and then transcribing, which more often than not, would jump start me to further acts of creativity.

Now that's starting to dry up as the spontaneity that computer provides is preferable to the non-sponaneity of handwriting.

I still handwrite seriously short pieces of flash for my blog, but overall, the computer is what works best for m

Jewel Amethyst said...

G, It's been a while since I've handwritten anything other than jotting down a few notes here and there. I can hardly read my handwriting anyway, which makes transcribing an ordeal.

Anonymous said...

Don't force it, get a bigger hammer.

I would encourage writers to try many different approaches, rather than sticking to what you might be presuming are the best methods for you. You may be surprised to discover better ways that work for some things.

You can never have enough tools in the box.

Charles Gramlich said...

That's one of the troubles with giving advice to writers. Seems like everyone does things so differently, and they can work. Still, it helps to get all that advice in and then decide what is best or worst for yourself.

Liane Spicer said...

When interviewers ask what advice I'd give new writers I always hesitate. The parts about 'butt in chair' and researching the publishing industry are easy but when it comes to the actual writing process I end up advising writers to find what works best for them. Not only does the process vary from writer to writer, but from story to story and situation to situation for the same writer

I usually start with an outline but I did not do that with the current novel until I had thirty-five thousand words written. And even though I wrote the second novel entirely on the computer, I prefer longhand for first drafts; I write a few chapters then type them on the computer, editing as I go.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Captain Black, Charles, the best advice I ever got from a seasoned writer was to do what's comfortable for me.

One of the things I love about Novelspaces is that we all have different approaches to writing and we share our different approaches. Just from this blog alone, I have learned so many tips that if applied can improve my writing.

So yes, we can never have too many tools. This blog has certainly expanded my toolkit.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Liane: "Not only does the process vary from writer to writer, but from story to story and situation to situation for the same writer." So true. I discovered what worked well for my romance writing, did not work as well for my children's science adventure series.

While I generally work without outline for my romance, I had to have a detailed outline for the children's science adventure. One of the reasons is that the purpose is for educating and I have to have my facts straight and make sure the situations bring out the concepts that I want to teach. The other reason, is that I have a co-writer and she can't read my mind.

For both of my published stories I did not use outlines. By the time I had written the story mentally and played it over and over in my mind, writing it on computer was a cinch.

For my WIP I did an outline, but strayed from it by the first chapter. The process and the approach definitely change from project to project.

Joanne said...

Good piece. I totally agree that everyone has their process ...just have to figure out what works for you.