Friday, 27 January 2012

The Writer's Process

I had two conversations about the writer's process yesterday. One was with a student who was amazed to hear that I went through many drafts before considering my work finished (the never ending book has, in fact, had two endings so far, but I'm about to write number three), and the other was with a fellow writer who mentioned that he had the same process. "I think of the first draft as just getting my ideas down," he said. "It's only after that that I 'write' the book."

I daresay that there are some writers for whom the words just flow in perfect order - like Mozart taking dictation - but for most writing is a process. Some will plan and then write, others will write and then plan. It doesn't matter what your process is, and it may take some time and plenty of trial and error before you work out what your personal process is.

There will almost certainly be several phases:
A thinking phase.
A writing phase.
A planning phase.
A re-writing phase.
A fine tuning phase.

But the order in which you tackle each phase is personal to you. So, some people go chapter by chapter, thinking, planning, writing, re-writing, fine tuning. Others will write a whole mad first draft in a great burst of energy, and then start the thinking and planning processes. The order you do things in doesn't matter, so long as you do them.

My mother told me not to fret about when my babies walked, or talked or was potty trained, on the grounds that they'd all manage it by 18. It's the end product that matters, not how you get there.


Diane Fordham said...

Your mother is a wise woman. :-) Thanks for the post Sarah and an insight into your writing process.

Philip C James said...

Albert Einstein didn't talk until he was five years old, I believe.

Another very relevant post, Sarah, which illuminates the learning process I'm going through on my first novel...

docstar said...

Thank you for recognizing that there is no "Must write this way to succeed". Many of us "edit as we go" types take all kinds of flack for doing it 'wrong' - regardless of the fact it works for us.

Shauna said...

One of the most important aspects of writing is to find out what works for you. Yes, try out different things and listen to others and how they work, but ultimately be true to yourself.

Someone recently said to me they felt they weren't a real writer because they planned. They felt a 'real writer' just wrote without knowing where they were going and created a perfect first draft. Nice fairytale!

Liz Fielding said...

Excellent post, Sarah. (And I like the sound of your mother!)

Shauna, if only that were true!

womagwriter said...

Perhaps your mother worked at the day nursery where I sent my children, because I had the same advice from a wonderful woman there. She pointed out she'd never yet had a child leave nursery for school still wearing nappies.

We all work in different ways and as you say, there is no single right way to succeed.

Sarah Duncan said...

Diane - yes, she is!

Phil - and he was a failure at school.

Docstar - there is only the right way for you, and you are the only person who can find it. I can't stand it when people say you must do this or do that.

Shauna - wouldn't it be great if that was all you had to do!

Liz - my mum is lovely!

womagwriter - she might have been her teacher; my mum taught nursery nurses for many years.