Writing Process

I’ve been asked about my writing process. Writing process?? That sounds so, well, organized! I’m not a very organized person. But here’s what I can say about the way I write.

Every writer has to find what works best for him or her. There’s no magic formula that is a key to success. I have many writer friends, and we all work differently. Naturally, since our circumstances are different, as are our personalities. I’m a retired teacher and live alone. That means I can set my own hours and don’t have to squeeze writing in around a day job as many writers do. That’s fortunate, but it also means I tend to get lazy. When I was working and had less time for writing I probably got just as much writing done because I had to be more disciplined. Also I don’t have to conform my schedule to anyone else’s. That said, though, I also don’t have anyone else around to help with housework or yard work, so either I do it myself or it doesn’t get done. All too often, it doesn’t get done, but some things I can’t ignore or put off and have to do even though I’d rather be writing. (I’d always rather be writing.)

I’m not a morning person–never have been. I sleep late, eat a leisurely breakfast, read the newspaper or at least part of it, wash the breakfast dishes, do laundry when required, and then go to my computer. I check my email, glance over the posts on Facebook, etc. and then, finally, pull up Word and get to work. Because I eat a late breakfast, I don’t eat lunch, so I write until time to feed the dogs, go back to writing after I do that, and keep going until somewhere between 7:30 and 9:00, when I stop and eat supper and only rarely go back to writing after supper.

I don’t outline or plan a lot ahead when I write. I know some writers outline meticulously before they begin the first draft of a novel. I do have to outline a short story, but I don’t outline novels. I have a vague idea of how the novel will progress and how it will end, but it often surprises me and takes off in a totally different direction. Frequently the way it ends is not at all the way I expected it to end when I started out. Only rarely do I know almost from the beginning exactly how it must end. I know that sounds very odd to many people, and I’m always relieved and thrilled when I find other writers who work that way, as it reassures me that I’m not a complete oddball.

What I do do is develop my principal characters as thoroughly as possible. I know their backgrounds, their history, their fears, their hopes and aspirations, their likes and dislikes. Only a small part of what I know about them actually gets into the novel except in the sense that it colors everything the character does. That knowledge is what guides the plot and determines the course the character will take, which in turn leads to the climactic scene and the novel’s ending. The conclusion of the novel has to grow naturally out of the characters’ actions, attitudes, and aspirations.

That sounds so neat and easy, but it isn’t. I always have to do a great deal of rewriting and often have to go back and eliminate scenes or chapters because I’ve gotten off track and the story stops working. And usually I find that it’s because the characters aren’t being true to themselves. I have to review all I know about them, put myself in their place, and say, Okay, what would she or he logically do in this case? Sometimes I get stuck and have to put the work aside and work on something else for a while until I work through whatever stopped me.

Since I write fantasy, I also always have to do a good bit of world building. That is much harder for me than developing character backgrounds and histories. It’s a real challenge, because it all has to make sense; has to have an internal logic.

I think this post is becoming too long and I should probably stop and get back to work on my novel. If anyone is interested, I’ll go more into the world-building aspects in another note on another day. If anyone has any specific questions, I’ll do my best to answer.




About E. Rose Sabin

Fantasy and science fiction author.
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